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Ser, past tense conjugations

Let’s learn the past-tense forms of Ser, using a memory palace! Today we’ll also discuss our 3-step method for learning Spanish verb conjugations so that you can use them fluently.

Full Podcast Episode


Time for some past-tense conjugations.

Intro: Join us on a rigorous, step-by-step journey to fluency. I’m Timothy and this is LearnCraft Spanish.

Let’s start putting the verb Ser in the past, so that instead of just saying “is”, “am”, and “are”, you can say things like “they were” and “I was”.

In this episode we’re really going to lean into the memory palace method, because when it comes to memorizing dozens of conjugations for just one verb, especially a complex irregular verb like Ser, a memory palace almost universally makes a night-and-day difference for our students.

But even if you’re not into the memory palace method, we’ve found that for all students, there’s a three-step method for learning verb conjugations and being able to use them fluently. The first step is to make sure that you’ve flawlessly memorized all of the individual conjugations that you want to use, and you can individually retrieve them without getting them mixed up. Step 2 is to practice retrieving those conjugations within randomized sentence contexts, like the quizzes we put at the end of these episodes. And then Step 3 is to get so fast at retrieving conjugations in sentence contexts that it becomes second nature.

So you’re more than welcome to skip today’s memory palace story if you don’t think it’s for you, but if you do, make sure that you have memorized all of the present and imperfect forms of Ser, and then use today’s quiz to start practicing them within sentence contexts, in alignment with Step 2.

For those of you who are at least curious about using a verb memory palace, let’s go back to the Ser carnival house and talk about why we’ve chosen such a wacky world for this verb. Ser is an essential concept in Spanish, and it has about 50 conjugations to memorize eventually. And they all sound very different from each other, as you experienced with just the present-tense conjugations — soy, eres, son, es, and somos don’t really resemble each other at all. However, we’re training your brain to think of them as all tied together as one concept, by putting them in one vividly memorable place. They’re all part of the same family, because they’re all in the Ser carnival house, where the snake who runs the place judges people based on how tall they are.

Today what we’re going to do is learn the most common past tense forms of this word. So let’s go back to the indoor carnival, but we’re going to move to a slightly different place within it. Inside this big, crazy funhouse, there are different areas that represent the different tenses we can use when using the verb Ser. We’ve already covered the present tense, represented by the area where we were all waiting in line for the bouncy house. The past tense is going to be inside the bouncy house itself.

So imagine that you and your tall and short friends have entered the bouncy house and have started jumping. Let’s make sure everyone is in their proper place: In front of you is the kid with curly hair; he’s not bouncing because he’s still on the hovercraft, which is making a loud hissing sound. The pandas, to your right, are jumping up and down and bouncing all over the place. And then the snake, to your left, is just outside the bouncy house door to the left. It’s listening closely at the door, because it suspects that something is wrong.

Well, the snake’s suspicions are confirmed: It turns out this bouncy house is not built to handle the soy sauce bottles strapped to your feet. Almost immediately, you’ve poked holes in the floor, and air is starting to escape, blowing hard up at you and everyone here.

Our conjugations are going to be based on everyone’s reactions to this upward blasting of air. First of all, you simply start panicking; you shout “Air! Ah! Air! Ah!” So your word is era, spelled E-R-A.

The pandas, meanwhile, aren’t having it — they run away as fast as they can. They don’t even bother to go through the door; they just dash through the netted wall to the right. They leave some panda-shaped holes in the wall, as relics of the fact that they ran away. Their word is eran. You still emphasize the part of the word that sounds like “air”, but the word ends with what sounds kind of like “ran” as in “ran away”: eran.

Meanwhile, the curly-haired kid thinks he can help fix things by directing the air from his hovercraft down at the holes. But the only result is an even louder hissing sound. You watch as he tries to explain what he’s doing, but all you hear is a loud “sssssss” sound. So the kid’s word is eras — similar to your era, but with a hissing sound at the end.

And then what about your crew of tall and short friends? Well unfortunately a couple of the shortest ones, the ones who weren’t really tall enough to get in, have been blown so hard by the air that they flew right out of the bouncy house. However, you’re relieved to see that MOST of your friends are still here, even if not all of them. So the word here is éramos, with the syllable “mos” at the end. This ending is the same as the ending of the word somos, which we learned in the other scene in Ser. So you emphasize “air”, but end the word with “mos”: éramos. (Also note that this one is spelled with an accent mark over the letter E. Éramos.)

The snake, of course, hears the commotion and peeks in the door to your left. It immediately sees all the holes and the pandemonium, and it starts shouting “Air! Ah!” just like you. So the snake’s word is era. This word is spelled E-R-A, just like your word.

We’re about to talk about what these words mean and how to use them, but the most important thing right now is that you can remember all of them, where they are, and who each one is associated with. So which word applies to the pandas, who ran away, to your right? That’s eran. And what about your friend with curly hair in front of you? That’s eras. What’s the word for the snake, to your left? Era. And what’s the word for your group of friends? Éramos.

So all of these words mean either “was” or “were”. And you use each one for each of the people in the scene, in the exact same pattern that we used the present tense forms. So for example, let’s just think about the pandas, who represent “they” or the third person plural, associated with the pronoun ellos or ellas. In the present tense we say ellos son, from when they were standing in the sun. But in this scene, the past tense, we say ellos eran, meaning “they were”.

Or let’s talk about the curly-haired kid. This guy represents “you”, or the second person, associated with the pronoun . In the present tense, we say tú eres, but in the past tense, we say tú eras.

The snake represents the third person singular, either “he”, “she”, or “it”. So in the present tense we say ella es, but in the past tense we say ella era.

For your group of friends, in the present we say nosotros somos, but in the past we say nosotros éramos, meaning “we were”.

And then for you yourself, in the present you say yo soy, but in the past you say yo era, meaning “I was”.

OK, so now you’ve been introduced to both the present-tense and the past-tense forms of Ser. We need to start practicing these in context soon, but first, remember that the LearnCraft method for learning verb conjugations is in three steps. The first step is to make absolutely sure that you’ve vividly memorized all of the individual words and aren’t confusing them. After that, Step 2 is to use them in randomized sentence contexts, and Step 3 is to get so fast at this that it becomes second nature and you don’t even have to use the memory palace any more, which will happen faster than you might think (if you follow the process)! But to make this work, we’ll start with Step 1. Let’s make sure that you can remember each of the individual words in their appropriate places in your memory palace.

So for the next minute, what I’m going to do is just drill you on the individual conjugations, in a randomized order.

So first, what’s the word for “they are”? …That’s the present tense, where people are standing in line. And “they” is always the pandas. In that scene they’re standing in the sun, and their word is son.

Next, what about “she was”? …That’s the past tense, so we go inside the bouncy house, and we have the snake to represent “he”, “she”, or “it”. The word for the snake in the bouncy house is era.

And what’s the word for “you were”? …That’s the past tense, and for “you” we have your curly-haired friend with the hissing hovercraft. The word is eras.

What about “you are”? …That’s the present tense again, and we have the friend on the hovercraft with the “air rays”. So the word is eres.

What about “I am”? …That’s present tense, where we first start using the soy sauce bottles, so it’s soy.

What’s the word for “we were”? …Go back to the bouncy house. The nice and easy thing about the bouncy house is that the main syllable in the word is always er. And for “we”, we have the group of most of our friends. So it’s éramos.

What’s the word for “we are”? …We go to the present-tense scene, where “most of us” are tall enough. The word is somos.

What about “I was”? …That’s past tense, inside the bouncy house. I’m screaming “air! Ah!” So the word is era.

What about “they were”? …In the bouncy house, what are the pandas doing? Their word is eran.

And then what about “he is”? …In the present tense, we have the snake; and the word is es.

So how did you do? If you’re still struggling with this, one helpful assignment we have all of our students do is get out a blank sheet of paper and produce all of your conjugations from memory by drawing basically a memory palace map of them. We’ve provided a sample of this at LCSPodcast.com/18 so you can see how you’re doing. It’s really important to be able to do this flawlessly in order to master step 1.

All right, assuming you’re feeling good with your conjugations, it’s almost time for today’s quiz. But first: A surprise. We’re going to give you a few nouns, just to make it easier to practice your conjugations of Ser.

First of all, the word for “friend” is amigo when masculine and amiga when feminine. And you can say “friends” by putting an S at the end: amigos or amigas. (Make sure it’s a hard, non-voiced S, amigaS, not the lazy “z” “amigaZ”, which happens in English but not in Spanish.)

For example, “he and they were friends” would be “él y ellos eran amigos”, but if you’re talking about a group of girls, “she and they were friends” would be “ella y ellas eran amigas”.

We’ll also learn the word chico, which is a very general-purpose word for “boy” or “guy”. And then chica means “girl” or “gal”. In plural, chicos or chicas can often be used to refer to a group of people of any age, in a very casual context. For example:

The guys were friends.

Los chicos eran amigos.

Los chicos eran amigos.

Or how about:

The gals were friends.

Las chicas eran amigas.

Las chicas eran amigas.

Let’s get on to today’s quiz to start practicing these words, along with our past-tense forms of Ser, in randomized sentence contexts.

She and I(f) are friends.

Ella y yo somos amigas.

Ella y yo somos amigas.

You were the girl?

¿Eras la chica?

¿Eras la chica?

I said that he is the guy.

I said que es el chico.

Dije que es el chico.

We(m) were very good friends.

Nosotros éramos very good amigos.

Nosotros éramos muy buenos amigos.

What are they(f)?

¿Qué son ellas?

¿Qué son ellas?

She was the friend, they(f) weren’t the friends(f).

Ella era la amiga, ellas no eran las amigas.

Ella era la amiga, ellas no eran las amigas.

I was her student.

Yo era her student.

Yo era su estudiante.

You weren’t the tallest(m), I was the tallest(m).

Tú no eras el tallest, yo era el tallest.

Tú no eras el más alto, yo era el más alto.

You’re my teacher so that I can learn algebra.

Eres my teacher para que I can learn algebra.

Eres mi profesor para que pueda aprender álgebra.

If he was the owner, why was she here?

If él era el owner, ¿por qué was ella here?

Si él era el dueño, ¿por qué estaba ella aquí?

That was strange.

Eso era strange.

Eso era extraño.

He is the boss? I thought we(f) were the bosses.

¿Él es el boss? Yo thought que nosotras éramos las bosses.

¿Él es el jefe? Yo creía que nosotras éramos las jefas.

I’m your friend(m), right?

¿Soy your amigo, right?

¿Soy tu amigo, no?

You were my favorite teacher.

Tú eras my favorite teacher.

Tú eras mi profesor favorito.​​

We were friends(m) and he and she were enemies.

Éramos amigos y él y ella eran enemies.

Éramos amigos y él y ella eran enemigos.

For more practice with these sentences, and to make sure you’ve really nailed all these conjugations, check out the free materials at LCSPodcast.com/18.

Tomorrow we’re going to explore some creative ways that we can use Ser so that we can start expressing a lot more things entirely in Spanish!

This show is brought to you by LearnCraftSpanish.com. The Spanish voice in this episode was our coach Michael Agudelo. Our music was provided by the Seattle Marimba Quartet, and I’m Timothy, encouraging you to do the hard work of learning Spanish. Acquiring a second language is one of the most fulfilling things you can do, so start your fluency journey today at LCSPodcast.com.

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