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Ser, the preterite tense

How do you use fui, fue, fuiste, fueron, and fuimos as forms of Ser? Let’s learn how to use Ser’s preterite tense — which looks and sounds exactly like the preterite tense of Ir!

Full Podcast Episode


What was that? Ser has a preterite tense?

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

As we’ve explored our first five verbs, we’ve learned the imperfect forms of all of them, as well as some of the preterite forms of Estar, Tener, and Ir. And as we learned back in Episode 31, the preterite tends to be used specifically when you’re describing some sort of event, or something that had a specific duration in the past.

Ser, meanwhile, doesn’t tend to use the preterite much, because normally, when you talk about what something was or who someone was in the past, it’s not much of an event; instead, it’s just a general fact about the general past. For example:

We were friends.

Éramos amigos.

However, sometimes being something IS an event with a specific duration. That would likely be the case for the following sentences: “it was a mistake”, “he was the winner”, or “she was the first”. In each of these cases, you’d use the word fue.

Now, we already learned the word fue as the word for “he/she/it went”, as the preterite of Ir. But as bizarre as this is, the fact is that Ser and Ir have the SAME preterite-tense forms. All five of the Ir preterites that we learned, fui, fue, fuiste, fueron, and fuimos, can indicate the past tense of either Ir or Ser.

So here’s another example:

I was the one that helped you that day.

Yo fui el que te helped ese día.

Yo fui el que te ayudó ese día.

Now, again, normally these words that start with F are forms of Ir, which is an action verb and lends itself to much more frequent use of the preterite tense. For Ser in the past, you’ll normally use the “air” words, era, eran, eras, and éramos. But using these F words as a part of Ser IS something that happens on occasion, so you’ll want to be prepared for it.

As an example of where this might be confusing, check out this sentence:

Eso fue sólo una vez.

At first, it may sound like the speaker is saying “That went only one time.” But what’s actually meant here is “That was only one time.”

And here’s another example. Let’s say you’re sitting calmly in the park with a friend, eating a picnic, and then suddenly something flies through the air right between you, grabbing your food right out of your hand. You might shout, “what was that?” In this situation, you probably won’t say ¿Qué era eso?, since you’re referring to a one-time event rather than the general past. Instead, you’ll probably say this:

¿Qué fue eso?

So let’s practice choosing between Ser’s imperfect and preterite, using a pretty simple quiz for now.

Juan was a good man that year.

Juan fue un buen hombre ese año.

That day you(f) were nice.

Ese día tú fuiste buena.

When we were kids all was well.

Cuando éramos kids todo estaba bien.

Cuando éramos niños todo estaba bien.

Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire(m).

Rome era the capital del Roman Empire.

Roma era la capital del Imperio Romano.

We have gone there before, when she was your friend.

Ya hemos ido ahí antes, cuando ella era tu amiga.

You can get more practice with this at LCSPodcast.com/57. Or if you feel ready, let’s go on to today’s final quiz.

Please, go to the store and buy milk.

Por favor, ve a the store y buy milk.

Por favor, ve a la tienda y compra leche.

Leave or there will be two extra girls!

¡Vete o habrá dos chicas de más!

That concert(m) was very good, better than the other one, since it had a bit of everything.

Ese concert fue muy bueno, mejor que el otro, ya que tenía de todo.

Ese concierto fue muy bueno, mejor que el otro, ya que tenía de todo.

(All of you) Leave the house instead of staying to play.

Váyanse de la casa en vez de staying to play.

Váyanse de la casa en vez de quedarse a jugar.

There is a need to make one.

Hay que hacer uno.

Let’s leave, because they were rude with us.

Vámonos porque fueron rude con nosotros.

Vámonos porque fueron groseros con nosotros.

Let’s go to another place to call our friends.

Vamos a otro lugar para call a nuestros amigos.

Vamos a otro lugar para llamar a nuestros amigos.

We were both the winners(m) again.

Fuimos los dos los winners otra vez.

Fuimos los dos los ganadores otra vez.

They don’t want three cats at all.

No they want tres cats para nada.

No quieren tres gatos para nada.

My friend was the director that time.

Mi amigo fue el director esa vez.

Mi amigo fue el director esa vez.

(Formal) Please leave because there are a lot of insects here.

Por favor váyase porque hay muchos insects aquí.

Por favor váyase porque hay muchos insectos aquí.

One has to work more because it never hurts.

Uno tiene que work más porque no está de más.

Uno tiene que trabajar más porque no está de más.

He was the chosen one.

Fue el chosen one.

Fue el elegido.

They were rude and I was polite that day.

Ellos fueron rude y yo fui polite ese día.

Ellos fueron groseros y yo fui cortés ese día.

Have more things!

¡Ten más cosas!

You were the boss at that event.

Fuiste el boss en that event.

Fuiste el jefe en ese evento.

Tomorrow we’re going to delve deep and learn one of the most advanced sentence structures in Spanish — but for you, it’ll be second-nature very soon.

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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