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Empezar Past Tense Conjugation: Preterite & Imperfect

Instructor: Raychelle Heath

Raychelle has a BA in Spanish and an MFA in Writing. She has studied in Puerto Rico and currently lives in Mexico. She has taught Spanish in various settings.

The verb 'to start' in Spanish is ''empezar''. In this lesson you'll learn how to conjugate ''empezar'' in the preterite and imperfect tenses. You'll also see examples of how to use the verb.

Let's Learn About Empezar

The Velez family has a lot of traditions. There are so many that it's hard for Rosita Velez to keep up. She's also curious about how some of the traditions started. The verb 'to start' in Spanish is empezar. In this lesson, will check in with Rosita as she learns about how some of her family's traditions started.

We'll also learn how to conjugate the verb empezar in the preterite and imperfect tenses. Remember, the preterite tense is used to talk about things that happened in the immediate past, while the imperfect tense is used to talk about things that happened repeatedly in the past. Let's look at how to conjugate the verb empezar before seeing some examples.

All verbs in this lesson will be conjugated in the indicative. Also, remember that in Spanish, pronouns are only used when needed to specify who is speaking. For example, pronouns are necessary for the third-person singular (él, ella, usted), but not for the second person ().

Empezar in the Preterite Tense

As mentioned, the preterite tense is used to talk about things that happened in the immediate past. The verb empezar is regular in the preterite tense, however there is a -z to -c shift in for the pronoun yo.

Subject Pronoun Preterite Tense Pronunciation Translation
yo empecé im-pay-SAY I started
empezaste im-pay-SAH-stay You (informal) started
él, ella, usted empezó im-pay-SO He, she, you (formal) started
nosotros/nosotras empezamos im-pay-SAH-mose We started
vosotros/vosotras empezasteis im-pay-sah-STAY-ees You (plural, informal) started
ellos, ellas, ustedes empezaron im-pay-SAH-rone They (male, female), you (plural, informal) started

Examples in the Preterite

Here are some examples of empezar in preterite tense:

  • Ayer los alumnos empezaron sus proyectos. (Yesterday the students started their projects.)
  • El año pasado la familia empezó a pasar la Navidad en la casa de tía Sara. (Last year the family started to spend Christmas at Aunt Sara's house.)
  • ¿Cuando empezamos la tradición de los juegos? (When did we start the tradition of the games?)

When did we start the tradition of the games?
who started game night

Rosita has lots of questions about some of her family's traditions. She sits down with her parents to ask them. Let's see what they have to say:

Rosita: Mamá, ¿cuando empezamos la tradición de los juegos? (Mom, when did we start the tradition of the games?)

Mamá: Bueno hija, esa tradición empezó con tu tío Ernesto para su cumpleaños. Él quiso una noche de juegos. (Well daughter, that tradition started with uncle Ernesto for his birthday. He wanted to have a game night.)

Papá: Es verdad. Todos disfrutamos tanto que decidimos jugar cada año. (It's true. Everyone enjoyed it so much that we decided to play every year.)

Rosita: ¡Que interesante! ¿Y como empezó la noche de los sándwiches? (How interesting! And how did sandwich night start?)

Papá: Ah, esa noche empezó con tu tía Alma. Se cansó de cocinar todos los días y decidió de tener una noche al més sin tener que cocinar. Las otras tías les gustó el idea, y empezaron la tradición. (Ah, that night started with your aunt Alma. She got tired of cooking and decided to have a night without having to cook. The other aunts liked the idea, and started the tradition.)

Aunt Alma started sandwich night.
alma started the sandwich night

Empezar in the Imperfect Tense

Remember, the imperfect tense is used to talk about things that happened repeatedly in the past. It is also used to talk about things you used to do in the past. The verb empezar is regular in the imperfect tense. It follows the normal pattern for -ar verbs.

Subject Pronoun Imperfect Tense Pronunciation Translation
yo empezaba im-pay-SAH-bah I used to start
empezabas im-pay-SAH-bahs You (informal) used to start
él, ella, usted empezaba im-pay-SAH-bah He, she, you (formal) used to start
nosotros/nosotras empezábamos im-pay-SAH-bah-mose We used to start
vosotros/vosotras empezabais im-pay-sah-BAH-ees You (plural, informal) used to start
ellos, ellas, ustedes empezaban im-pay-SAH-bahn They (male, female), you (plural, informal) used to start

Examples in the Imperfect

Here are some examples of empezar in imperfect tense:

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