Explicar Conjugation: Preterite & Command

Instructor: Elena Sacramento Lechado

Elena teaches Spanish as a foreign language and has a PhD in linguistics.

The Spanish verb 'explicar' means 'to explain'. Check out this lesson to learn how to talk about past situations and give commands with it. We'll explore the use of this verb with lots of familiar examples.

Explain It To Me!

When was the last time you explained a math problem to a classmate or gave someone a recipe in detail? When did you last ask for explanations or instructions? To talk about this in Spanish, we need to use the verb explicar (pronounced: eks-plee-KAHR), which means 'to explain'.

In the following sections, we'll see how to conjugate this verb in the preterite and how to give commands with its imperative. You'll learn how to talk about situations in which you give or require explanations and/or instructions. Let's explain how to do it!

Translation: To explain.

Preterite of Explicar

We use the preterite to talk about finished actions in the past that normally happened once or momentarily. So you would use the preterite of explicar to say that you explained a math problem to your classmate or that your friend explained the Spanish past tenses to you.

To form the preterite of explicar, we're going to use its regular stem explic-, to which we'll add the preterite endings below. But notice that in the first-person singular (yo), c changes into qu. This is just for phonetic reasons - we want to keep the sound /k/ from the stem. Otherwise, c + e would sound like /say/.

VERB: explicar (eks-plee-KAHR) - to explain

Pronunciation Translation
yo expliqué (eks-plee-KEH) I explained
explicaste (eks-plee-KAHS-teh) you explained
explicó (eks-plee-KOH) he/she explained
you (formal) explained
explicamos (eks-plee-KAH-mohs) we explained
explicasteis (eks-plee-KAHS-tays) you all explained
explicaron (eks-plee-KAH-rohn) they explained
you all explained

Note: Spaniards use the form vosotros/as when addressing a group of people in an informal situation and ustedes in formal contexts. In the rest of the Spanish-speaking countries, everyone uses the form ustedes in any setting.

Uses & Examples of Explicar in the Preterite

You can use explicar followed by a noun to state that someone explained or gave details about something. For example:

  • La profesora de español explicó el pretérito hoy en clase. (The Spanish teacher explained the preterite in class today.)

But if you want to state to whom something was explained, you'll need to learn the following structure. Notice that, in Spanish, we add the indirect pronouns IN FRONT of the conjugated verb:

  • me/te/le/nos/os/les + form of explicar + something + a + person

Note: The last part (a + person) is optional when evident or known by our interlocutor.

Take a look at these examples:

  • ¿Les explicaste los tiempos verbales a los alumnos? (Did you explain the verbal tenses to the students?)
  • Sí, les expliqué la teoría y luego practicamos con muchos ejemplos. (Yes, I explained the theory to them, and then we practiced with lots of examples.)

Apart from learning language, the students get to know about the Spanish culture and traditions in this language school. One of the students tells us:

  • Nos explicaron cómo preparar una tortilla española paso a paso. (They explained to us how to make a Spanish omelet step by step.)

Translation: They explained to us how to prepare a Spanish omelet.

What about you? ¿Explicaste algo a un compañero o amigo ayer? (Did you explain anything to a classmate or friend yesterday?)

Imperative of Explicar

We use the imperative to give affirmative orders or commands, and also to make suggestions.

In this case, we'll use the stem (expliqu-) for all subject pronouns, EXCEPT FOR and vosotros/as, which keep the same stem as the infinitive (explic-).

VERB: explicar (eks-plee-KAHR) - to explain

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