Sentir Spanish Conjugation: Preterite & Imperfect

Instructor: Elena Sacramento Lechado

Elena has a PhD in linguistics from University of La Laguna (Spain). Currently, she teaches Spanish as a foreign language and creates teaching resources.

The Spanish verb ''sentir'' means 'to feel'. In this lesson you will learn how to use it in two different past tenses - the preterite and the imperfect - through relevant situations and examples.

The Verb Sentir

When was the last time you felt a bit under the weather? Or that you felt cold when everyone else didn't? The Spanish verb sentir (pronounced: sehn-TEER) means 'to feel'. Use it to express how you feel or what you perceive through your senses.

In this lesson, we study its use in the past, taking a look at the differences between the preterite and the imperfect tenses in Spanish.

Meanings of Sentir

Let's look at copule different meanings of sentir first.

1. We can use the verb sentir in the sense of 'feel' or 'perceive through any of the senses'. For example:

  • sentir frío/calor (to feel cold/hot)
  • sentir un ruido (to feel/hear a noise)

2. If we use it in the sense of feeling well or bad both physically and emotionally, we will need its reflexive form: sentirse. For example:

  • sentirse bien/mal (to feel well/bad)
  • sentirse cansado/a (to feel tired)

Notice that when conjugating the verb in these cases, you will need to add the pronouns me/te/se/nos/os/se IN FRONT OF every verbal form.

Translation: To feel cold

Preterite of Sentir

We use the preterite to talk about finished actions that happened at some point in the past. So, with the preterite of sentir, you can say how you or others felt yesterday, last week or at any past time.

In order to conjugate sentir in the preterite, we take its stem, sent-, for all subject pronouns, EXCEPT FOR the third person (both singular and plural), which require the irregular stem sint-.

These are the resulting conjugated forms:

VERB: sentir (sehn-TEER) - to feel

Subject Pronouns Preterite Conjugation Pronunciation Translation
yo sentí (sehn-TEE) I felt
sentiste (sehn-TEES-teh) you felt

sint (seen-TYOH) he/she
you (formal) felt
sentimos (sehn-TEE-mohs) we felt
sentisteis (sehn-TEES-tays) you all felt

sintieron (seen-TYEH-rohn) they/you all (formal)

Examples in the Preterite

Silvia has just woken up because she perceived something outside. She tells her mom, Marina.

Silvia: Me desperté porque sentí un ruido. (I woke up because I heard a noise.)

Marina: Nosotros también sentimos algo. (We heard something too.)

Silvia: ¿Lo sentisteis? (Did you feel/hear it?)

Marina: Sí pero no te preocupes. (Yes, but don't worry.) Seguro que fue el gato del vecino. (I'm sure it was the neighbor's cat.)

But Silvia couldn't sleep well after that. The following morning, Marina tells her husband:

  • Silvia no durmió bien porque tuvo una pesadilla y sintió miedo. (Silvia couldn't sleep well because she had a nightmare and she felt scared.)

Translation: Silvia felt scared.

Imperfect of Sentir

We use the imperfect to talk about past habits or routines or to say how someone was feeling during a period of time in the past.

Sometimes the translations for the preterite and the imperfect are quite similar in English, but there is a difference between these two tenses in Spanish, and it is important to make this distinction:

Notice that we use:

  • the preterite to express what happened once and momentarily in the past
  • the imperfect to indicate that the action had duration or was repeated

The good news is that sentir follows the general conjugation pattern in the imperfect, so you just need to add the right endings to its stem (sent-):

VERB: sentir (sehn-TEER) - to feel

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