I've got a test tomorrow and I have to learn the list of "Tempus praeteritum". The problem is, that I don't know what it means and where it's used for. Can anybody help me?

  • 1
    Depending on what level of syntax and grammar is meant, your test will be on all verb forms for perfect pluperfect imperfect (including subjunctives) or on when to use aorist/perfect; how to form past conditionals, and optatives such as "If only I had known this yesterday."* You could start by googling preterite tense
    – Hugh
    Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 10:38
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    Did you mean tempus praeteritum with the added T? Literally it means "passed time". Is the test on Latin grammar or something else? More details are needed to put it in context and interpret it. I have never seen that concept in Latin grammar, but my guess is that it means all tenses referring to the past.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 10:46
  • See Quintilian I .4. 29.
    – Hugh
    Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 11:38
  • @JoonasIlmavirta Yeah I mean the tempus praeterium with the added T. Just the form with the past. My test is going to be a lot of sentences and I got to translate them. But how should I translate a sentences with the tempus praeterium? Just with the imperfect in english?
    – L. Peters
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 13:40
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    I edited in the t, but I think this question needs to be focused before it can fit in our format: tempus praeteritum means past tense, and I don't see what else can be said without more context.
    – brianpck
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 16:19

1 Answer 1


So first, a point of terminology. In Latin, there are two tenses* which can be called the tempus præteritum. I'm assuming you mean the third principal part of your verb (amāvī or habuī or cucurrī or audīvī), also called the simple past tense, aorist tense, or perfect tense. Out of all these names, perfect seems by far the most common, and it's the one I learned in school. So I'll use that name here.

Latin has a number of "past tenses", but the perfect is the simplest. It's the one you'd use to say "I went to the store" or "I saw the Pantheon". Often it doesn't imply anything except that the action happened in the past. So the easiest way to translate it into English is to use the simple past tense, loved, held, hurried, listened. You can also add a did for emphasis: I did say that!

When contrasted with the imperfect (the one with -ba- before the ending, like amābat), the perfect has one other meaning. It states that the action is finished, or that it was an instantaneous thing; either way, it isn't still happening. One way to translate this distinction is the simple past vs progressive past in English: perfect would be the army fought, imperfect would be the army was fighting.

Hopefully that helps. I may have misunderstood the question; are you asking for Latin → English help, or English → Latin?

*(the other being the pluperfect / tempus plusquamperfectus, but I've only seen that called the "preterite" once and it doesn't correspond as well with the English and German preterites.)


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