Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Of, relating to, or being the verb tense that describes a past action or state.
  • n. The verb form expressing or describing a past action or condition.
  • n. A verb in the preterite form.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. showing an action at a determined moment in the past.
  • n. The preterite tense, simple past tense: the grammatical tense that determines the specific initiation or termination of an action in the past.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Same as preterit.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a term formerly used to refer to the simple past tense

Etymologies

Middle English, from Old French, from Latin (tempus) praeteritum, past (tense), neuter past participle of praeterīre, to go by : praeter, beyond, comparative of prae, before; see per1 in Indo-European roots + īre, to go; see ei- in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
Recorded since 1340, from Old French preterit (13th century), from Latin praeteritum (as in tempus praeteritum "time past"), the past participle of praeterire "to go by, go past", itself from praeter "beyond, before, above, more than" (comparative of prae "before") + itum (the past participle of ire "to go"). (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • Once you have the command of the present tense, the preterite is then taught.

    learning Spanish

  • For example, I never knew what the word preterite meant until years after completing my course, although I had repeated over and over again that the preterite, or past perfect, was thus, while the imperfect was thus, without having any conception that the word preterite meant past -- that it was a past that was entirely past in the former case, and a past that was past to a less degree in the latter.

    Youth and Egolatry

  • I've also made the so-called "preterite" the new default, specifying non-continuous (ie. completed) actions or states regardless of whether they were contextually meant to be past, present or future tense whereby the form may just as well have meant '(S)he carried' (past) as '(S)he will carry' (future).

    The active-stative mess

  • Really, any verb construct that doesn't lend itself to the preterite tense should be considered with deep suspicion.

    Alt Text: Twitter Away Your Life With Social Networking

  • Thus, in all verbs the preterite and the past participle were the same and ended in — ED.

    Nineteen Eighty-four

  • Imperative (prejective), conjunctive or optative (subjective), preterite or perfect (trajective), neutral indicative (objective) are grammatical necessities arising out of times and spaces.

    Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

  • You never may know in the preterite all perhaps that you would not believe that you ever even saw to be about to.

    Finnegans Wake

  • He preserves the peculiarity of the Ionians for the preterite tenses of verbs the aphaeresis, as where he says [Greek omitted] for [Greek omitted].

    Essays and Miscellanies

  • In the case of ‘leap,’ which has two preterite-forms, both employed by

    The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley

  • All weak preterite-forms, whether indicatives or participles, have been printed with “ed” rather than “t”, participial adjectives and substantives, such as ‘past,’ alone excepted.

    The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley

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