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The preterite – the word may be used either as a noun or as an adjective - is a tense of the verb, namely, the simple past tense, which with many English verbs is formed by adding –ed to the present (e.g., ‘jumped’ from ‘jump’ or ‘shouted’ from ‘shout’), and with some other verbs by a change of vowel in the stem (e.g.,’ran’ from ‘run’ or ‘took’ from ‘take’). The preterite tense is used to refer to an action or event that took place in and was completed in the past, and, as such, may be contrasted, on the one hand, with the imperfect tense, which is used to refer to a continuing or repeated action or situation in the past, and, on the other hand, with the perfect tense, which is used to refer to past actions or events insofar as they continue to have a continuing relevance in the present.

The word preterite is not much used in the study of English grammar, but is more commonly found in the study of the Romance languages. In the context of English grammar the preterite tense is more usually referred to as the simple past or past simple or past definite tense.

Notes on spelling, pronunciation, and etymology: (1) In the United States preterite is spelt without the final ‘e, preterit. (2) Preterite is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable and all its vowels short, IPA: /‘prɛ tə rɪt/. (3) The English word preterite comer from the Latin praeteritum, a participle of praeterire, ‘to pass’ – the verb was used both transitively and intransitively, and in particular of the passage of time.

See also Aorist.