Lesson 8: Past Tense

There are about four different ways of forming the past tense in Romanian. In this lesson we will cover two kinds of past tenses called the "compound past" and the "simple past". We will also review some time expression often used in conjunction with the past.

The compound past is usually used to describe an action that happened only once:
I ate dinner at Raul's house last night.
We went to a movie.

The compound past is formed by a conjugated form of "to have" plus the past participle of the verb. The shortened form of "to have" as used for past tenses follows:

eu am I've
tu ai you've
el / ea a he's / she's
noi am we've
voi ați you've
ei / ele au they've

The past participle is formed from the infinitive of the verb following a few fairly simple rules. It might be easier at first to simply memorize the past participles of the more commonly used verbs (note: past participles can also be used as adjectives! -more on that later).

For starters, let's look at the past tense of a face meaning "to do" or "to make":

The past participle of face is făcut. You would use this in conjunction with the shortened form of a avea to form the past. Confused? Just look at the examples!
am făcut = I made
ai făcut = you made
a făcut = he/she made
am făcut = we made
ați făcut = you made
au făcut = they made

You may notice the past tense for eu and noi is exactly the same: am făcut. You can use the personal pronouns to stress who is the doer of the action.
Eu am făcut. I did.
Noi am făcut. We did.

Here are some examples of basic verbs and their past participles:

Infinitive Past Participle Definition
face făcut make / do
vorbi vorbit speak
merge mers go
da dat give
mînca mîncat eat
primi primit receive
bea băut drink
veni venit come
spune spus say
avea avut have
fi fost be

Here are some simple rules to follow to divine the past participle. There are a number of exceptions to the rules however, so a list of common irregular verbs will follow.

Rules for Past Participles

  • add a 't' to verbs ending in 'i' or 'a'
  • subtract last two letters of verbs ending in 'e', then add an 's'


"a alege" = "to choose"
alege -> ales -> ales

"a zice" = "to say"
zice -> zis -> zis

"a alerga" = "to run"
alergat -> alergat

"a șopti" = "to whisper"
șoptit -> șoptit

To negate a past tense you add a 'nu' in front of the 'avea' helping verb. This often gets shortened to 'n-'.
Nu am băut -> N-am băut I did not drink
Nu ai venit -> N-ai venit You did not come

One more thing you should know about Romanian negation is that they love double-negatives! We only say that in dialect in English so I have fun doing it in Romanian. Words you will need to form double negatives are:
nimeni nobody
nicăieri nowhere
niciodată never
nimic nothing

I do not expect this to make a whole lot of sense without a small sea of example sentences, so below you will find exactly that...

Ați venit ieri? Did you all come yesterday?
Pisicile au mîncat șoarecii. The cats ate the mice.
Noi n-am văzut nimic! We didn't see anything!
Ea niciodată n-a auzit nimic. She never heard anything.
Ieri am primit o scrisoare de la el. I got a letter from him yesterday
Au mers pînă la vamă. They went up to the border.
Am vorbit toata ziua. We talked the whole day.
N-au spus nimic despre țiganii. They didn't say anything about the gypsies.
Mașina n-a fost nicăieri. The car wasn't anywhere.

AND now for the simple past!

The simple past is used to denote an action that happened more than once or over a period of time. Examples in English would be "We were writing each other everyday" or "I went to the library on Sundays". It is constructed by adding a suffix* to the end of the verb infinitive. The suffixes used are as follows:

Person Suffix
eu -am
tu -ai
el / ea -a
noi -am
voi -ați
ei / ele -au

*If the infinitive ends in an i, change the i to an e when adding the suffixes.
Example using a vorbi (to speak): Ea vorbea cu noi. She was speaking with us.

These suffixes look familiar? They should! They are the same as the forms of 'to have' used in the compound past. Below you will see examples of some verbs with this suffix added:

merge "go"
singular plural
eu mergeam noi mergeam
tu mergeai voi mergeați
el mergea ei mergeau

avea "have"
singular plural
eu aveam noi aveam
tu aveai voi aveați
el avea ei aveau

fi (irregular) "be"
singular plural
eu eram noi eram
tu erai voi erați
el era ei erau

You may have noticed that with avea the letter 'a' is not doubled: avea + am = aveam. This is true for all verbs ending in a.
To negate just put a nu before the verb and shorten to n- if the verb begins with an 'a'. Below are some examples.

N-aveam cărți. We didn't have books.
Nu mergeau la bisercă.They did not go to church.
Dimineață mîncam salata de ardei. I used to eat pepper salad in the morning.
Primeai scrisori de la ea? Were you getting letters from her?
Nimeni nu vorbea cu mine. Nobody would talk with me.

Lesson 7: Future Main Page Lesson 9: Reflexive