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  • Writer's pictureClaudio

PRESENT PERFECT vs. PAST PERFECT in Spanish

Updated: Mar 4

When and how to correctly use the “Pretérito Perfecto” and the “Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto” in Spanish?


Man think at the correct use of Present Perfect and Past Perfect in Spanish

I’ll give you two answers: a short one, and a professional one 🙂


SHORT ANSWER

As with the Past Perfect in English, we use the Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto to describe past actions (that had already occurred) before another action, always in the past. So, BOTH ACTIONS HAVE TO BE ACTUALLY IN THE PAST.


If you have two actions, where the first action happens in the PRESENT…., and the second action in the PAST “RELATED to the present”, or if you have only one action in the PAST “RELATED to the present”, you need to use the Pretérito Perfecto (Present Perfect), and NOT the Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto (Past perfect).


- Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto (Past Perfect)

   Cuando llegué a la estación, el tren ya había partido

   When I arrived at the station, the train had already gone

   (There are two actions, and both of them are in the PAST)


- Pretérito Perfecto (Present Perfect)

   Hoy, he llegado a la estación a las tres

   Today, I have arrived at the station at three

   (There is one action in the PAST, related in some way to the present time)


So…, when to use these tenses properly?


PROFESSIONAL ANSWER

1. Pretérito Perfecto (PRESENT PERFECT). We have two possibilities:

a) With a TIME indicator that INCLUDES the present moment

- Hoy he perdido mis llaves

- Today I’ve lost my keys

We should be using the PRESENT PERFECT (Pretérito Perfecto) in this phrase because “HOY” (today) include the present moment.

It would be the same with:

  • “this week” (esta semana)

  • “this month” (este mes)

  • “this summer” (este verano), etc.


b) Without a TIME indicator

- He perdido mis llaves

- I’ve lost my keys

In this case, the speaker is letting us know that the “thing” we are talking about is in some way related to the present moment. It’s a way to communicates a “sensation” of closeness to the present moment, and there is no rule here about “how much time”, but just the perception of the speaker.


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2. Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto (PAST PERFECT). Let’s see how to use it correctly…

In Spanish, we use it to describe past actions (that had already occurred) before another action, always in the past.


To form the Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto, you have to conjugate “HABER” in its Imperfect form (this will be your Auxiliary Verb), and then just ad the past participle of the main verb.


IMPERFECT OF “HABER” + PAST PARTICIPLE OF THE MAIN VERB


Let’s take a closer look at it…


Imperfect form of “HABER”:

- Yo había (I had)

- Tú habías (You had) INFORMAL*

- El / Ella había (He, She had)

- Usted había (You had) FORMAL*

- Nosotros/as habíamos (We had)

- Vosotros/as habíais (You all had) INFORMAL*

- Ellos/Ellas habían (They had)

- Ustedes habían (You all had) FORMAL*

+

Past Participle:
a) Verbs finishing in AR

We have to cancel -AR and ad -ADO at the end of the verb

- amAR > amADO

- to love > loved

——

b) Verbs finishing in ER

We have to cancel -ER and ad -IDO at the end of the verb

- comER > comIDO

- to eat > eaten

——

c) Verbs finishing in IR

We have to cancel -IR and ad -IDO at the end of the verb

- vivIR > vivIDO

- to live > lived


So.., putting all this together:

- Mis amigos ya habían llegado cuando yo llegué

- My friends had already arrived when I arrived


- Ella había comido antes de llegar a la cena

- She had eaten before arriving at the dinner


That being said, in case you want to push yourself beyond the correct use of the PRESENT PERFECT and PAST PERFECT in Spanish, maybe finding new and powerful resources, plus the opportunity to practice your Spanish by talking in a professionally managed environment, if you want, you can take a look at our Live Conversation Classes (384 Classes available per YEAR — 1 to 6 students per class) 🙂


Complete Spanish Courses — from Zero to HERO in 6 months — can be found through our homepage 🚀


Qué tengas un maravilloso día!

Claudio

 
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Claudio

Professional Spanish Coach with 15+ years of experience.


"Do what you love and focus your energy on creating what you want in your life. Your energy goes where your thoughts go, and so does your life itself. You have to believe that you are worthy of what you want, you have to believe that you deserve what you want, and you have to act.


If you have decided to learn Spanish, take action and make things happen. You deserve it, and you are worth it.”

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