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  • Writer's pictureClaudio


Updated: Feb 10

Let’s see where, when, and how to correctly use the Pretérito Perfecto (Present Perfect) and the Pretérito Indefinido (Past Simple) in Spanish.

Woman guessing how to use the Pretérito Perfecto and the Pretérito Indefinido in Spanish

Lots of Spanish students normally ask themselves “where” in the Spanish-speaking world is more common the usage of both these verb tenses. And this is a very interesting question!

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

1. Short Answer (as a NON absolute generalization)

  • Pretérito Indefinido (Simple Past) > Latin America + Galicia, Canary Islands, and Part of Andalucía (Spain)

  • Pretérito Perfecto (Present Perfect) > Northern and Central Spain (less used in Galicia, Canary Islands, and Andalucía)

So, generally speaking:

  • Perdí mis llaves (I lost my keys) > Latin America + Galicia and Southern Spain

  • He perdido mis llaves (I’ve lost my keys) > Northern and Central Spain

2. Professional Answer

As for the correct use of Simple Past and Present Perfect in English…, also in Spanish we have rules for Pretérito Indefinido and Pretérito Perfecto, and we should use both of them correctly, depending on the CONTEXT.

  • It’s true that in everyday life not everybody cares.

  • It’s true that most people just use what they “feel” more natural in their region, without thinking about it at all.

  • It’s true that we, ALL native Spanish-speakers, can perfectly understand and have a normal conversation with each other besides the tense used by others in the same conversation.

  • It’s true that in a Spanish Language Exam is considered a MISTAKE to use them wrongly (I was an Examiner for a well-known Spanish language certification).

  • In some contexts, the “educational status” of people can be perceived accordingly to their ability to express themselves correctly and with a rich vocabulary (this has nothing to do with money, I’m just talking about how much educated one can be…, or not).

So…, when and how to use these tenses properly?

1. Pretérito Indefinido (SIMPLE PAST). We have two possibilities:

a) With a TIME indicator that DOESN’T include the present moment
  • Ayer perdí mis llaves

  • Yesterday I lost my keys

We should be using the SIMPLE PAST (Pretérito Indefinido) in this phrase because “AYER” (yesterday) doesn’t include the present moment. It would be the same with “last week” (la semana pasada), “last month” (el mes pasado), “last summer” (el verano pasado), etc.

b) Without a TIME indicator
  • Perdí mis llaves

  • I lost my keys

This communicates the “sensation” that the thing happened a long time ago from the present moment. There is no rule here about “how much time”, but it communicates the perception of the speaker.

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2. 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.

That being said, in case you want to push yourself beyond the correct use of PRETÉRITO PERFECTO vs. PRETÉRITO INDEFINIDO 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!


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