Perfect Tenses

     

See also: Past Participles

Now that you know how to form past participles, you're ready to learn six more verb conjugations known as "perfect" tenses.

The word "perfect" here doesn't mean that the conjugation is any better than other conjugations, just that the action in question has (or had) already been completed. In English we combine a past participle with a form of "to have."

I have run.
They have played.
She had already left.

To create a perfect tense in Spanish we use a past participle together with forms of the verb haber.

Haber

Now haber is an interesting verb. When used by itself it can only be conjugated in the third person singular because of the way it is translated:

 

conjugation:

translation:

present tense:

hay

there is / there are

imperfect tense:

había

there was / there were

preterite tense:

hubo

there was / there were

future tense:

habrá

there will be

conditional:

habría

there would be

You don't use a subject with haber because the subject is "built-in" so to speak.

When we use haber together with a past participle it functions as an auxiliary verb just like "have" does in the English examples above. We have a full range of haber conjugations (not just third person singular) for perfect tenses. The kind of perfect tense you have depends on the way you conjugate and translate haber.

Here are all the perfect tenses:

The Present Perfect Tense

As the name implies, the present perfect is a type of present tense conjugation involving a past participle. In English it looks something like this:

John has visited his grandparents numerous times.

Important Note: Unlike when we used past participles as adjectives above, when we use them in perfect tenses they always end in "-o." It's functioning as part of a verb in this case and doesn't need to agree in gender or number with anything. Only the haber needs to agree with the subject.

How do we translate this sentence? In Spanish we'll need to choose the conjugation of "haber" that agrees with our subject, John. The present tense forms of haber (which can only be used with a past participle) are:

he

hemos

has

habéis

ha

han

+ past participle

The past participle of "to visit" (visitar) is "visitado." Therefore our translation will look like:

John ha visitado a sus abuelos muchas veces.

Some more examples:

¿Has oído la nueva canción de Lady Gaga?
Have you heard the new Lady Gaga song?

Hemos leído todos los libros de la biblioteca.
We have read all the books in the library.

Let's practice! Conjugate present perfect tense verbs on ¡Practiquemos!

The Pluperfect Tense

Note: We used the imperfect tense forms of haber to the left. There is also a perfect tense involving the preterite known as the "preterite perfect" or "past perfect." It's almost never used in spoken language and rarely written. The preterite conjugations of haber are: hube, hubiste, hubo, hubimos, hubisteis, and hubieron.

"Pluperfect" ("pluscuamperfecto" in Spanish) is a funny name but it basically means the "imperfect perfect." How can those two work with each other? We are talking about something that had already been completed at an indefinite point in the past.

This time we'll use an imperfect tense conjugation with a past participle:

She had already seen the movie three times.

The imperfect tense forms of haber (only to be used with a past participle):

había

habíamos

habías

habíais

había

habían

+ past participle

Note: See how the ya (already) comes in front of the había? Unlike in English we never put anything in between the auxiliary verb and the past participle in Spanish.

The past participle of "to see" (ver) is "visto." Therefore our translation will look like:

Ella ya había visto la película tres veces.

Some more examples:

Yo había conocido a Carlos varias veces antes.
I had met Carlos several times before.

Hemos leído todos los libros de la biblioteca.
We had read all of the books in the library.

Let's practice! Conjugate pluperfect tense verbs on ¡Practiquemos!

The Future Perfect Tense

It's a little strange to think of something as having been completed in the future, but there's also a future perfect conjugation:

I will have travelled to five states.

The future tense forms of haber:

habré

habremos

habrás

habréis

habrá

habrán

+ past participle

The past participle of "to travel" (viajar) is "viajado." Therefore our translation will look like:

Yo habré viajado a cinco estados.

Some more examples:

habrás estudiado medicina por 10 años.
You will have studied medicince for 10 years.

Habrán jugado en el parque muchas veces.
You will have played at the park many times.

Let's practice! Conjugate future perfect verbs on ¡Practiquemos!

The Conditional Perfect

There's also a conditional perfect to speak hypothetically about actions that would have been completed:

He would have given you the money.

The conditional tense forms of haber:

habría

habríamos

habrías

habríais

habría

habrían

+ past participle

The past participle of "to give" (dar) is "dado." Therefore our translation will look like:

Él te habría dado el dinero.

Some more examples:

Yo habría hecho la tarea con más tiempo.
I would have done the homework with more time.

Habríamos conducido 100 millas en la dirección equivocada.
We would have driven 100 miles in the wrong direction.

But wait! There's more.

Let's practice! Conjugate conditional perfect verbs on ¡Practiquemos!

The Present Perfect Subjunctive

We're not limited to the indicative mood when working with perfect tenses. We can also use them in subjunctive mood situations:

I doubt that Carlos has done his homework.

The present subjunctive forms of haber:

haya

hayamos

hayas

hayáis

haya

hayan

+ past participle

And our Spanish translation:

Yo dudo que Carlos haya hecho su tarea.

Some more examples:

Me alegro mucho que todos hayan pasado la prueba.
I'm very happy that everyone has passed the test.

Ellos no creen que nosotros hayamos vivido en tres paises.
They don't believe that we have lived in three countries.

Let's practice! Conjugate present perfect subjunctive verbs on ¡Practiquemos!

The Pluperfect Subjunctive

When we need it, there's a past perfect (pluperfect) subjunctive waiting for us too:

My family hoped that we had arrived on time.

Note: There is an alternate set of pluperfect subjunctive conjugations which are archaic and not widely used: hubiese, hubieses, hubiese, hubiésemos, hubieseis, and hubiesen.

The pluperfect subjunctive forms of haber:

hubiera

hubiéramos

hubieras

hubierais

hubiera

hubieran

+ past participle

And our Spanish translation:

Mi familia esperaba que nosotros hubiéramos llegado a tiempo.

Some more examples:

Me alegraba mucho que todos hubieran pasado la prueba.
I was very happy that everyone had passed the test.

Ellos no creían que nosotros hubiéramos vivido en tres paises.
They didn't believe that we had lived in three countries.

Let's practice! Conjugate pluperfect subjunctive verbs on ¡Practiquemos!

The Perfect Infinitive

Note: It may be helpful to think of this tense as the "infinitive perfect."

Just when you thought there couldn't possibly be any more perfect tenses, there's one thing we haven't tried yet... not conjugating haber. In doing so we are making a vague reference to something in the unspecified past.

¡Gracias por habernos dado la bienvenida!
Thank you for having welcomed us!

Me gustaría haber visto Montana.
I would like to have seen Montana.

Más vale haber amado y perdido que no haber amado nunca.
'Tis better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.

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