How to use and conjugate
the Spanish pretérito perfecto

Are you confused about the use and conjugation of Spanish past tenses? Do you want to know how to translate the Spanish pretérito perfecto to English? Are you ready to learn how to use and conjugate the Spanish pretérito perfecto?

If you are looking for a clear explanation of pretérito perfecto and the role it plays in the universe of Spanish past tenses, you have come to the right place.

But first of all, let me tell you something:  don’t worry, you are not alone. I see the panic on my students’ faces every time we introduce past tenses in class for the first time.

The idea of Spanish past tenses being a difficult and confusing matter is widely spread amongst Spanish learners. But I disagree. It is just a topic that needs to be explained in an easy and comprehensible way because unfortunately there is no one-to-one translation between Spanish and English past tenses.

As my students always hear me say, it is all about context.

An overview of Spanish past tenses 

Before studying each Spanish past tense individually and using them in combination, it is important to have a quick overview.

There are 3 + 1 Spanish past tenses. I say +1 because one can be avoided or changed to another past tense in most of the cases. So let’s keep it as a bonus for when we have mastered the 3 main past tenses.

Each past tense has its own name (useful when learning grammar and looking for exercises) but all of them start with the same word: pretérito. Pretérito means ‘past’ in Spanish grammar.

Therefore, the Spanish past tenses are: 

⇒ pretérito perfecto, 

⇒pretérito indefinido and

⇒pretérito imperfecto

I know that at this point the only question you have on your mind is: ‘Ok, but what is that in English?’ Sorry, but I have some bad news for you: as I said before, there is no direct translation to English past tenses. It will depend on the context.

But it’s not all bad news, instead of trying to find translations from one language to another, we can look at the usage of the past tenses and REALLY understand:

To choose the right past tense, you have to consider when the action took place (Was it today or yesterday? Was it this week or last week?) and also if you want to talk about main actions or descriptions.

As a very general rule, we use pretérito perfecto and pretérito indefinido for actions in the past while we use pretérito imperfecto for descriptions of people, places, objects, and situations in the past.

The best advice I can give to you to learn past tenses: do it step by step.

In this article, we will focus on the use and conjugation of the pretérito perfecto. 

Let’s start!

How to conjugate the Spanish pretérito perfecto

The Spanish pretérito perfecto is formed by pairing two words: 

⇒ verb haber and 

⇒ participio pasado 

Let’s have a closer look:

Regular conjugation РSpanish pret̩rito perfecto

Haber is an auxiliary verb, which means it is a verb that we use to conjugate compound tenses. If we were to conjugate haber in the present or past without adding another word, it doesn’t have any meaning.

To form pretérito perfecto we conjugate haber in the present tense and we add the past participle (participio pasado).

The past participle is formed by taking the infinitive, removing the -ar, -er, -ir and adding the endings -ado, -ido, -ido, respectively.

SPANISH_PRETERITO_PERFECTO_REGULAR

Spanish pretérito perfecto regular conjugation

Keep in mind that the past participle stays the same for each person, and we only conjugate the first part (haber). For example:

SPANISH_PRETERITO_PERFECTO_REGULAR_2

Spanish pretérito perfecto regular conjugation example

Irregular conjugation РSpanish pret̩rito perfecto

When we conjugate Spanish pretérito perfecto we have to consider that there are also irregular verbs. They are irregular because they don’t follow the general conjugation rule of the past participle (participio pasado) and use a different word instead.

They are:

SPANISH_PRETERITO_PERFECTO_IRREGULAR

Spanish preterito perfecto irregular verbs

The conjugation for haber stays the same for regular and irregular verbs:

Yo he abierto la puerta
Tú has abierto la puerta
Él ha abierto la puerta
Nosotros hemos abierto la puerta
Vosotros habéis abierto la puerta
Ellos han abierto la puerta

How to use the Spanish pretérito perfecto

The pretérito perfecto is used in Spanish to express actions that people have done or events that have happened, which are still viewed as in the present or whose results influence the present or future.

Well, that’s the official use 🙂 But let’s go a bit deeper:

⇒ We use pretérito perfecto to talk about finished actions in the past that happened in a period that is not finished. What is a
non-finished period? Today, this week, this month, this year…

Therefore, we will use pretérito perfecto after signal words like:

SPANISH_PRETERITO_PERFECTO_TIME_WORDS

Spanish pretérito perfecto time words

This might be confusing for English speakers as in English it is more usual to use past simple in this context. For example:

Esta mañana me he levantado a las 7.
This morning I woke up at seven.

⇒ We also use pretérito perfecto to indicate the number of times something has happened in the past until the present time. For example:

He visitado París tres veces.
I have visited Paris three times.

En toda mi vida, he viajado en avión más de treinta veces.
In my whole life, I have travelled by plane more than thirty times.

⇒ Pretérito perfecto is also used in Spanish to express actions that are still viewed as in the present or whose results influence the present or future. For example:

Me he roto una pierna.
I have broken my leg.
Therefore, my leg is still broken now.

He perdido el móvil.
I have lost my phone
I don’t have my phone now.

He conocido a una persona especial.
I have met someone special.
The action of ‘meeting that special person’ is affecting my life in some way in the present.

Download 23 easy sentences to practice Spanish pretérito perfecto

Now you have all the information about how to conjugate and use the Spanish pretérito perfecto. Before reading and learning about other past tenses like the pretérito indefinido and imperfecto I strongly recommend you to practise. It will help you to take in all this new information and really understand.

I have created 23 easy sentences for you to practise the use of the Spanish pretérito perfecto. Download the worksheet below!

Special bonus! The best Spanish song to practice the pretérito perfecto

Who wrote this post? 

Hello! We are CactusBCN Languages, a Spanish language school located in Barcelona.

If you liked this post, something tells me that you’ll love learning Spanish with us.

The school was founded and is run by two enthusiastic teachers: Marta and Verónica. We were teaching Spanish around the world for a few years and when we came back to Spain, we decided to start our own school. It is a small local business and we like it like that 🙂 We work with small groups because we like to get to know all our students and design personalized lessons.

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