How to use and conjugate the Spanish pretérito perfecto

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.

Contents on this post

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:¬†pret√©rito.¬†Pret√©rito¬†means ‚Äėpast‚Äô 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: ‚ÄėOk, but¬†what¬†is that in English?‚Äô¬†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 ‚Äď Spanish pret√©rito 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 pretérito perfecto regular conjugation
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 pretérito perfecto regular conjugation example
Spanish pretérito perfecto regular conjugation example

Irregular conjugation ‚Äď Spanish pret√©rito 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 verbs
Spanish preterito perfecto irregular verbs

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

Yo he abierto la puerta
T√ļ has abierto la puerta
√Čl 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‚Äôs the official use¬†ūüôā¬†But let‚Äôs go a bit deeper:

  • We use¬†pret√©rito 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 pretérito 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 ma√Īana me he levantado a las 7.
This morning I woke up at seven.

  • We also use pret√©rito 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.

  • Pret√©rito 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 ‚Äėmeeting that special person‚Äô 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 indefinido

Who wrote this post?

Spanish online class

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big learning.

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

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 come back to Spain, we decided to start our own school. 

It is a small local business. We work with small groups because we like to get to know all our students and design personalized lessons.

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