Pluperfect in Spanish - Diáfano
Let’s talk about the past before the past in Spanish.

Known in Spanish as the pluscuamperfecto, the pluperfect (or past perfect), is the equivalent of the form “had + participle” in English. It is composed of the auxiliary verb (also know as helping verb) haber conjugated in the imperfect tense, and followed by the participle. As in English, the pluperfect is used to describe the past before the past. In other words, an action in the past that preceded another action in the past.

There are two technical rules to remember about the pluperfect:

       1) As in the present perfectwhich uses haber + participle as well, but with haber conjugated in the present tensenothing can get between these two verbs. The auxiliary verb directly precedes the participle at all times. They must not be separated.

       2) The verb haber, even though it is conjugated in the imperfect, and with the exception of había (meaning “There was/were”), is NEVER used in the imperfect as anything other than a helping help. You can say:

Había mucha gente en el concierto There were a lot of people at the concert.

But you can’t say:

Él había ¿?

This means absolutely nothing without the participle following it. The same goes for any other subject pronoun.

What you should learn before learning past perfect

It is important to note that Spanish has four moods (indicative, subjunctive, imperative, and conditional, though some linguists do not consider the conditional a mood). Within each mood, there are various tenses. The future tense only applies to the indicative mood. The “past,” on the other is a rather vague term because there is the indefinite, the imperfect, present perfect, past perfect, and these could go in the indicative mood or in the subjunctive mood.

Pluperfect should be the last milestone achieved in the indicative mood before moving to either conditional and subjunctive. Before the learn pluperfect, make sure to learn the following:

       1)  Present indicative, both regular and irregular verbs, including gerunds, power verbs and periphrases.

       2) Conjugating and understanding the differences between present perfect and indefinite.

       3) Conjugating and understanding the differences between indefinite and imperfect.

       4) Conjugating and understanding the imperative mood for both affirmative and negative commands. The imperative will be your foundation for conjugating the subjunctive.

In this article, we will cover the uses of past perfect in the indicative mood, which is used to refer to actions that actually took place, as opposed to actions that did not, which would be in the subjunctive. But that’s another article ;).

Conjugating haber

The imperfect tense of the indicative mood only has three irregular verbs: ir, ser, and ver. That means haber is conjugated as any other regular verb in the imperfect.

Subject pronoun

Imperfect
Yo había
habías
Él/ella/usted había
Nosotros/nosotrashabíamos
Vosotros/vosotras habíais
Ellos/ellas/ustedeshabían

Conjugating the participle

To get the participle of a verb, follow this format for regular verbs:

ar verb ending ➡➡ado

er/ir verb ending ➡➡ido

For example:

tomar➡➡tomado

beber➡➡bebido

asistir ➡➡asistido

There are two actions taking place in all sentences that required the past perfect. Both actions are in the past. However, th For example:

  1.  A los 30 años, Beethoven ya había compuesto su Primer sinfonía At 30, Beethoven had already composed his First Symphony.
  2.  Cuando te escribí, no había escuchado tu mensaje todavía When I wrote to you, I hadn’t listened to your message yet.
  3.  No le dijo a su novio que ya había visto esa película tres veces. Qué aburrido  She didn’t tell her boyfriend that she had already seen that movie three times. It was so boring.

Exercises with the pluperfect

Choose the correct tense for each example below. Note the indefinite, imperfect, and pluperfect are used. Try not to look at the translation right away.

  1. Cuando llegué, mi marido ya ____________ (había preparado / preparó) la cena. ¡Qué sorpresa! When I arrived, my husband had already made dinner. What a surprise!
  2. Perdona que te llame tan tarde. Es que cuando llegué, mi marido ____________ (había preparado / preparó) la cena, por lo que hemos cenado bastante tarde I’m sorry to be calling you so late. My husband made dinner when I arrived, so we ate pretty late.
  3. Los llamé, pero me no ____________ (habían llegado / llegaron) I called them, but they hadn’t arrived.
  4. Los llamé cuando  ____________ (habían llegado / llegaron) I called them when they arrived.
  5. El día de su boda fue el más feliz de su vida. Nunca _______________ (había sido / fue) tan feliz Her wedding day was the happiest day of her life. She had never felt so happy.
  6. El día de su boda  ____________ (había sido / fue) maravilloso Her wedding day was amazing.
  7. ¿Qué te pareció el carnaval? ____________ (habías estado / estuviste) en alguno similar? What did you think of the carnival? Did you ever attend anything like it?
  8. ¿Qué te pareció el carnaval? Te vi. ____________ (habías parecido / parecías) muy contenta What did you think of the carnival? I saw you. You looked very happy.
  9. ¿____________ (habéis sufrido / sufristeis) mucho cuando os despesdisteis? Did you suffer a lot when you said good?
  10. Esa despedida fue tan devastadora para ellos. Nunca  ____________ (habían sufrido / sufrieron) tanto That was a devastating goodbye. They had never suffered so much.

Answers: 1. había preparado; 2. preparó; 3. habían llegado; 4. llegaron; 5. había sido; 6. fue; 7. habías estado; 8. parecías; 9. sufristeis ; 10. habían sufrido;

 

Irma Cedeno

Irma is an educator, linguist, creativity expert, cultural competence strategist, and the founder of Diáfano, a company responsible for designing and implementing Spanish classes and programs at corporations. From universities and top US institutes to Fortune 500 companies, Irma has been an integral part of language learning and cultural competence training. After travelling to 40+ countries (and counting!) and over 10 years of working in education, she developed and honed her methodology in 2013. The Diáfano Method is student-centered methodology that breaks down language learning into clear and simple steps.
Irma grew up bilingual and is a proud learner of French, Italian, Portuguese, and Japanese. Check her out at www.diafanomethod.com.

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