Understand the differences between Spanish present perfect and preterite indefinite
Confused about the past in Spanish?

When referring to the past in Spanish, you will use mainly three verb tenses in the indicative mood: preterite imperfect (pretérito imperfecto,) for habits and ongoing actions in the past; present perfect (pretérito perfecto,) for past actions linked to the present or ambiguous about when they took place; and preterite indefinite, when specifying when an action took place. I will show you the main differences between present perfect and preterite indefinite.

Ambiguity about when an event took place: present perfect

When you don’t specify when something happened, use the present perfect, whether it was five minutes or five years ago.

a) El ministro ha dado un discurso – The minister has delivered a speech
b) Los estudiantes han entrado a la clase – The students have entered the classroom
c) He comprado una nueva computadora – I have bought a new computer

A past action linked to the present: present perfect

Use the present perfect to link an action to the present. You will need to use a specific marker, including:

a) Esta semana – this week
b) Este mes – this month
c) Este año – this year
d) Hoy – today

Anytime you use the demonstrative adjective “this,” you use the preterite perfect. This is not to say that you cannot use the preterite indefinite with the markers above, but they are generally used with present perfect. The logic behind this is that the day/week/month/year is not over. Therefore, it is still the present. Some examples:

a) Esta semana he tenido un montón de trabajo – I’ve had a lot of work this week
b) Ellos no han visitado muchos países este año – They have not visited a lot of countries this year
c) ¿Ustedes han ido de compras hoy? – Have you gone shopping today?

When did that happen? Preterite indefinite

The indefinite usually specifies when something happened.

a) Present perfect: He estado en Costa Rica – I’ve been to Costa Rica
b) Preterite indefinite: Estuve en Costa Rica hace dos semanas – I was in Costa Rica two weeks ago

The first sentence is written in the present perfect. It doesn’t specify when I went to Costa Rica. The second sentence, in the preterite indefinite, does specify when. The following are some markers using the preterite indefinite:

a) El año/mes pasado – last year/month
b) La semana pasada – last week
c) El otro día – the other day
d) El lunes/martes/miércoles – On Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday
e) Ayer – yesterday
f) Anteayer – before yesterday
g) Anoche – last night
h) Anteanoche – two nights ago
i) Hace dos días/semanas/años – Two days/weeks/months ago

Conjugating preterite indefinite

-ar verbs, such as estudiar, trabajar, hablar

Yo estudié
Tú estudiaste
Él/ella/usted estudió
Nosotros/nosotras estudiamos
Vosotros/vosotras estudiasteis
Ellos/ellas estudiaron

-er/ir, such as comer, vivir,

Yo comí
Tú comiste
Él/ella/usted comió
Nosotros/nosotras comimos
Vosotros/vosotras comisteis
Ellos/ellas/ustedes comieron

Conjugating present perfect

For present perfect, you will use the auxiliary verb “haber” (the equivalent of have, has) plus the participle. To form the participle, verbs ending in -ar will end in -ado, -er and -ir will end in -ido.

Estudiar = estudiado
Comer = comido
Vivir = vivido

Yo he estudiado
Tú has estudiado
Él/ella/usted ha comido
Nosotros/nosotras hemos vivido
Ellos/ellas/ustedes han vivido

Exercises with present perfect and preterite indefinite

Now that you know the differences between present perfect and preterite perfect, try the following exercises.

  1. ¿_______________ (visitar, tú) Australia alguna vez? – Have you ever visited Australia?
  2. Estuve en Sevilla el año pasado. ____________ (encantar, yo) – I was in Sevilla last year. I loved it.
  3. Todavía no ha llegado Marta. ¿La _______________ (llamar, tú)? – Marta has not arrived yet. Have you called her?
  4. Acabo de leer esa novela. _______________ (gustar, yo) – I just read that novel. I’ve liked it a lot.
  5. Hoy _______________ (renunciar) el presidente – The president has resigned today.
  6. El verano pasado mi familia y yo _______________ (ir) a la playa varias veces – Last summer, my family and I went to the beach a few times.
  7. ¿_______________ (estar, ustedes) en la reunión de ayer? – Were you at yesterday’s meeting?
  8. El otro día _______________ (ver, yo) la exposición de Goya – I saw the Goya exhibit the other day.
  9. ¿Hace cuánto tiempo que _______________ (conocer, tú) a tu novio? – How long ago did you meet your boyfriend?
  10. _______________ (mudarse, yo) a este apartamento hace dos años – I moved to this apartment two years ago.

Answers: 1. has visitado; 2. me encantó; 3. has llamado; 4. me ha gustado; 5. ha renunciado; 6. fuimos*; 7. estuvieron*; 8. vi*; 9. conociste; 10. me mudé
*irregular verbs

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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