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 (pretérito indefinido) when specifying when an action took place. I will show you the main differences between present perfect and preterite indefinite.
When you don’t specify when something happened, use the present perfect, whether it was five minutes or five years ago.
Use the present perfect to link an action to the present. You will need to use a specific marker, including:
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:
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 indicate that you should use 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
-ar verbs, such as estudiar, trabajar, hablar
-er/ir, such as comer, vivir,
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
Now that you know the differences between present perfect and preterite perfect, try the following exercises.
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
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Irma is a trained linguist, native Spanish speaker, and teacher. She is the founder and CEO of Diáfano.
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