Master the Past Perfect Tense in Spanish (El Pluscuamperfecto)
The past perfect tense in Spanish is probably the last indicative past tense that you’re learning. If you already have a firm grasp of other past tenses, you should be able to learn this one really quickly!
Whether you want to write in the past perfect tense, use it in conversations, or you just need somebody to explain the past perfect tense once for all, this article is for you.
This blog post explains the meaning of the name of this tense, how to form it, and when to use it. You’ll see lots of past perfect tense verbs in context and you’ll be able to see how much you’ve learned at the end.
Let’s get started!
What is the Past Perfect Tense in Spanish
The past perfect tense in Spanish is one of the easiest to master. It’s also called the pluperfect and el pretérito pluscuamperfecto in Spanish.
But what does past perfect tense mean?
It is a “perfect” tense, not because it’s so great but because it talks about events and actions that passed before another action or event. The English language also has perfect tenses—for example, the present perfect tense and the past perfect tense.
An English Review
The past perfect is a compound tense, made up of a helping verb and a main verb.
For example, in the sentence “I had eaten,” “had” is the helping verb and “eaten” is the main verb.
The helping verb is conjugated according to the subject, while the main verb remains in its past participle form.
What is the past participle form, you ask? It is a conjugated verb used in compound verbs (as in our example above, “had eaten”) or as an adjective (“half-eaten bread”). In English, you form the past participles by adding -ed, -d, -t, or -en to most verbs (such as “tried,” “bought,” and “broken”), which are preceded by a helping verb. Some more examples of past participles (bolded in the following phrases) are:
- I have studied.
- We had traveled.
- I have already caught it.
- The phone was stolen.
- The stolen phone.
As a brief reminder, the present perfect tense combines the present tense verb “to have” and the main verb in its past participle form.
Present Perfect: present conjugation of “have” + past participle
- have danced
- has decided
- have seen
The past perfect takes the same format, but instead uses the past tense form of “have” (instead of the present).
Past Perfect: past conjugation of “have” + past participle
- had danced
- had decided
- had seen
If you’re instead looking for the past perfect subjunctive, read “Master the Past Perfect Subjunctive.”
How to Form the Past Perfect Tense in Spanish
It’s very easy to form the past perfect indicative tense. Simply combine the auxiliary verb haber (to have, do be) in the imperfect form and add a past participle of the action verb.
NOTE! While both haber and tener mean “to have,” in Spanish, the auxiliary verb always translates to haber and never tener. (To clarify, tener always refers to having physical or abstract things, while haber most often takes the role of an auxiliary or helping verb.)
The past participles in Spanish are slightly more complicated than in English, but they aren’t too hard to master. The rules for forming the participio pasado are as follows:
For -AR verbs, add -ado. (hablado, jugado, enviado)
For -ER and -IR verbs, add -ido. (comido, ido, vivido)
Past Perfect Tense in Spanish Formula:
Subject + Haber in the imperfect + past participle of the main verb
Yo había guardado los libros antes de la comida.
I had put the books away before lunch.
Conjugation Chart of the Auxiliary verb haber in the Imperfect Tense
Let’s have a quick reminder of how to conjugate the auxiliary verb haber in the imperfect tense.
|Yo había||I had|
|Tú habías||You had|
|Él, ella, usted había||She, he, it had (fml. You had)|
|Nosotros habíamos||We had|
|Ustedes habían||You had|
|Ellos, ellas habían||They had|
Now that you know how to conjugate haber and you have the “had” part, all that is left is to add the past participle form of the main verb.
How to Create Past Participle Forms
These -ido and -ado endings for past perfect tense in Spanish are the past participle forms of verbs. You might remember from the present perfect tense how to create the past participle forms that you also need now. If not, I’ll cover it quickly here.
The past participle forms in Spanish of regular -ar verbs end in -ado, and in -ido for regular -er and -ir verbs. All you need to do is to take off the infinitive ending -ar, -er, and -ir and add the corresponding -ado or -ido past participle ending. Let’s some examples:
Amar (to love) – amado (loved)
Vivir (to love) – vivido (lived)
Comer (to eat) – comido (eaten)
Yo la había amado pero ella me dejó.
I had loved her but she left me.
En aquella casa habíamos vivido antes de mudarnos al departamento.
We had lived in that house before moving into the apartment.
Ya habíamos comido y mi abuela nos sirvió más.
We had already eaten and my grandmother served us more.
That’s easy. Now, let’s see some possible irregularities in the past participle forms that you need to make sentences in past perfect Spanish.
Accented Past Participle Forms
Some -er and -ir verbs whose stem (the part left after removing the infinitive ending) ends in a vowel have an accent mark over the letter i in the past participle -ido ending.
Examples of Some Verbs With Accented Past Participle Endings.
|atraer – atraído||to attract – attracted|
|caer – caído||to fall – fallen|
|creer – creído||to believe – believed|
|leer – leído||to read – read|
|oír – oído||to hear – heard|
|poseer – poseído||to possess – possessed|
|reír – reído||to laugh – laughed|
|sonreír – sonreído||to smile – smiled|
|traer – traído||to bring – brought|
Lo miró, pero ya había caído demasiado abajo para verlo.
He looked at it, but it had already fallen too low to see it.
Antes de casarse con él, ella ya había poseído una gran fortuna.
Before marrying him, she had already possessed a great fortune.
Siempre se había reído de mí y mira lo que le pasó.
He had always laughed at me and look at what happened to him.
Irregular Past Participle Forms
There are some past participle irregulars that don’t follow rules of any kind and you need to learn them by heart to use them correctly in the past perfect tense form. You probably already know most of them by studying the present perfect tense formation.
Past Participle Irregulars Chart
|abrir – abierto||to open – opened|
|absolver – absuelto||to absolve – absolved|
|cubrir – cubierto||to cover – covered|
|decir – dicho||to say – said|
|escribir – escrito||to write – written|
|hacer – hecho||to do – done|
|morir – muerto||to die – died|
|poner – puesto||to put – put|
|resolver – resuelto||to solve – solved|
|romper – roto||to break – broken|
|satisfacer – satisfecho||to satisfy – satisfied|
|ver – visto||to see – seen|
|volver – vuelto||to return – returned|
Pensé que ya había resuelto el problema pero no.
I thought I had solved the problem but no.
No había visto nada así hasta que se mudó a Europa.
He hadn’t seen anything like it until he moved to Europe.
Pidió perdón porque me había hecho daño.
She asked for forgiveness because she had hurt me.
Object Pronouns Placement With the Past Perfect Tense Verbs
The auxiliary verb haber and the main verb in the past participle are never separated. That’s why if you need to add any object pronouns they will always go before the verb haber.
For example, you cannot say “ya había lo visto antes.” (incorrect)
The correct form is: ya lo había visto antes (I had seen it before).
Lo busqué pero alguien ya se lo había llevado.
I looked for it but someone had already taken it away.
Nunca la había visto antes de aquella noche.
I had never seen her before that night.
When to Use the Past Perfect Participle in Spanish
As I mentioned earlier, the past perfect or pluperfect in Spanish refers to an action that took place before another past action.
Ella había llegado antes que sus padres.
She had arrived before her parents.
NOTE: Her parents arrived at some point in the past but she had arrived even earlier, hence you have to put it in the past perfect tense.
Let’s see more examples before you take the quiz below!
Ya te habías ido de la fiesta cuando yo llegué.
You had already left when I arrived.
¡Habías visto la película antes que yo!
You had seen the movie before me!
Corrimos hacia la puerta del embarque pero el avión ya había despegado.
We ran to the gate but the plane had already taken off.
Ella había preparado todo antes de la ceremonia de la mañana.
She had prepared everything before the morning ceremony.
Ya se habían hecho muy amigas cuando llegó la hora de ir a casa.
They had already become very good friends when it was time to go home.
Congratulations! I think you’re ready to see how much you know.
The Past Perfect Tense in Spanish – Multiple Choice Quiz
Now, the moment has come. Try this multiple-choice quiz on the past perfect tense in Spanish to feel proud of yourself! Remember, there’s only one correct answer for each question.
1. Nosotros nunca ________________ ayuda económica antes del 2019. (We had never asked for financial aid before 2019.)
2. Ya ________________ antes de nuestro encuentro en la Ciudad de México. (I had already seen her before our meeting in Mexico City.
3. Ya lo ________________ hecho antes de que yo naciera. (You had already done it before I was born.)
4. Nosotros ________________ bebido demasiada coca cola y por eso nos dolió la panza a todos. (We had drunk too much coca cola and that’s why our stomach hurt.)
5. Nadie ________________ y de todas formas le preguntaron a mi hermano. (Nobody had believed me and they asked my brother anyway.)
6. ________________ salido demasiado temprano y no vieron la emocionante final. (They had left too early and did not see the exciting finale.)
7. ¡Yo no ________________! ¡Se cayó solo! (I hadn’t broken it! It fell by itself!)
8. ________________ muy guapo pero la princesa ni lo miró. (He had become very handsome but the princess did not even look at him.)
9. Esa tienda ________________ antes del 1955. (That store had been opened before 1955.)
10. Su mama ________________ de toda la culpa pero él nunca se perdonó. (His mother had absolved him of all guilt but he never forgave himself.)
How does it feel to be a master of the past perfect tense in Spanish? Great, doesn’t it? Do you want to practice it now in live conversation? Sign up for a free class, in a 1-on-1, student-tailored environment with professional, native Spanish-speaking teachers from Guatemala. Remember, that to be considered fluent, you need to be able to use what you know.
Don’t wait any longer. Just imagine how great it will be to travel to Latin America or to Spain and be able to communicate without a google translator!
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