Present Tense Verbs in Spanish, Part 3: The Present Perfect Tense
Whenever you travel to a new place, whether it be local or foreign, one of the common questions you’ll get is: “How long have you been here?” If you decide to travel to a Spanish-speaking country, you might also be asked: “How long have you studied Spanish?” Can you see what these questions have in common? Yes, they both have the word “have,” which is a clue to the present tense verb in Spanish we’ll be learning today: the present perfect. ¡Empecemos ya!
What’s the Present Perfect in English?
So, what exactly is the present perfect? Is it just when the word “have” is in a question? Not every sentence with “have” uses the present perfect, but this little word does play a big part in this tense. Let’s look at the previous sentences again.
How long have you been here?
How long have you studied Spanish?
Can you see any other verbs in those sentences? ¡Exacto! In the first sentence, we have “been,” and the second sentence includes “studied.”
The present perfect tense is a compound tense made up of two verbs: a helping (or auxiliary) verb and a main verb in the past participle form. The past participle is a verb that (usually) ends in -ed and is used with other helping verbs like “to have” or “to be.” Irregular verbs have unique endings in the past participle form, like “been” as we saw above.
Format of the Present Perfect in Spanish
Now that you understand the English form, you’re ready to look at the present perfect tense in Spanish. Thankfully, the antepresente (also called el pretérito compuesto perfecto) has the same formula as in English!
Verbo auxiliar + participio pasado
In English, the helping verb is “have.” What do you think the verbo auxiliar would be in Spanish? If you said tener, that would, unfortunately, be incorrect. Tener does mean “to have,” but only when you are literally referring to having a physical or emotional thing. As a helping verb, “to have” is translated as haber. Therefore, we can rewrite the formula as:
Conjugation of haber + participio pasado
Just like the English past participles have a particular ending, there are specific endings for the participio pasados in Spanish as well! We will look at those in more detail a bit later.
Uses of the Present Perfect in Spanish
Just like formulas of the present perfect in Spanish and English are quite similar, the uses are also comparable.
As a general rule, if you would use the present perfect in English, use it in Spanish as well.
More specifically, here is a list of the specific uses of the present perfect in Spanish. Use the present perfect in Spanish:
For events that started in the past, have continued until the present, and have the possibility of continuing into the future. In other words, el antepasado is for events that have been continuing since the past. For example:
Yo he estudiado español por tres años. (I have studied Spanish for three years.)
I started learning Spanish three years ago, and it is an activity that I have continued doing, and I will probably continue to do in the future.
Nosotros hemos trabajado por semanas en este proyecto. (We have worked for weeks on this assignment.)
We started this project weeks ago, and the work will probably keep going. This sentence does not indicate that the project is done yet.
For events that happened in a non-specific time in the past.
¿Has ido a España? (Have you gone to Spain?)
This question (and its corresponding answer) refers to an event that does not have a specific time in the past. It is like saying “have you ever…?”
[In Spain] For events that just happened in the recent past.
Ella ha traído los libros. (She has brought the books.)
This use of the present perfect in Spanish is much more common in Spain. In Latin America, the simple past is normally used in such situations.
Present Simple vs. Present Perfect in Spanish
So far all the uses of the present perfect in Spanish have to do with the past. However, there is a way to express the same idea using the present simple tense. For example, the following two sentences convey the same idea:
Yo he trabajado aquí por cinco años. – I have worked here for five years.
Hace cinco años que trabajo aquí. – I have worked here for five years.
Instead of using the present perfect tense, the second sentence utilizes the following formula:
Hace + time measurement + que + present simple
Both forms mean the same thing! It’s up to you to choose which one you want to use.
Present Perfect Tense in Spanish: Conjugations
Helping Verb Haber
Since there are two verbs that form the present perfect, we will take a look at them individually, then combine them to form verb phrases. Now, while both verbs need to be conjugated, only one can be conjugated based on the subject of the sentence. The auxiliary verb, or haber, is the one that must be conjugated according to the pronoun. Let’s check out the possible conjugations!
|Él / Ella||ha|
|Ellos / Ellas||han|
The Unique Verb Haber
The verb haber is a very special verb. When used by itself, it only has a few conjugations (hay, hubo, haya). However, as a helping verb, haber has many more conjugations, which you can see above. The spelling may look simple, but a small mistake can cause great confusion.
- He (conjugation of haber) versus e (another way to say “and” in front of verbs that start with “i”)
- Ha (conjugation of haber) versus a (which means “to”)
- Has (conjugation of haber) versus as (which means “ace”)
Since the “h” is silent in Spanish, the above pairs of words are pronounced exactly the same. The spelling is what distinguishes conjugations of haber from other words.
Past Participles in Spanish
“Forma no personal del verbo que posee terminación -do en el paradigma regular del español y puede formar tiempos compuestos.”
“An impersonal form of the verb that has an -do ending in the regular Spanish verbs and which can form compound tenses.”
The phrase “informal form” refers to the fact that the past participle does NOT change based on what the subject of the sentence is. Remember that only the verb haber is conjugated to agree with the subject, not the past participle. The pasado participio of each verb always remains the same.
At the end of the definition, it mentions that this form can form compound tenses, just like the present perfect tense in Spanish! Before we start forming compound tenses, let’s look at how to form the past participle.
Past Participles in Spanish: Regular Verbs
All of the Spanish verbs are divided into three groups: -AR, -ER, and -IR verbs. As we learned with the present simple tense, each group of verbs has a unique ending. Here are the past participle conjugations:
|Examples||Hablar – hablado||Comer – comido||Ir – ido|
|Jugar – jugado||Tener – tenido||Partir – partido|
|Trabajar – trabajado||Beber – bebido||Vivir – vivido|
|Estar – estado||Ser – sido||Seguir – seguido|
Luckily, the -ER and -IR verbs have the same endings for the pasado participio! That means you only have to memorize two past participle endings: -ado and -ido. There are a number of irregular past participles in Spanish, however.
Past Participles in Spanish: Irregular Verbs
There are 12 irregular forms, each with its own unique ending. However, many verbs change in a similar manner. While the verbs are grouped together, pay close attention to each verb’s individual changes.
-O- to -UE-
Because resolver ends the same way as volver, they have the same ending in the past participle form. Following that logic, any verb using a prefix to volver will have the same conjugation in the pasado participio. Take, for example, devolver, which is devuelto in the past participle form.
-RIR to -IERTO
We have another example of two verbs ending in the same way: cubrir and descubrir. If you memorize the conjugations of the core verbs (like cubrir and volver), you can apply those conjugations to compound verbs.
-C- to -CH-
Add a -T-
Present Perfect Tense in Spanish: Combining the Verbs
Now that you have the conjugations, it’s time to put the verbs together to form the present perfect tense in Spanish! We’re going to give you a list of phrases in the present perfect tense in English, and it’s your job to try and put them in Spanish. If you don’t know how to translate every word, don’t worry—just focus on the verbs. ¡Practiquemos!
- Have you finished yet?
- I’ve been her friend for two years.
- We have worked together for four months.
- They have not started the project.
- He hasn’t noticed the change.
- I have already seen that movie three times.
Ready? Let’s look at the corresponding Spanish sentences.
- ¿Ya has terminado?
- Yo he sido su amigo por dos años.
- Nosotros hemos trabajado juntos por cuatro meses.
- Ellos no han empezado el proyecto.
- Él no ha notado el cambio.
- Ya he visto esa película tres veces.
How did you do? Did you catch the irregular verb visto? ¡Excelente! Now, let’s look at a couple of interesting things about the above sentences.
We learned that for affirmative sentences, the verb haber comes first, followed by the past participle. As you can see by looking at the examples above, that verb order remains the same for both negative and interrogative forms as well. The verb haber always comes first, immediately followed by the past participle of the main verb. These verbs are never separated by other words!
Direct and Indirect Objects
Check out the following sentences:
Ya los he visto. – I’ve already seen them.
Te he llamado varias veces. – I’ve called you many times.
The underlined words are what we called indirect and direct objects (people and things affected by the action of the verb). With other verb tenses in Spanish, these tiny words appear before, after, or connected to the main verb. However, with the present perfect tense in Spanish, the objects ONLY come directly before the verb haber. The antepasado form in Spanish is not quite as flexible as other Spanish tenses!
Keywords for the Present Perfect Tense in Spanish
If you are unsure whether a Spanish sentence uses the present perfect tense, or if you are trying to form one yourself, these keywords and phrases are useful to keep in mind.
- Por + measurement of time: Because the present perfect in Spanish usually refers to an action that has happened for a long time, a key phrase to look for is the word por (which translates to “for”) followed by an amount of time (like hours, days, years, etc.).
- Lo he tenido por cinco años. – I’ve had it for five years.
- Ya: The word ya has multiple meanings, but it is commonly used with the present perfect tense to mean “already” or “yet.” As you previously learned, you can use the present perfect in Spanish to talk about events that happened at an undetermined point in the past; the word ya helps express that idea.
- Ya lo he hecho. – I’ve already done it.
- Veces: The present perfect tense in Spanish is used for events that happened multiple times over a period of time until the present. Therefore, the word veces (or “times”) is often used with the present perfect to show how often the event has happened.
- He leído ese libro tres veces. – I’ve read that book three times.
You have finished! ¡Has terminado!
You are now fully equipped to start using the present perfect tense in Spanish! Try using it in your written Spanish sentences and with your Spanish-speaking friends. If you don’t have anyone to practice with, sign up for a free class with one of our Spanish teachers! They will answer any questions you have about the antepasado and give you practice exercises. Keep up the great work! ¡Has aprendido otro tiempo de verbos! ¡Sigue adelante!
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