You generally start to learn the Spanish past perfect at A2/B1 level.
You might think at first that it’s slightly daunting, but don’t worry!
We all have to start somewhere, and the past perfect is important. It serves an important purpose in Spanish and being familiar with it will help you achieve Spanish fluency.
If you’ve been introduced to the past perfect in your Spanish course but could benefit from a little clarification, you’ll find it right here.
So, if you’re not clear what the purpose of the past perfect is, continue reading to become a master of the Spanish past perfect tense!
Oh, and if you’d like to learn more about the four main Spanish past tenses, I’ve also written a guide for that.
What is the Spanish past perfect and when should we use it?
The Spanish past perfect is also known as the pluscuamperfecto in Spanish.
It is a type of past tense used to describe one action or event that has taken place before a different (possibly related) event in the past.
Here is one quick example of the Spanish past perfect being used in a sentence:
Me había dormido cuando llegó mi novia.
What you will notice is that there are two main actions and two main subjects that feature in this sentence.
There’s the main subject of the sentence, who had already slept, and the girlfriend, who arrived after the main subject had slept.
We’ve lined up a few more examples of the Spanish past perfect just below.
Have a look:
Cuando Julia me llamó, había acabado de mandarle un mensaje.
Cuando llegó el paquete, había salido de casa.
Había hablado con su ex-novia cuando entró la prometida.
Creating the Spanish past perfect — two steps to remember
There are a couple of things to remember that will make forming the Spanish past perfect tense simpler.
Did you notice that the verb había appeared in each of the above sentences?
This is important for step one. Here are the two steps you will need to remember when using the Spanish past perfect.
- The verb había is the conjugated form of the verb haber. This imperfect past tense conjugation features in all examples of the Spanish past perfect. It is always followed by the participle of the verb, which is the main verb that contains the suffix ado or ido.
- Next, you have to remember the second clause of your past perfect sentence. This clause will contain another verb in the simple past tense. Because, don’t forget, the Spanish past perfect normally focuses on two actions in the past — with one happening before the other.
The verb haber — what does it mean and how do we conjugate it?
The verb haber means ‘to have’ in English.
When conjugated in the imperfect past tense it means ‘had’.
There are various subject pronouns that can form part of the Spanish past perfect tense — they are used to conjugate the verb haber.
The subject pronouns are:
|Él / ella / usted||He / she / it / You (formal)|
|Ellos / ellas / ustedes||They / they / You (formal)|
With these subject pronouns in mind, here’s how to conjugate haber in the imperfect past tense (which is required for the Spanish past perfect):
The past participle — what does this mean and how is it formed?
As mentioned, the verb haber is followed by the past participle. The past participle is a verb in the past tense that is a part of a compound tense.
In the case of the Spanish past perfect the conjugated haber and the participle is what makes up the compound tense.
In Spanish, as we’ve said, the past participle ends in -ado or -ido. So, if you want to form the past participle, remove the IR, AR, or ER ending and replace it with -ado (for AR verbs) and ---ido (for IR and ER verbs).
Some examples of compound verbs are the following.
Can you spot the past participle in these?
Yo había cenado.
Ella había cantado.
Él había olvidado.
Me había sorprendido.
Using the past simple in the second clause to create the past perfect
As part of the Spanish past perfect, you will typically see a second clause of the sentence that features another verb.
This verb is separate from the compound verbs we have mentioned above, but form a part of the sentence.
The second clause will feature a verb in the Spanish simple past tense. Here are a few examples of the Spanish simple past tense:
Yo la amé mucho.
Comí sola mientras él dormía.
Bebieron el coñac hasta las tres de la mañana.
In these sentences, the verbs amé, comí and bebieron are all in the simple past tense.
Recognising the simple past tense will round out your knowledge of how to use the Spanish past perfect, so here’s how to conjugate IR, AR and ER verbs in the past simple tense.
|Subject pronoun||IR verbs (Sentir)||AR verbs (Cantar)||ER verbs (Comer)|
|Él / ella / usted||Sintió||Cantó||Comió|
|Ellos / ellas / ustedes||Sintieron||Cantaron||Comieron|
Putting it all together — 5 examples of the Spanish past perfect
Now, to put all the hard work together, forming the Spanish past perfect consists of combining each of the above elements together.
To help you with this, we have five examples of the Spanish past perfect tense just below. Take a look:
Habían salido en la autopista cuando el coche paró.
Cuando llegó a la oficina, ya habían decidido las tareas.
Había ganado la carrera dos minutos antes de que terminó su amigo.
Cuando la policía se fijó quien fue el ladrón, ya había escapado.
Salió el sol, pero ya había llovido antes.
Put the practice in to gain confidence with the Spanish past perfect
I hope this article has cleared up some of the challenges of the Spanish past perfect tense.
One tip to help you gain confidence is that regular practice is vital.
Check out some of the best Spanish resources to assist you in your learning, keep practicing with verb exercises.
Because setting aside some time each day to practice your conjugations is important, especially for the Spanish past perfect.
Studying the other Spanish past tenses is also important, so don’t overlook them either! And, as we’ve mentioned, take a look at our other article on the Spanish past tenses to help you get it right
With a little practice, you will definitely understand the Spanish past perfect!
Want to suggest any other tips for practicing the Spanish past perfect tense?
Create a list of them below!