Lesson 12 - The Perfect Tenses

For English speakers, the perfect tenses in Spanish are easy. They are formed and function identically with their English parallels. In contrast with many features of Spanish, they can be translated correctly into English by going "word by word."

Click here for a short comment on the use of the word "perfect" in these tense names.

Formation of the Perfect Tenses. The perfect tenses are formed using the auxiliary verb haber and a past participle.

Meaning of the perfect tenses.


Exercise on perfect tenses and past participles. Translate each of the following into English. One sentence has two possible translations

  1. Cuando llegamos, ya habían comido.
  2. En Francia comen patatas fritas.
  3. Mis amigos y yo vivimos rodeados de mujeres bonitas.
  4. Esta noche el Primer Ministro ha hablado.
  5. Estas novedades han interesado a los militares.
  6. Hemos vivido en Francia.
  7. Vivimos en Francia.
  8. Habíamos vivido en Francia.
  9. Pedro salió porque había estado demasiado tiempo en casa.
  10. Los niños cansados han podido dormir.

Go to the Spanish newspaper El País or the Mexican newspaper El Universal, or choose one from the list at Middlebury College. If possible, pick a story on a topic you are familiar with (international news is best). Look for and report on examples of 1) past participles used with a form of haber (a perfect tense), or a past participle used as an adjective. Translate up to five examples. Don't try to translate the entire sentences in which these are found.
This is the first time you are exposed to real, live Spanish materials, so don't be discouraged if it seems chaotic. You should be able to pick up parts of sentences more than at the beginning of the course!

Click here to go to the translations of the sentences above.


"Perfect" tenses. Students sometimes wonder in what sense these tenses are "perfect." The term is a misleading literal translation from Latin. They describe a "perfect" action, meaning only a completed one. An uncompleted action is therefore "imperfect." Do not try to derive guidelines for the use of tenses from these confusing terms.


Examples of English use of past participle as an adjective: "The work is finished," "the car was stolen," "a lost child," "a heated argument."


Translations of sentences on past participles:

  1. When we arrived, they had already eaten. ("Llegamos," although it could be a present tense form, must be a preterite because of the context stated by "habían comido.")
  2. In France they eat fried potatos.
  3. My friends and I live surrounded by pretty women.
  4. Tonight the Prime Minister has talked.
  5. These new developments (literally, "novelties") have interested the soldiers.
  6. We have lived in France.
  7. We are living (present) OR we lived (preterite) in France.
  8. We had lived in France.
  9. Pedro went out because he had been too long in the house.
  10. The tired children have been able to sleep.

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