Learning About Spanish Compound Tenses

From Simple to Compound

Spanish uses compound verbs less frequently than English. Considering that hablo can mean "I am speaking" as well as "I speak," and

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hablé can mean "I spoke" as well as "I did speak," Spanish simple conjugations will usually suffice. However, there are times when nuances of time can be satisfied only with the so-called "perfect" tenses to say, for instance, "I have spoken," or "I had spoken." To do this, Spanish couples a form of the helping verb haber with the past participle of the verb being conjugated. The learner's task, then, is to learn the various tense conjugations of haber, but only one past participle. To say "I have spoken," we add the first person singular present tense of haber (he) to the past participle of spoken (hablado). We get he hablado. Read on to learn more about forming the various compound tenses…

The Most Used Compound Tenses in Spanish

The Present Perfect indicative

Spanish Conjugations

This tense describes an action that took place at no definite time in the past. (Example: He hablado de esto muchas veces. I have spoken of this many times.) Click on the chart to the right to see how this verb is conjugated:

The Past Perfect Indicative (the Pluperfect)

Spanish Past Perfect Indicative (Pluperfect)

This is the tense that expresses an action that happened in the past before another past action.

Example: Antes de su entrada, ya había hablado. Before his arrival I already had spoken.

Click on the chart to the right to see the past perfect conjugation.

The Future Perfect

Spanish Future Perfect

This is how we express an action that will happen in the future before another action. (Example: Antes de que llegues yo habré hablado. Before you arrive, I will have spoken.)

As in the simple future tense, the future perfect can sometimes be used to express likelihood or supposition.

Example: Paula habrá sabido nada de él. Paula must have known nothing about him.

The chart to the right shows the future perfect conjugation:

The Conditional Perfect

Spanish Conditional Perfect

To express an action that you would have done if something else had been possible Spanish uses the conditional perfect.

Example: Habría hablado si llegaras a tiempo. I would have spoken if you had been on time.

Also, the conditional perfect has another use: It indicates probability or conjecture in the past.

Example: Habrían sido las cinco cuando salieron. It must have been five o’clock when they went out.

See the chart at the right to learn how the conditional perfect is conjugated:

The Other Three Compound Tenses

There are one other indicative and two subjunctive compound conjugations: The Past Anterior or Preterite Perfect is not used much in spoken Spanish. It expresses past action and is used mostly in literature after verbs of time. Many Spanish speakers don't even learn this conjugation. For information, this tense uses the following forms of haber: hube, hubiste, hubo, hubimos, hubisteis, hubieron.

The other two compound tenses are the present and the past perfect subjunctive. These subjunctive tenses are likewise formed by adding the conjugated form of haber to the past participle:

Present Perfect Subjunctive: haya, hayas, haya, hayamos, hayáis, hayan.

Past Perfect Subjunctive: hubiera, hubieras, hubiera, hubieran

The subjunctive compound tenses are used when there is a situation requiring the subjunctive and needs the present or past perfect. Some examples of the subjunctive construction:

Present subjunctive: Maria duda que yo le haya hablado al professor. Mary doubts that I have spoken to the professor.

Past subjunctive: No creía que María hubiera hablado. I did not believe that Mary had spoken.

To read more about the subjunctive mood.

Learn more about Spanish compound tenses at:

eLearn Spanish Language: Spanish Compound Tenses

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This post is part of the series: Teaching Spanish: The Basics of Spanish Verbs

Learning Spanish verbs is the key to developing a strong foundation in Spanish grammar and vocabulary. Spanish verbs are formed in a consistent patter of adding verb tense endings to regular or irregular verb stems. This series discusses the basics of teaching these patterns.
  1. Learning Spanish Verbs: A Method to the Madness
  2. All About Spanish Verbs: The Infinitive
  3. Learning Spanish: Doubling Up With Spanish Compound Verbs