He perdido mi cartera. (I have lost my wallet.)
This simple sentence reveals so much information about what has happened. It is incredible!
By just uttering this sentence, I am letting you know:
1. I have lost my wallet (obviously!).
2. I might not know when this happened, but it has to have happened rather recently.
3. I still have not found my wallet.
And it is all thanks to the preterito perfecto compuesto, a.k.a. the presente perfecto or the wonderful Spanish present perfect tense.
I could not have used another tense in order to convey this exact information.
I could have said:
Perdí mi cartera. (I lost my wallet.)
But this preterite example would not tell you anything about when I lost it or whether I found it or not.
I could have also used the pluscuamperfecto:
Había perdido mi cartera. (I had lost my wallet.)
But this would not be connected at all with the present and it is missing information since it needs a connected or interrupting action. Did I find it or not? If so, then what happened?
I want to tell you about an action that started recently and is still continuing now. And the only way to convey all this information in one sentence is by using the present perfect tense.
In this post, you will learn everything there is to learn about the Spanish present perfect tense, including how it is used, how to conjugate it and what words give it away.
By the end of this post, you will be able to use your Sherlock Holmes skills to discover if I have found my wallet.
Do not miss it!
The Present Perfect Tense in Spanish, or How I Lost My Wallet
What Is the Spanish Present Perfect Tense?
The present perfect tense is used to indicate three main things:
1. Something has happened recently and it has consequences or effects in the present.
2. Something started, happened or started to happen in the past and it continues today (similar to the present perfect continuous in English).
3. Something has happened a certain number of times in your life, or you are expressing whether or not you have done something in your life… In other words, we use it to talk about our life experience so far.
Losing my wallet would be included in the first point. I recently lost my wallet and I still have not found it. Check and check. Present perfect all the way.
One example for point number two could be my job as a language teacher:
He sido profesor de idiomas desde 2002. (I have been a language teacher since 2002.)
This started in 2002 and it still continues today. We have all the ingredients, so we can use the present perfect.
Finally, an example for point number three could be the number of times a person has been married so far:
He oído que se ha casado cinco veces ya. (I have heard he has been married five times already.)
Conjugating the Present Perfect Tense in Spanish
In order to form the present perfect correctly in Spanish, we need two things:
1. The present simple of the verb haber (to have):
yo he (I have)
tú has (you have)
él/ella ha (he/she has)
nosotros/as hemos (we have)
vosotros/as habéis (you have)
ellos/as han (they have)
2. The past participle of a verb. You can refresh your memory about the Spanish past participle before moving on. I will just give you the two basic rules to form it:
Verbs ending in -ar change their ending into -ado:
cantar → cantado (to sing → sung)
bailar → bailado (to dance → danced)
llamar → llamado (to call → called)
Verbs ending in -er and -ir change their ending into -ido:
comer → comido (to eat → eaten)
beber → bebido (to drink → drunk)
partir → partido (to break → broken)
vivir → vivido (to live → lived)
Put these two components together and you are ready to use the present perfect in Spanish like a real native speaker:
Hemos comprado una casa. (We have bought a house.)
¿Habéis terminado ya? (Have you finished yet?)
Mateo no ha visto a su primo desde 1998. (Mateo has not seen his cousin since 1998.)
See? Easy. Affordable. Enjoyable.
Want to see this tense in action? One great way is by immersing yourself in authentic Spanish videos like the ones on FluentU.
You will get a chance to understand how real native speakers actually use Spanish. Nothing beats that!
Important Information About the Spanish Present Perfect Tense
There are a couple of small things you should still know before we go on:
1. Never, ever separate haber from the past participle. This is one of the main differences between Spanish and English when it comes to the present perfect tense. You simply cannot add any word to the tense and break it apart:
Nunca he bebido alcohol en mi vida. (I have never drunk alcohol in my life.)
Ya he desayunado hoy. (I have already eaten breakfast today.)
2. If you have to deal with pronouns, remember that pronouns always go before the present perfect, never after it like in English:
Ya les he dicho la verdad. (I have already told them the truth.)
Se los he comprado yo. (I have bought them for him. — Emphasis on “I.”)
The Spanish present perfect is really one of what I call “the easy tenses” because it is used in very specific situations, is quite easy to conjugate and its similarities with English are remarkable (have a look at the examples so far if you do not believe me).
Words That Trigger the Spanish Present Perfect Tense
Just like in English, there are some words or expressions that trigger or, at least, like to keep the present perfect company. Learning these words and expressions is also an easy task, but at FluentU we do not just like things made easy, we want them made amazingly.
That is why I have gathered all these words and expressions into a list. We will be covering them in the rest of the post, one by one, each of them including lots of examples.
Every tense has its favorite words and expressions.
The present simple is very often seen with Spanish adverbs like “always,” “sometimes,” “often” or “never.”
The preterite loves “yesterday,” “last” and “ago.”
Our star, the present perfect, also has its preferences. Here are the main ones:
1. Hoy (Today)
One word that is almost always present when using the Spanish present perfect is the word hoy.
Use hoy when describing all the daily routines you have done during the day, as well as any other action that has taken place since you woke up until now.
Bear in mind that this is somewhat different in English, since you would probably use the simple past for this purpose in English, instead of the present perfect. In Spanish, however, you have to use the present perfect as long as the day is still going on:
Hoy he desayunado cereales con leche. (I ate cereal with milk for breakfast today.)
Me he levantado a las 6 de las mañana hoy. (I got up at 6 a.m. today.)
Hoy ha habido una reunión importante en el trabajo. (There was an important meeting at work today.)
2. Esta mañana, esta tarde, esta noche (This morning, this afternoon, tonight)
Very often, expressions with the demonstratives este/esta/estos/estas trigger the present perfect in Spanish for the same reason that hoy does: because the day is still going on. This is also different in English, where you would use the simple past, but Spanish likes making you learn rules and this is one of them.
When it comes to parts of the day, the three main expressions we will hear are esta mañana, esta tarde and esta noche.
Esta mañana and esta tarde should not be problematic. If, for example, it is nine in the evening and you did something or something happened during the morning or the afternoon, you would just use the appropriate expression:
Esta mañana ha hecho mucho frío. (It was very cold this morning.)
Hemos comprado una pizza esta tarde. (We bought a pizza this afternoon.)
When it comes to esta noche, you have to remember that it can have both a past and a future meaning. It can be set in the future if you plan on doing something later that night, like in this example:
Esta noche iremos al cine. (We are going to the cinema tonight.)
But if it relates to something that has already happened that night, you have to use the present perfect. Remember that we are talking about “this night,” which means we still have not gone to bed and the night is still going on:
He comido mucho esta noche. (It have eaten a lot tonight.)
Hemos visto tres películas esta noche. (We have watched three films tonight.)
If you were to say the same after you woke up the next morning, you would use the preterite and anoche (last night) instead of esta noche:
Anoche comí mucho. (I ate a lot last night.)
Anoche vimos tres películas. (We watched three movies last night.)
3. Esta semana, este mes, este año (This week, this month, this year)
These three time expressions are used very similarly both in English and Spanish.
First of all, they have a demonstrative, which is a clear indication that you are going to need the present perfect.
Secondly, they are perfect for describing what has happened during the last week, month or even year, as long as that week, month or year has not ended yet! Have a look:
Esta semana no he podido trabajar. (I have not been able to work this week. — The week is yet to end.)
As opposed this this one:
La semana pasada no pude trabajar. (I was not able to work last week. — The week has ended, so we use a different time expression and a different tense.)
Here are some more examples:
Este mes he comprado dos coches. (I have bought two cars this month.)
Este año hemos estado en Venecia. (We have been to Venice this year.)
Mi vecino ha tenido un accidente esta mañana. (My neighbor has had an accident this morning.)
4. Nunca (Never)
The adverb nunca is yet another word that very often triggers the present perfect.
We know it can be used in different contexts and it can refer to the past, the present and the future, but when we want to describe personal experiences (or the lack of them) during our lives, we use it with the present perfect.
A lot of my students ask me why we have to use the present perfect when talking about life experiences. The answer is very simple: You should know by now that we use this tense when something started in the past and continues until today. When we are born, our lives start and as long as we are still alive, they keep on going, hence the use of this tense:
Nunca he estado en Estados Unidos. (I have never been to America.)
No hemos visto esa película nunca. (We have never watched that movie.)
Nunca has comido pizza con piña. (You have never eaten pizza with pineapple.)
5. Últimamente (Recently, lately)
We normally use últimamente in order to talk about things that have happened lately or we have done recently:
No he visto a tu hermano últimamente. (I have not seen your brother lately.)
¿Has estudiado español últimamente? (Have you studied Spanish lately?)
If an action has been happening for some time lately, we can add a present participle to the present perfect of estar (this is what we call present perfect progressive in English):
Últimamente he estado leyendo mucho. (I have been reading a lot lately.)
No hemos estado viajando mucho últimamente. (We have not been traveling a lot lately.)
Ellos han estado trabajando últimamente. (They have been working lately.)
6. Ya, aún, todavía (Already, yet, still)
Just as with the English “already,” “yet” and “still,” the adverbs ya, aún and todavía are very closely related to the present perfect tense in Spanish.
Yes, there will be millions of examples of these three words together with other tenses…
Ya estoy aquí. (I am already here.)
Aún lo sigue buscando. (He is still looking for it.)
Todavía no estamos preparados. (We are not ready yet.)
…but the present perfect is definitely their favorite.
Ya, aún and todavía may be a little haunting at the beginning of your Spanish learning journey, but practice makes perfect. Grab a pencil and a piece of paper and write down some sentences with them in this tense!
Here are some examples to get you started:
Ya hemos llegado a casa. (We have already arrived home.)
Dile a mi primo que ya he recibido su postal. (Tell my cousin I have already received his postcard.)
Aún no han llamado desde la oficina. (They have not called from the office yet.)
No he decidido qué hacer aún. (I have not decided what to do yet.)
Todavía no me ha dicho la verdad. (He has not told me the truth yet.)
No hemos pagado las facturas todavía. (We have not paid the bills yet.)
One thing to remember: it is aún with an accent that means “yet.” Without the accent, the word aun means “even” and although it is not a word that is used often, this is still something to keep in mind!
7. En mi vida (In my life)
With nunca, you learned how to say you have never ever done something.
The phrase en mi vida is also used to talk about life experiences, but it can have both a positive and a negative meaning. In other words, you can say you have done something a lot of times in your life (positive meaning) or never in your life (negative meaning).
This expression is used very often in informal situations with friends and family. Whenever you have the chance, give it a go!
Here are some examples about me:
He vivido en seis países en mi vida. (I have lived in six countries in my life.)
En mi vida he visto Titanic siete veces. (I have seen Titanic seven times in my life.)
Nunca en mi vida he estado en África. (I have never been to Africa in my life.)
No he comido carne de caballo en mi vida. (I have never eaten horse meat in my life.)
One curious thing about en mi vida is that it can “absorb” the meaning of “never,” rendering the negative adverb unnecessary. This use of en mi vida is rather informal, but it paradoxically makes the negation even stronger than if you used “never”:
En mi vida he comido marisco. (I have never eaten seafood in my life. — …And I do not plan to.)
En mi vida he hablado con él. (I have never talked to him in my life. — …And how dare you think otherwise?)
8. X veces (X times)
This last expression is actually related to the previous one, because when you say you have done something a specific amount of times, you are normally referring to doing it in your life.
However, this can also be used together with almost any expression from this post. Have a look:
Hoy he desayunado dos veces. (I have eaten breakfast twice today.)
Esta mañana he visto a María cuatro veces. (I have seen María four times this morning.)
Habéis mentido tres veces esta tarde. (You have lied three times this afternoon.)
Me he despertado varias veces esta noche. (I have woken up several times tonight.)
Nunca he visto la misma película más de dos veces. (I have never seen the same movie more than twice.)
Últimamente hemos viajado a París cinco veces. (We have traveled to Paris five times lately.)
Ya te lo he dicho tres veces. (I have already told you three times.)
Has estado en México dos veces en tu vida. (You have been to Mexico twice in your life.)
And that is it!
As you can see, the present perfect tense is very often similar in Spanish and in English, so it should not be too new to you. Learning the words and expressions that trigger it is super helpful, especially in the beginning.
The present perfect is an easy tense that we use every day in lots of contexts and situations. Add it to your “Spanish lore” and make your friends go “woah!” with your perfect use if it!
Stay curious and…
Oh, wait! I promised you that by the end of this post you would know if I have found my wallet or not.
If you really want to know, here is what you have to do: The following words form a grammatically correct sentence in Spanish when rearranged correctly. Use your Sherlock Homes skills and all that you have learned in this post to get the answer:
en | buscando | y | mi | finalmente | el | cartera | he | la | encontrado | estado | cajón | calcetines | los | de | he
And now, of course, stay curious and happy learning!
(Need some help? Here is the solution:
He estado buscando mi cartera y finalmente la he encontrado en el cajón de los calcetines. — I have been looking for my wallet and I have finally found it in the sock drawer.
How did you do?)
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