spanish-tenses

This Is Getting Tense! Your All-in-one Guide to Spanish Tenses

Are you a grammar nerd who needs to know absolutely everything about Spanish grammar?

Are you an advanced learner of Spanish wanting to push yourself towards fluency?

Do you have what it takes to learn every single Spanish tense and enjoy the ride along the way?

If you’ve answered Yes to at least one of the previous questions, then this post is for you.

So, tenses it is.

I bet you still remember your first day of learning Spanish. All your Spanish-speaking friends had told you el español es muy fácil (Spanish is really easy), and you, naive you, believed them.

Then you started studying grammar and got a couple of shocks right away. The first one was having to learn the difference between ser and estar, and the second was trying not to cry over the preterite and the imperfect.

After that, you learned a very well-hidden secret: there’s another set of tenses called the subjunctive no one had ever dared to tell you about. And you crashed.

However, I guess you did pretty well after that, especially since you’re here reading a post for advanced Spanish learners. This post may just be the push you need to make the leap from advanced to fluent.
 


 
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How to Use This Guide to Spanish Tenses

If you landed here in hopes of finding a guide on how to conjugate the basic Spanish tenses, then I’m sorry, my friend. You won’t find that in this post.

This post covers every mood and tense in the Spanish language in an attempt to create a multipurpose reference guide for advanced students. You can use this guide as a last-minute review before your DELE exam, or while doing your grammar homework as a way of having everything “tense-y” in a single document.

Use this guide however you think it may suit you, but bear in mind I don’t go into detail nor explain conjugations. You’ll get references to other posts and helpful YouTube videos for that, but if you’re looking for detailed information, I recommend you have a look at our posts on Spanish verb conjugation and basic Spanish tenses for that.

I keep repeating the word tense without having even made sure y’all know what it means.

So allow me to start from the beginning while you get ready for the grammar trip of your life.

See you on the other side!

What Is a Tense? What Is It For?

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, a grammatical tense is “a verbal category relating the time of a narrated event to the time of the speech event.” (You can read the whole definition on their website if you’re interested in knowing more.)

We normally divide time into three parts: the past, the present and the future. There are exceptions to this, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s say languages normally have these three moments in time.

Different languages use different ways of marking the time of the narrated event.

English, for example, has the ending -s/-es in the present, and -ed in the past. It doesn’t have any type of marking or conjugation for the future, so it makes use of the auxiliaries will and shall.

Spanish, on the other hand, has a different conjugation for each of its moments in time, making it a little bit more difficult to master when it comes to learning all the tenses.

Each moment in time includes different tenses, some of which are conjugated, and others of which use auxiliary verbs.

So a tense will help us locate in a specific moment in time the event, action or state we’re describing.

That’s why we need so many tenses to make sense of what we’re saying, writing or hearing. It would be a total mess if we didn’t have them!

Well, to be fair, we would’ve thought of a different way of locating events in time by now if we didn’t have tenses, but imagine you wake up tomorrow and only the infinitive exists! Goodbye, cruel world…

This post includes all the different tenses you can find in the Spanish language, both in the indicative and in the subjunctive. I’ve also added the imperative because it also has its conjugations in Spanish, although grammatically speaking the imperative is a mood, not a tense.

Let’s get tense!

This Is Getting Tense! The Ultimate Guide to Surviving Spanish Tenses

Surviving Spanish tenses is easy!

The only thing you have to do is take into account when to use each of them and how to conjugate them.

You’ll find here all the Spanish tenses and when and how to use them. Just click on the name of the tense for more information on its conjugation rules.

This post is divided into three big parts: the indicative mood, the subjunctive mood and the imperative mood.

The Indicative Mood (El Modo Indicativo)

We use the indicative mood in order to talk about true events, facts, actions and states.

The Spanish indicative mood includes 10 tenses, divided as follows:

Presente Simple (Present Simple)

Generally speaking, we use the presente simple in Spanish as we use it in English, i.e. primarily to talk about things that are true in general, things that are true at the moment of speaking, repeated actions, habits and descriptions:

Los pájaros vuelan. (Birds fly.)

Vivo en Polonia. (I live in Poland.)

Voy a la escuela todos los días. (I go to school every day.)

Pido pizza cuando estoy cansado. (I order pizza when I am tired.)

Juan es alto y tiene los ojos azules. (Juan is tall and has blue eyes.)

However, there are a few instances when Spanish would use the present simple while English would use a different tense:

a) When talking about actions that are happening at present but not necessarily at the moment of speaking:

Ahora viven en un hotel. (They are living in a hotel now.)

b) When talking about future plans:

Viajo a España el martes. (I’m traveling to Spain on Tuesday.)

c) When something started happening in the past and it’s still going on, especially with words such as desde, desde que and desde hace and the verbal periphrasis llevar + gerund:

Vivo en Polonia desde 2006. (I have been living in Poland since 2006.)

No como desde que oí la noticia. (I haven’t eaten since I heard the news.)

Estamos aquí desde hace dos días. (We have been here for two days.)

Llevo tres horas esperando. (I have been waiting for three hours.)

Pretérito Imperfecto (Imperfect)

We use the Spanish imperfecto in order to talk about habitual past actions, things that were taking place in the past when something else happened and descriptions in the past. A good rule of thumb here is to remember that if you would say “used to” or use the past continuous in English, you’ll generally have to use the imperfect in Spanish:

Solía ir a ese parque cuando era joven. (I used to go to that park when I was young.)

Juana cocinaba cuando Pedro volvió. (Juana was cooking when Pedro came back.)

Spanish also uses the construction estar + gerundio, which is very common in this kind of situation. So, this sentence could also be: Juana estaba cocinando cuando Pedro volvió.

La casa era grande y tenía muchas ventanas. (The house was big and had a lot of windows.)

Pretérito Indefinido (Preterite)

We use the Spanish preterite in order to talk about actions that both started and finished in the past.

Ayer comí lasaña. (I ate lasagna yesterday.)

Viví en Granada durante un año. (I lived in Granada for one year.)

Similarly, we use the preterite to discuss actions that took place a number of times in the past during a certain time period or actions that interrupted another ongoing action in the past.

El mes pasado fui de compras dos veces. (I went shopping twice last month.)

Me estaba bañando cuando sonó el teléfono. (I was having a bath when the telephone rang.)

Finally, we use the preterite for actions that are part of a chain of past events.

Me levanté, abrí la puerta y me fui. (I got up, opened the door and left.)

As you can see from these examples, the Spanish preterite tends to be translated as a past simple in English.

Futuro Simple (Future Simple)

We use the future simple in both Spanish and English in a very similar way.

For starters, we use it to describe actions that will happen in the future, predictions and forecasts:

Llegaré tarde. (I will be late.)

Encontrarás al amor de tu vida muy pronto. (You will find the love of your life very soon.)

Mañana lloverá en Buenos Aires. (It will rain in Buenos Aires tomorrow.)

We also use it for The 10 Commandments and other types of so-called solemn commands. You use will/shall in English, so we’re still on the same page:

No matarás. (Thou shall not kill.)

No irás a la fiesta. (You won’t go to the party.)

Hablarás cuando yo lo diga. (You will talk when I say so.)

However, there’s one other use of the future simple in Spanish that drives some learners crazy. We also use it to talk about present possibilities and conjectures:

¿Dónde estará Juan? (Where could Juan be?)

Estará al llegar. (He might be about to arrive.)

Me pregunto qué hora será. (I wonder what time it is.)

Condicional Simple (Simple Conditional)

We use the Spanish conditional to talk about hypothetical situations, make polite requests, express wishes, make assumptions about the past, give advice and express frustration or regret. Quite a wide range of possibilities! Have a look:

Saldría si tuviera dinero. (I would go out if I had money.)

¿Podrías pasarme la sal, por favor? (Could you pass me the salt, please?)

Me gustaría ser millonario. (I would like to be a millionaire.)

¿Por qué no vino Juan? No sé, estaría enfermo. (Why didn’t Juan come? I don’t know, maybe he was ill.)

Si yo fuera tú, lo dejaría. (If I were you, I would leave him.)

¿Por qué no estudiaría yo más? (Why didn’t I study harder?)

Pretérito Perfecto (Present Perfect)

Even though Spanish calls this tense pretérito (past), and English calls it present, this tense is actually quite similar in both languages:

Use the Spanish pretérito perfecto when you want to talk about actions that have been recently completed and actions that started in the past but are still ongoing. Beyond that, this tense is used to describe life experiences (or lack thereof) and completed actions that have an impact on your future:

He desayunado dos veces ya. (I have already had breakfast twice.)

Juan ha vivido en Sevilla todo este tiempo. (Juan has lived in Seville all this time – has been living also possible.)

Nunca he estado casado. (I have never been married.)

Hemos concertado una reunión con él para mañana. (We have arranged a meeting with him for tomorrow.)

Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto (Past Perfect, a.k.a. Pluperfect)

Both the pluscuamperfecto and the English past perfect are used for the same two purposes: to talk about an action that happened before another past action, and to talk about life experiences we’re having for the first time in our lives:

La bomba ya había explotado cuando llegó la policía. (The bomb had already exploded when the police arrived.)

Nunca antes había visto un tiburón. (I had never seen a shark before.)

Pretérito Anterior (Past Anterior or Preterite Perfect)

As much as I love this tense, the pretérito anterior is very rarely used in Spanish nowadays (except for its appearance in literature and very formal language). It has been replaced almost completely by the pluscuamperfecto, and this shouldn’t come as a surprise if we take into account the past anterior is only used to talk about a past action that took place right before another past action:

Cuando hubo comido, lavó los platos. (When/After he had eaten, he washed the dishes.)

No dije nada después de que hube oído la noticia. (I didn’t say anything after hearing/having heard/I had heard the news – Spanish would accept después de oír and después de haber oído here, too.)

Futuro Compuesto (Future Perfect)

We use the futuro compuesto to talk about actions that will have been completed in the future and to make conjectures and hypotheses about the past (much like the simple future is used to make conjectures about the present):

En septiembre habré terminado mis estudios. (I will have finished my studies in September.)

Se habrá quedado dormida. (She might have fallen asleep.)

Condicional Compuesto (Conditional Perfect)

We use the Spanish condicional compuesto to talk about possibility or impossibility in the past (things that would or could have happened or not) and to make wishes and suppositions about the past:

Habríamos ido si Ana no hubiera estado enferma. (We would have gone if Ana hadn’t been sick.)

Habría preferido quedarme en casa. (I would have preferred to stay home.)

Creí que no habrías querido venir. (I thought you wouldn’t have wanted to come.)

The Subjunctive Mood (El Modo Subjuntivo)

We use the Spanish subjunctive in order to talk about wishes, emotions, doubts, abstract things and unknown things.

The subjunctive includes the following six tenses:

Presente del Subjuntivo (Present Subjunctive)

We use the present subjunctive in order to express wishes, emotions, doubts, purposes and hopes, all of them related to the present or the future:

Necesito que venga pronto. (I need him to come soon.)

¡Ojalá llueva! (If only it would rain!)

Imperfecto del Subjuntivo (Imperfect Subjunctive)

We use the imperfecto del subjuntivo to talk about past experiences and our present opinion on past events, to express wishes and doubt and to make very polite requests:

No creo que el examen fuera difícil. (I don’t think the exam was difficult.)

Ojalá no lloviera. (I wish it hadn’t rained.)

Quisiera saber su nombre, por favor. (I would like to know your name, please.)

Futuro del Subjuntivo (Future Subjunctive)

Much as is happening with the pretérito anterior, the futuro del subjuntivo is becoming obsolete and is mainly used in literature and legal documents. On a daily basis, it has been replaced almost completely by the present subjunctive and the present indicative.

We use the futuro del subjuntivo when the main verb requires the subjunctive and it refers to the future:

Adonde fueres, haz lo que vieres. (lit. Whenever you go, do what you see – When in Rome, do as the Romans do.)

El que rompiere la regla, será castigado. (He who breaks the rule will be punished.)

Pretérito Perfecto del Subjuntivo (Present Perfect Subjunctive)

Similarly to the present subjunctive, we use the present perfect subjunctive in order to express wishes, emotions, doubts, purposes and hopes (or regrets). But this time, we’re referring to an already completed action or an action that will be completed in the future (much like the future perfect does in English):

Espero que hayas dormido bien. (I hope you slept well.)

Te llamaré cuando haya comido. (I’ll call you when I finish eating.)

Pluscuamperfecto del Subjuntivo (Pluperfect Subjunctive)

We use the Spanish pluscuamperfecto del subjuntivo to talk about past events contrary to reality (third conditional) and to wish something had or hadn’t happened in the past:

Si hubieras estudiado más, habrías aprobado el examen. (If you had studied harder, you would have passed the exam.)

Ojalá no hubiera llovido tanto. (I wish it hadn’t rained so much.)

Futuro Compuesto del Subjuntivo (Future Perfect Subjunctive)

The Spanish futuro compuesto del subjuntivo is, as its simple counterpart, absolutely obsolete. It’s only present in very formal literature, poetry and legal texts, and it’s used to refer to a future completed event that would only be true if the condition of an earlier event is fulfilled. Does it sound awful? Well, it is, even for us native Spanish speakers!

This mouthful simply means that something can be completed in the future if and only if a prior condition is fulfilled. In other words, something has to happen first, and then a second event will take place and be completed.

Quien hubiere ultrajado la bandera, será castigado. (He who has vilified the flag will be punished.)

Si no hubiere vuelto en dos horas, llamad a la policía. (If I haven’t returned in two hours, call the police.)

The Imperative Mood (El Modo Imperativo)

Spanish imperative is used for the same purposes as in English: for requests, commands, invitations, suggestions, asking for and giving permission, making wishes and apologizing.

Just as in English, the Spanish imperative can be affirmative and negative. Watch out, though. The Spanish imperative is conjugated, and it has different conjugations for its affirmative and negative forms!

Have a look at some examples below:

Imperativo Afirmativo (Affirmative Imperative)

¡Ven rápido! (Come quick!)

Déjame ir a la fiesta, por favor. (Let me go to the party, please.)

Perdóname, mi amor. (Forgive me, my love.)

Imperativo Negativo (Negative Imperative)

¡No vengas! (Don’t come!)

No vayas a la fiesta. (Don’t go to the party.)

No me pidas perdón. (Don’t apologize.)

 

Uff! We’ve survived the trip!

As you can see, Spanish tenses are quite an adventure in themselves.

They’re especially important for advanced students who want to go one step further and become fluent.

Learning how to master all the Spanish tenses can be a daunting task, but with a little bit of patience and a whole lot of practice, anything is possible.

So grab a pencil and a piece of paper and start creating your own examples in all the tenses you can. You can do it!

Stay curious, my friends, and as always, happy learning!

And One More Thing…

spanish-tenses

If you’re trying to make the leap from advanced Spanish to full fluency, you have to check out FluentU.

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Each video comes equipped with interactive subtitles in both English and Spanish. If you don’t understand a word, just click on it—you’ll immediately see a definition as well as example sentences from other videos that use the word in context. This is a great way to go beyond Spanish conjugation tables and learn how each tense is actually used.

What are you waiting for? Join FluentU today and fast-track your journey to Spanish fluency.
 

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