Being able to conjugate verbs in the perfect tense is a great skill to have, as it helps you to describe things that have occurred in the past. All you need to know is how to conjugate one verb (haber), and how to form past participles.
Read on to learn how to do it!
You might hear lots of different names for this tense, like ‘present perfect,’ ‘perfect indicative,’ or ‘pretérito perfecto compuesto.’ Don’t be put off by these names, as they all mean the same thing, which we’ll call ‘the perfect tense’ for simplicity!
We use the perfect tense to describe something that has happened. Think of it as the not-too-distant past.
It’s more commonly used in Spain than Latin America, just as it’s more common in the UK than the USA. Here’s a table to demonstrate the difference between the perfect tense and the preterite (which is a completely different past tense).
|I have eaten dinner (already tonight).||I ate dinner (yesterday).|
|What have you been doing (today, before you came here)?||What did you do (at a specific point in the distant past)?|
|I’ve been skating (today).||I went skating (at a specific point in the distant past).|
|It has been a pleasure to meet you (today).||It was a pleasure to meet her (last week).|
|I think it has rained (recently, because it’s wet now).||I think it rained (last week, but it may well be dry today).|
With practice, it will soon become clear when to use which tense. Basically, if you want to say, “I have ...-ed,” then you’ll need the perfect tense.
The good news is that the perfect tense is pretty easy to form, as it’s made of two simple parts.
This verb means ‘to have’ when it’s used in certain tenses, including the perfect tense (not to be confused with tener, which means ‘to have’ in pretty much all other situations).
This is the -ed version of the verb, e.g. knitted, played, swam.
Here is the conjugation of haber that you’ll need:
You (formal) have
|Vosotros||habéis||You (plural) have|
You (formal plural) have
Top tip: remember that in Spanish, the ‘h’ is silent.
For the perfect tense, this is the only verb you need to know how to conjugate! The past participles don’t actually need to be conjugated...
The normal formation of past participles is super simple. You take the verb in the infinitive, then:
To play: jugar → jug
ar → jug + ado → jugado
To love: amar → am
To eat: comer → com
er → com + ido → comido
To drink: beber → beb
er → beb + ido → bebido
To live: vivir → viv
ir → viv + ido → vivido
To pretend: fingir → fing
ir → fing + ido → fingido
In an unusual twist, the (normally very awkward) verbs ir, ser, and estar actually form their past participles in the regular way!
To go: ir → -
ir → - + ido → ido
To be: ser → s
er → s + ido → sido
To be: estar → est
ar → est + ado → estado
However, you’re not gonna get away that easily! This is Spanish, so there’ll always be some irregular ones sneaking around. The following have irregular past participles which need to be learnt.Top tip: You might start to spot patterns for how the irregular ones form, e.g. things that end in -cubrir (cubrir, descibrir, etc.) have past participles that end in -cubierto (cubierto, descubierto, etc.).
As explained on this website, a good general rule is that if you’re talking about something that’s happened in ‘this …’, e.g. ‘today’ (‘this day’), ‘this morning,’ ‘this week,’ ‘this month,’ ‘this year,’ then you’ll need the perfect tense. It’s also useful to recognize other phrases that trigger the perfect tense. Here are some common ones to look out for!
|X veces||X times|
If you’re feeling smart, and you got all that, you might want to also think about the pluperfect tense. Instead of talking about things that have happened, it allows you to describe things that had happened.
It’s formed in almost the same way as the perfect tense, except that haber is conjugated in the imperfect (yet another type of past tense):
You (formal) had
|Vosotros||habíais||You (plural) had|
You (formal plural) had
|Perfect:||he + past participle|
|I have + past participle
(I have eaten)
|Pluperfect:||había + past participle|
|I had + past participle
(I had eaten)
Let’s see how much you’ve learnt! We don’t expect you to have memorized everything, so feel free to use the whole article, and the little glossary below, to help you translate the following.
|my car||mi coche|
|his secret||su secreto|
|the problem||el problema|
1. I have eaten.
(Yo) he comido.
2. You (singular, informal) have seen my car.
(Tú) has visto mi coche.
3. She has succeeded.
(Ella) ha triunfado.
4. You (singular, formal) have returned.
(Usted) ha vuelto.
5. We have learnt a lot today.
(Nosotros) hemos aprendido mucho hoy.
6. You (plural, informal) have helped a lot.
(Vosotros) habéis ayudado mucho.
7. They have discovered his secret.
(Ellos/ellas) han descubierto su secreto.
8. You (plural, formal) have solved the problem.
(Ustedes) han resuelto el problema.
Well done for getting through the test; there was a lot to take in!
So there you have it, a pretty simple tense to get right, as long as you learn to conjugate haber, and learn your irregulars! Perfect!
Want to learn Spanish verb conjugation without memorizing anything? Check out this awesome tool below!
Annabel is a language-enthusiast from the UK. She studied Spanish and French at the University of Southampton (with an Erasmus study year in Madrid!) and recently graduated. She has interests across the Spanish-speaking world, and is a fan of language in general.
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