Perfect or Preterite in Spanish Grammar

Introduction

The perfect tense (pretérito perfecto) and the preterite tense (indefinido) are both used for completed actions in Spanish grammar. However, they are used in different situations: The preterite tense, is used for completed past actions, while the perfect tense is used for actions that take place in a time frame that has not yet ended, or for past actions that continue to influence the present. The usage of these tense is similar to the present perfect and past simple in English grammar, however, they are not exactly the same.

Learn the difference between perfect and preterite tenses in Spanish grammar. Master conjugation and get tips on the correct usage with Lingolia’s tense comparison. In the exercises, you can practise what you have learnt.

Example

La semana pasada me apunté a un curso de tenis. Lo primero que hice fue comprarme una raqueta en la tienda de deportes de la esquina.

La primera clase ha sido esta mañana y me ha encantado. Así que he decidido comprar un bono anual de entrenamiento.

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Verb Conjugation

Perfect

Preterite

person haber past participle
yo he

hablado

aprendido

vivido

has
él/ella/usted ha
nosotros/-as hemos
vosotros/-as habéis
ellos/ellas/ustedes han

See Perfect Tense in Spanish Grammar for more information about the conjugation and usage of the perfect tense.

-ar
hablar
-er
aprender
-ir
vivir
hablé aprendí viví
hablaste aprendiste viviste
habló aprendió vivió
hablamos aprendimos vivimos
hablasteis aprendisteis vivisteis
hablaron aprendieron vivieron

See Preterite Tense in Spanish Grammar for more information about the conjugation and usage of the preterite tense.

Usage

Use the perfect tense to express:

  • an action completed within a period of time that counts as the present in Spanish (este semana, hoy)
    Example:
    La primera clase ha sido esta mañana y me ha encantado.Today was the first lesson and I loved it.
  • a completed action that has an influence on the present or the future
    Example:
    He decidido comprar un bono anual de entrenamiento.I have decided to get a year-long membership.

    Result: I’d like to train more often.

Use the preterite tense to express:

  • an action completed at a point in time that counts as the past in Spanish (see signal words below)
    Example:
    La semana pasada me apunté a unas clases de tenis.Last week, I registered for a tennis course.
    Lo primero que hice fue comprarme una raqueta en la tienda de deportes de la esquina.The first thing I did was buy myself a tennis racquet at the sports shop on the corner.

Signal Words

One way to decide whether to use the perfect tenses or the preterite tenses is to pay attention to expressions of time. We can use them as signal words that allow us to identify the correct tense.

Below is a list of the most common time expressions for each tense.

List of Signal Words for Perfect

  • esta mañana/semana/…
    este mes/verano/año/siglo/…
    example:
    Esta mañana me he despertado a las seis.I woke up at six this morning.
  • hoy
    Example:
    Hoy no he comprado el periódico.I haven’t bought the newspaper today.
  • últimamente
    Example:
    ¿Has tomado el sol últimamente?Have you sunbathed recently?
  • nunca
    Example:
    Nunca he ido a México.I have never been to Mexico.
  • siempre
    Example:
    He vivido siempre en esta casa.I have always lived in this house.
  • ya
    Example:
    La ducha ya se ha roto dos veces.The shower has already broken twice.
  • aún, todavía
    Example:
    Aún no he regado las plantas.I haven’t watered the plants yet.

List of Signal Words for Preterite

  • ayer
    Example:
    Ayer me desperté a las seis.I woke up at six yesterday.
  • el año pasado
    Example:
    El año pasado fui a México.Last year, I went to Mexico.
  • la semana pasada
    Example:
    La semana pasada no compré el periódico.I didn’t buy the newspaper last week.
  • en (mes, estación, año)
    Example:
    En 2010 me mudé a esta casa.I moved into this house in 2010.
  • de repente
    Example:
    De repente, se rompió la ducha.Suddenly, the shower broke.
  • anoche
    Example:
    Anoche regué las plantas.Last night, I watered the plants.

To Note

In Latin America and some parts of Spain the perfect tense, or compound tenses in general, is not generally used. In these areas, only the preterite is used, even in cases where the perfect is required in most of Spain.

Example:
Esta mañana fui a clase de tenis.This morning I went to my tennis lesson.