Creating Compound Verb Tenses in Spanish - dummies

Creating Compound Verb Tenses in Spanish

Each simple tense of a Spanish verb has a corresponding compound tense — seven simple tenses, seven compound tenses. The compound tenses make actions perfect or complete. The compound tenses are:

  • Present perfect: When you just recently finished doing something, or when an action is ongoing, you use the present perfect construction. For example: We have prepared a feast for the celebration.

  • Pluperfect: When you want to express an action that was completed in the past, you use this verb tense. You use this construction when you’re speaking. For example: My father had gotten a job before we moved.

  • Preterit perfect: This tense also expresses an action that was completed in the past. It’s mainly used in formal writing and literature. For example: You have traveled.

  • Future perfect: When you’re almost entirely sure something is going to happen in the future, you use this compound construction. For example: My mother will have prepared dinner by 6 p.m.

  • Conditional perfect: This verb explains that something would have happened if certain conditions had been met. For example: The students would have studied more if they had had more time.

  • Present perfect subjunctive: This compound combination expresses the idea that something may have happened. For example: I don’t believe that I have read this book before.

  • Pluperfect subjunctive: You use this when you hoped or expected that something had happened. For example: She wasn’t sure that they had bought the correct size.

Forming any compound tense in Spanish is essentially a two-step process:

  1. Begin with the helping verb haber, which translates as to have, in the desired tense:


    Imperfect (which becomes pluperfect)




    Present subjunctive

    Imperfect subjunctive (which becomes pluperfect subjunctive)

  2. Tack on the past participle of the main verb.

Voilá! You have the main verb expressed in the desired compound tense.