Spanish Grammar: Acabar de

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  • 0:02 Acabar de + Infinitive
  • 1:29 Acabar de in the Present Tense
  • 3:05 Acabar de in the…
  • 4:41 Pr?ctica con 'Acabar…
  • 6:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: April Schmidt

April has a Ph.D. in Spanish and has been teaching college-level Spanish for the past eight years.

'Good for you! You just started another Spanish lesson!' In English, if you want to indicate that something happened a minute or two ago, you usually use the adverb 'just.' In this lesson, you will learn how to express this idea in Spanish.

Acabar de + Infinitive

Imagine that a friend, who's taking a Spanish class, calls you five minutes from now and asks if you can help him or her with that acabar de construction. You'll probably say, 'Sure, I just watched a video lesson about it!' In English, if you want to indicate that you finished doing something a minute ago, you usually use the adverb 'just.' For example, 'I just ate.'

However, this sentence cannot be translated word-for-word into Spanish. So, although you might be tempted to translate the sentence as 'Justo comí' that doesn't really work. In Spanish, if you want to convey the idea that someone just did something, you use the construction acabar de + infinitive. So, if you wanted to say 'I just ate' in Spanish, you would say, 'Acabo de comer.'

But wait! In the sentence 'I just ate' the verb is in the past tense. So, why is the verb acabar in the present tense? Shouldn't it be in the preterite - 'Acabé de comer' - since I just finished doing it? Spoiler alert! 'Acabo de comer' is the correct translation, despite the verb being in the present tense.

Acabar de in the Present Tense

Let's take a closer look at the construction to find out why 'Acabo de comer' is correct. The verb acabar by itself means to finish, to end. So, when you say 'Acabo de comer,' what you were literally saying is that 'I am finishing eating.' The action has been performed so recently that it is practically still in progress.

For example, imagine that you are trying to catch a bus. It is just pulling away from the bus stop and someone tells you, 'El autobús acaba de salir.' It's easy to see why using the present tense makes sense here: the bus left so recently that it's still leaving. Here is the verb acabar conjugated in the present tense:

yo acabo nosotros acabamos
tú acabas vosotros acabáis
él/ella/Ud. acaba ellos/ellas/Uds. acaban

If the construction acabar de + infinitive uses one of the forms from this table, it means that someone just did something.

Acabar de in the Preterite Tense

Let's go back and take another look at the sentence with the verb in the preterite, 'Acabé de comer.' This sentence is grammatically correct. The only problem with it is that it does not suggest that the action just happened, like the sentence 'Acabo de comer.' If the sentence in the preterite were translated into English, it would simply be 'I finished eating' without any reference as to how recently. Here is the preterite conjugation of acabar:

yo acabé nosotros acabamos
tú acabaste vosotros acabasteis
él/ella/Ud. acabó ellos/ellas/Uds. acabaron

If the construction acabar de + infinitive is using one of the forms from this table, it means that someone finished doing something.

Keep in mind, if you want to convey the idea that something just happened, you need to conjugate the verb acabar in the present tense, even though the sentence in English uses the past tense. If you use the preterite tense in Spanish, the sentence will just be saying that someone finished doing something.

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