Spanish Grammar: The Present Perfect Tense

Spanish Grammar: The Present Perfect Tense
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  • 0:02 Present Tense Conjugation
  • 2:27 The Past Participle
  • 3:01 Present Perfect
  • 5:55 Using the Present Perfect
  • 7:30 Practica
  • 10:15 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.

Have you ever studied the present perfect tense before? If you have, you probably noticed that it was being used in that question! In this lesson, you will be learning how to form and use the present perfect in Spanish.

Present Tense Conjugation of Haber

In science fiction books or movies that involve time travel, the characters can never change the past without also changing the present. That just goes to show how much the past can influence the present. In fact, there's even a special verb tense that's used to talk about past actions that are seen as affecting the present: the present perfect, or el perfecto de indicativo in Spanish. In this lesson, you'll be learning to form the present perfect in Spanish, and we'll also be discussing how it is used.

In English, the present perfect tense is formed with the present tense of the verb 'to have' and a past participle. For example: I have eaten lunch already. The present perfect is very similar in Spanish. It uses the present tense of the verb haber and the past participle. For example: Ya he almorzado. Here is the present tense conjugation of haber:

yo he - I have nosotros/as hemos - we have
tú has - you (informal, singular) have vosotros/as habéis - you (informal, plural) have
él/ella/Ud. ha - he/she has; you (formal, singular) have ellos/ellas/Uds. han - they have; you (formal, plural) have

¡OJO! Although haber is translated as 'to have' when it is used as a helping verb, it cannot be used to show possession, like tener. Notice the difference between these two sentences:

  • Tengo un libro de texto - I have a textbook.
  • No he estudiado la lección - I have not studied the lesson.

The first sentence uses tener because it shows that I own a textbook. The second sentence uses haber because, in the English sentence, 'have' is being used as a helping verb, part of the compound verb 'have studied.'

The Past Participle

Okay, you now know how to conjugate the helping verb haber. But you're only halfway there. To form the present perfect, you also need a past participle. As you know, past participles of Spanish verbs are usually formed by dropping the endings and adding '-ado' (for '-ar' verbs) or '-ido' (for '-er' or '-ir' verbs). There are also some irregular past participles, such as abrir -abierto or hacer - hecho, that do not follow this pattern.

Present Perfect - Perfecto de Indicativo

So, now that we have all the grammatical pieces we need, let's assemble some present perfect sentences! How would you say, 'We have seen this movie many times,' in Spanish?

We'll start with the subject: nosotros (the subject pronoun is optional, of course). Now you need the form of haber that matches the subject: hemos. Now we need the past participle of the verb ver, which is irregular: visto.

¡OJO! When it is used in a compound tense, the past participle is invariable; that is, it does not change form to match the subject the way it does when it is being used as an adjective. Thus, you say, 'Nosotros hemos visto,' not 'Nosotros hemos vistos.' Now we just need the rest of the sentence: esta película muchas veces.

Nosotros hemos visto esta película muchas veces. = We've seen this movie many times.

Unlike English, which frequently puts words in between 'have' and the past participle (including the word 'not,' which makes the sentence negative), haber and the past participle cannot be separated in Spanish. In Spanish, present perfect constructions are made negative by putting 'no' before the form of haber being used.

Reflexive pronouns and direct and indirect objects pronouns are also always placed before the form of haber, although they are placed after the 'no' if the sentence is negative. Keep these rules in mind as we work on our next sentence: 'They have not given me an interview.'

The subject is ellos, so you need the form of haber that matches the subject: han. Now, we need the past participle of the verb 'to give' - dar: dado. You also need no to make the sentence negative. Where does that go?

Remember, it cannot go in between the helping verb and the past participle like it does in English. The 'no' must go in front of haber. Since they didn't give 'me' an interview, we now need the indirect object pronoun in the first person singular: me. Where do we put this?

Right! In front of haber, but after the no - no me han dado. Lastly, how do you say an interview? Una entrevista.

No me han dado una entrevista. = They have not given me an interview.

Using the Present Perfect

Now that you know how to form the present perfect, the only question is: When do you use it? Fortunately, it's much easier to decide when to use the present perfect than it is to decide when to use preterite or imperfect. The present perfect tense exists in both Spanish and English and is used for similar reasons in both languages.

Even though this tense is called the 'present' perfect, it's still a past tense. In verb tenses, the word 'perfect' indicates that an action or state has been completed prior to another point in time. In fact, the word 'perfect' is derived from a Latin verb meaning 'to finish or bring to completion.'

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