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Introduction to the perfect tense in Spanish

The perfect tense in Spanish is roughly the equivalent to English forms such as have taken, have bought, have arrived etc. That is, it generally expresses a past action that has relevance to the present moment.

Note that unlike some other languages such as French and Italian, the Spanish perfect tense isn't used as 'narrative' past tense. In other words, it isn't generally used like simple past English forms such as ate, went, arrived etc.

On this page, we'll begin by looking at singualr forms (yo, , él/ella/usted) of the perfect tense; on the next page, you'll be able to practise these forms.

How to form the perfect tense

In English, the perfect tense consists of two words: the verb have, sometimes called an auxiliary verb, plus a past participle (a form ending in -ed or -en, e.g. walked, arrived, taken, eaten).

The perfect tense is formed in a very similar in Spanish: a form of the verb haber (to have...) is used, followed by the past participle of the Spanish verb. In Spanish, most past participles end in -ado or -ido (although there are a few notable exceptions).

The verb haber

For now, we'll just look at the singular forms. The singular forms of the verb haber (to have) look as follows:

PersonForm of haber
I have..., I've...
you have..., you've...
él, ella
he/she has..., he's/she's...
you have..., you've...
Singular forms of the Spanish verb haber

Note that haber means to have only in the sense of to have ...ed/...en, in other words when combined with a past participle. The verb for have as in have got is tener (tengo un hermano = I've got a brother).

The past participle of regular verbs

The past participle is fairly straightforward for regular verbs:

  • for -ar verbs, replace the -ar with -ado;
  • for -er and -ir verbs, replace the -er/-ir with -ido.

Here are some examples:

VerbPast participleExample perfect tense
to buy
compradohe comprado un coche
I've bought a car
to eat
comidoha comido
he/she's eaten
to cut up
partidohe partido el pastel
I've cut up the cake
Examples of the perfect tense in Spanish

avoir or être...?

If you've learnt the perfect tense in French, you may be wondering if Spanish has the equivalent of the "avoir or être distinction". Well, the good news is that in Spanish, all verbs use haber.

You may also be wondering about past participle agreement. Again, there's generally no such thing in Spanish: the biscuits I've bought would be las galletas que he comprado and not ...que he compradas.

Practise the perfect tense

On the next page, you can practise the singular forms of the perfect tense.

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