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The Complete Guide to the Present Perfect Tense in Spanish

Leonor Garcia Published on February 29, 2024

In Spanish, the present perfect tense is a helpful way to talk about things that happened in the past but are still connected to the present. It’s very similar to when we use phrases like “have gone” or “has been” in English. In this article, we’ll explore how to use it, when to use it, and tips to avoid common mistakes. Understanding the use of the present perfect will make your Spanish more precise and flexible, whether you’re learning for travel, talking with friends, or just because you love the language.

What is the Spanish Present Perfect Tense?

The present perfect tense (or pretérito perfecto compuesto) is used to talk about actions that happened in the past but are still important now. It’s like a bridge between the past and the present. You use it to say, “I have done” or “I have seen” something. For example, when you say, “Yo he estudiado Español,” (I’ve studied Spanish) it shows you’ve learned Spanish and it’s useful in your life. 

This tense is also useful for sharing your experiences and stories. For example, you can say “Yo he visitado Colombia,” (I have visited Colombia). This expresses an experience that you’ve had, but the exact time isn’t necessarily relevant.

Another unique use that you’ll see in Spanish is using the present perfect tense to talk about actions that happened not too long ago. For example, if you say “Recién he terminado mi tarea,” (I’ve just finished my homework) it tells people that you finished it recently. It’s also ideal to describe actions that started in the past and are still happening. Like, “Yo he vivido en Madrid por 5 años” (I’ve lived in Madrid for 5 years), tells a more complete story than “Viví en Madrid por 5 años” (I lived in Madrid for 5 years).

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How to Form the Present Perfect Tense

To form the present perfect tense, you combine two elements: the conjugated form of the auxiliary verb “haber” and the past participle of the main verb. The verb “haber” changes form to agree with the subject pronoun. The past participle is created by adding -ado to the stem of -ar verbs and -ido to the stem of -er and -ir verbs. Let’s take a look at each of these elements in-depth.

Using the Verb “Haber”

The first part of forming this tense is the auxiliary verb “haber.” An auxiliary verb is a helper verb that accompanies the main verb to create different tenses and meanings. To use “haber” correctly, you’ll need to conjugate it to match the subject of your sentence. Below you can see how to conjugate “haber” according to the pronoun:

PronounHaber Conjugation
YoHe
Has
Él/Ella/UstedHa
Nosotros/NosotrasHemos
Vosotros/VosotrasHabéis
Ellos/Ellas/UstedesHan

How to Form Regular Past Participles

The second part of the present perfect tense is the past participle. Luckily, the past participle stays the same for all subjects. To form past participles for regular verbs in Spanish, you change the end of the verb. If the verb ends in -ar, you change it to -ado. If it ends in -er or -ir, you change it to -ido. Let’s look at some examples.

For verbs that end in -ar:

-ar VerbPast ParticipleEnglish Translation
hablarhabladospoken
cantarcantadosung
estudiarestudiadostudied
saltarsaltadojumped

For verbs that end in -er:

-er VerbPast ParticipleEnglish Translation
comercomidoeaten
beberbebidodrunk
vendervendidosold
corrercorridorun

For verbs that end in -ir:

-ir VerbPast ParticipleEnglish Translation
vivirvividolived
recibirrecibidoreceived
decidirdecididodecided
asistirasistidoattended

How to Form Irregular Past Participles

Many Spanish verbs have irregular past participles, which means they don’t follow the regular -ado and -ido endings. These irregularities can seem random at first, but there are a few patterns or similarities among them. For example, many irregular past participles end in -to, -so, or -cho. These irregular forms need to be memorized, as they are common in both spoken and written Spanish. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all rule that applies to all irregular verbs, getting familiar with the most common irregular past participles helps you remember them more easily.

Here’s a table of some of the most common irregular past participles:

InfinitivePast ParticipleEnglish translation
AbrirAbiertoOpened
DecirDichoSaid
EscribirEscritoWritten
HacerHechoDone/Made
MorirMuertoDied
PonerPuestoPut
RomperRotoBroken
VerVistoSeen
VolverVueltoReturned

When to Use the Spanish Present Perfect Tense

There are a couple of specific uses for the present perfect tense. It’s used to talk about actions that started in the past but still matter now. It’s also used to talk about experiences you’ve had at any time in your life, how something or someone has changed over time, and things you’ve accomplished. We’re going to look at examples for each of these uses to understand how they work in everyday language.

For Actions that Started in the Past and Continue to the Present

In Spanish, the present perfect tense helps us talk about actions that started in the past and are still happening now. It’s perfect for when you want to say something began a while ago and hasn’t stopped, like if you’ve been learning Spanish for a year and are still at it, or you’ve been working at the same job and you’re still there. 

Talking about Experiences

-Yo he trabajado aquí por años / I have worked here for years: We use the present perfect to tell someone how long you have worked somewhere.

-Tú has vivido en Chile desde niño / You have lived in Chile since you were a child: Here the sentence tells us since when someone has lived in Chile.

-Nosotros hemos sido amigos por meses / We have been friends for months: In this sentence, you tell someone for how long you have been friends. It’s relevant to the present because it implies you continue to be friends.

Changes Over Time

-Ella ha crecido mucho / She has grown a lot: Shows that someone has grown over time, and the change is noticeable in the present.

-Nosotros hemos mejorado nuestro español / We have improved our Spanish: Indicates improvement in Spanish skills from the past to now, emphasizing progress.

-Las reglas han cambiado / The rules have changed: Suggests that the rules were different in the past compared to now, highlighting the difference as relevant today. 

Accomplishments

-He terminado el libro / I have finished the book: Indicates completing the book, which is an achievement relevant at the moment of speaking.

-Fernanda ha aprobado el examen / Fernanda has passed the exam: Shows that passing the exam has happened, focusing on the achievement itself.

-Nosotros hemos completado el proyecto / We have completed the project: Demonstrates that finishing the project is a recent accomplishment, relevant, and likely a relief or cause for celebration.

For Actions that Took Place in the Recent Past

In Spanish, the present perfect tense is also used to talk about actions that just happened not too long ago. Whether you’ve just arrived somewhere, received a call, or finished a task, this tense wraps up the recent past and its importance to the present moment in a neat package. Let’s dive into some examples to see how it really works in action:

-He llegado / I have arrived: This means you’ve just got to where you’re going, highlighting that your arrival is a recent event.

-Ellos me han llamado / They have called me: Tells us that you’ve received a call recently, stressing that it happened not long before now.

-Tú has comido / You have eaten: Points out that the subject has already eaten not too long ago.

Present Perfect Tense With Time Expressions “Por” and “Desde”

In Spanish, the present perfect tense often works alongside specific time expressions, especially “por” and “desde,” to emphasize the timing and duration of actions relevant to the present. “Por” indicates how long an action has lasted, such as hours, days, or years. On the other hand, “desde” points out the starting point of an action, marking its continuation up to now. These expressions add depth to our statements by specifying how long something has been happening and when it began.

Por

We use “por” for periods of time. “Por” is followed by the length of time, such as “por dos horas” (for two hours), “por tres días” (for three days), or “por cinco años” (for five years). Note that you can be as specific or as vague as you want with the length of time when you use “por.” Let’s look at some examples.

-He vivido aquí por tres años / I have lived here for three years: This sentence uses “por” to show the duration of living in one place.

-Nosotros hemos estudiado Kung-Fu por cinco meses / We have studied Kung-Fu for five months: Here, we use “por” to tell for how long we have studied Kung-Fu.

-Ellos han guardado dinero por años / They have saved money for years: Here, we use “por” to tell someone that the subject (ellos) has saved money for an extended period.

Desde

You can use “desde” when you state the starting point of an action. It’s used with a specific time, such as “desde el mes pasado” (since last month), “desde el año pasado” (since last year), or “desde mi cumpleaños” (since my birthday). Keep in mind that it’s also possible to use “desde” with vague time expressions like, “desde siempre” (since forever). Here are some examples with “desde.”

-Roberto ha estudiado francés desde 2014 / Roberto has studied French since 2014: “Desde” highlights when the speaker started studying French, continuing to the present.

-Nosotros hemos trabajado juntos desde el verano pasado / We have worked together since last summer: Here, “desde” specifies the beginning of their collaboration, which is ongoing.

-Yo he hablado español desde siempre / I have spoken Spanish since forever: In this sentence, “desde” is used to explain that someone has spoken a language since they can recall.

How to Practice the Spanish Present Perfect Tense

To practice the present perfect in Spanish, there are many different options. You can use a language app that teaches useful Spanish words and phrases, including verb tenses like the present perfect. You can also find online courses that specifically cover Spanish grammar, including this tense. If you prefer books, look for verb conjugation or grammar books where you can find different examples and practical explanations of the tense.

For more practice, consider finding a native Spanish speaker to talk to on platforms like Tandem or HelloTalk. This can help you apply what you’ve learned in real conversations. Whichever method(s) you choose, the key is to practice regularly to get better at using the present perfect tense.

Spanish Present Perfect Tense: Final Thoughts

The present perfect tense can help you communicate accurately in Spanish. It allows you to talk about past events that are connected to the present or express actions that are recently completed. Remember, learning a language is an adventure, so keep going, keep practicing, and you’ll learn how to use all the Spanish verb tenses in no time!

Leonor Garcia

Leonor García is a Peruvian ESL teacher with a bachelor's degree from Universidad Nacional Federico Villarreal. She is fluent in Spanish and English and is currently learning Portuguese. She is passionate about cultural exchange and using languages to drive globalization. Through her writing and teaching, Leonor aims to help people achieve their language learning goals. Connect with Leonor on LinkedIn.

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