The Present Perfect in Spanish in Two Easy Steps
The present perfect in Spanish is used to talk about things that we have or haven’t done in the past and have still done (or haven’t done) in the present. In English, we use the verb “to have” to talk about these things, like when we say, “Have you been to the movies recently?” or “I still haven’t read the book for class.”
It can be a confusing tense in Spanish, because it is used to talk about events that you have done in the past, but technically it is a present tense. What does that mean?
Well, as you probably know, Spanish has more than one way to talk about past events and each one occupies a different space in time. One way to look at it is with a timeline. Present perfect events are events that started at a point in the past and continue to the present. Because of this, it is technically a present event, because the action still holds true to the present. However, we usually use this tense to talk about the past, because the actions begin in that realm of time.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s hard enough trying to figure out when to use the imperfect and when to use the preterit tense in the past, right? So, how is the present perfect in Spanish different from past tenses? The simplest answer is that the two past tenses do not continue into the present. If we use our timeline example, the preterit tense is like a point on the timeline. It begins and ends in the past. And the imperfect tense is an ongoing action in the past. It is a line in the past that does not extend to the present. The present perfect, however, is a line that begins in the past and ends in the present.
What does the present perfect in Spanish Look Like?
As you know, we use this tense to talk about things we have done in the past. Now that you have a better idea as to what the tense is, let’s look at some examples.
I have been to Costa Rica.
Have you seen Amores Perros?
She has been here for over an hour.
We haven’t bought food this week.
Have you guys heard the news?
They still haven’t done their homework.
All of these sentences use the present perfect. But how do we form them in Spanish?
I know that conjugating can be the bane of your Spanish-speaking life, but fortunately the present perfect only requires you to conjugate one verb! That’s it! Well, almost.
To form the present perfect in Spanish, you need to know how to do two things: conjugate the verb “haber” in the present tense and form the past participle. So, it’s actually a fairly easy tense to construct. Conjugate “haber,” add the past participle and there you go.
Let’s take a look at the verb “haber.” Instead of using the verb “to have,” like in English, in Spanish we use the auxiliary verb “haber.” The conjugation looks like this:
Yo he Nosotros hemos
Tú has Vosotros habéis (Spain)
Él/Ella ha Ustedes/Ellos han
Got that? Ok, now we can add on the past participle. The past participle is formed by adding the ending -ado to -AR verbs and -ido to -ER and IR verbs.
For example, the verb cantar becomes cantado and the verb comer becomes comido.
Now we have all the ingredients to form the present perfect.
Haber conjugated in the present tense + past participle
Let’s try with the sentences from above:
I have been to Costa Rica. – He ido a Costa Rica.
Have you seen Amores Perros? – ¿Has visto Amores Perros?
She has been here for over an hour. – Ella ha estado aquí por más de una hora.
We haven’t bought food this week. – Nosotros no hemos comprado comida esta semana.
Have you guys heard the news? – ¿Vosotros habéis escuchado las noticias?
They still haven’t done their homework. – Ellos todavía no han hecho su tarea.
So earlier we talked about the timeline as a way to explain when to use the present perfect. Now, let’s get a bit more specific. Usually the present perfect is used the same way it is in English. A lot of times it is used to talk about things that you have or haven’t done in reference to your entire lifetime. Maybe you want to ask someone if they’ve ever been to a certain restaurant or tell them that you have never travelled to Asia. This is where you would use the present perfect.
Do you remember the game Never Have I Ever? All of your answers use the present perfect.
Never have I ever been arrested – Yo nunca he sido arrestado.
Never have I ever been on TV – Yo nunca he salido en la tele.
Never have I ever broken a bone – Yo nunca me he roto un hueso.
Like I said, usually we use the present perfect in Spanish the same instances that we would use it in English. You wouldn’t say, today I have eaten ice cream. (Hoy he comido helado.) Instead, you would go for the past tense: Today I ate ice cream. (Hoy comí helado.)
Well, in most countries yes. However, in most parts of Spain it is common to use the present perfect for recent past events, in which you would usually use the past preterit. So, in Castilian Spanish it would be perfectly normal to say, hoy he comido helado or en la mañana he tomado un zumo de naranja.
Now for some fun. So, since the Spanish tend to overuse this tense, I found a song by Spanish artist Juan Magan to demonstrate.
Hoy me he dado cuenta que he perdido el tiempo
Pensando en conseguir más de lo que ya tengo
Sin valorar lo que la vida ya me daba a tu lado
Y ahora que te tengo tan lejos reconozco los días
He llorado, como un niño
Que no ve la luz del sol cuando es verano
Y le han quitado, de sus manos
Su mejor sonrisa el tiempo más preciado
Y no me he cansado de soñarte a mi lado
De pensar que al día de hoy me has olvidado
Yo te amo, yo te amo, yo te amo
Now that you have mastered the present perfect in Spanish, you are well on your way to becoming a Spanish-speaking expert!
Nicole DeFuria is a language fanatic from Seattle, Washington. She is fluent in Spanish, having studied it for over ten years and lived abroad. She is also currently studying Italian and Nahuatl.