How to Use the Perfect Infinitive in Spanish

Girl pulling on Santa's beard
El 34% de los niños aseguran haber visto a Papá Noel. (Thirty-four percent of children claim to have seen Santa Claus). Hill Street Studios/Getty Images

The perfect infinitive is called perfect not because it's better than other infinitives, but because it uses the infinitive of the verb haber, which is used to form the perfect tenses.

In Spanish, the perfect infinitive (infinitivo compuesto) is simply the word haber followed by the past participle of a verb. It is the equivalent of the English infinitive "to have" followed by a past participle and is used in basically the same way.

Examples of the Perfect Infinitive in Spanish

You can see the similarities of the two languages' perfect infinitives in these examples:

  • Haber llegado tan lejos fue memorable para nosotras. To have arrived so far away was memorable for us.
  • Fue un error haber hecho todo. It was a mistake to have done everything.
  • Espero haber sido de ayuda. I hope to have been of help.
  • Quería haber tenido más tiempo. I wanted to have had more time.
  • Mas vale haber amado y perdido que no haber amado nunca. 'Tis better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.
  • El 34% de los niños aseguran haber visto a Papá Noel. Thirty-four percent of children claim to have seen Santa Claus.

The Perfect Infinitive and English "-ing" Verbs

When you use the English "to have" followed by a past participle you can almost always translate it to Spanish using the perfect infinitive, but the reverse often isn't true. One reason is that in Spanish only the infinitive form of the verb functions as a noun, but in English the "-ing" verb form can also function as a noun. So often the Spanish perfect infinitive is the equivalent of the English "having" followed by a past participle:

  • íQué afortunada soy por haber conocido el verdadero amor! How fortunate am I for having known true love!
  • Su pecado es haber nacido en Cuba. His sin is having been born in Cuba.
  • Tengo la sensación de haber hecho todo lo posible. I have the feeling of having done everything possible.
  • Fujimori niega haber conocido existencia del grupo Colina. Fujimori denies having known the existence of the group Colina.
  • Imaginaba haber encontrado el dinero. He imagined having found the money.

The Perfect Infinitive with Prepositions

Since perfect infinitives usually function as nouns, they can serve as sentence subjects or objects. They frequently follow the prepositions de or por, although they can follow other prepositions as well. They are especially commonly used after por when expressing gratitude:

  • Gracias por haber confiado en nosotros. Thank you for trusting in us.
  • Gracias por haber llegado a mi vida. Thank you for coming into my life.

The Perfect Infinitive with Pronouns

When the perfect infinitive has an object, it is typically attached to haber:

  • ¡Cómo desearía no haberte conocido! How I wish I had never met you!
  • Recuerdo haberle comprado dos cajas de cereal. I remember buying two boxes of cereal for him.