Using the Present Perfect Tense

Spanish Tense Isn't Always the Equivalent of Same Tense in English

Me he comprado una esponja rosa. (I have bought a pink sponge.). Photo by Horia Varlan; licensed via Creative Commons.

Despite its name, the present perfect tense in Spanish (and English as well) is used to refer to events that happened in the past. Its use in Spanish can be tricky, however, because its usage varies with region and it sometimes is used in slightly different ways than it is in English.

In Spanish, the present perfect tense is formed by the present tense of haber followed by the past participle. (In English it's the present tense of "to have" followed by the past participle.)

Forms of Present Perfect Tense

Here then are the forms in which the present perfect would be stated. Pronouns are included here for clarity but generally aren't necessary:

  • yo he + past participle (I have ...)
  • tú has + past participle (you have ...)
  • usted/él/ella ha + past participle (you have, he/she has ...)
  • nosotros/nosotras hemos + past participle (we have ...)
  • vosotros/vosotras habéis + past participle (you have ...)
  • ustedes/ellos/ellas han + past participle (you have, they have ...)

Here are some examples of sentences using the present perfect tense along with the way they'd most commonly be translated:

  • Me he comprado una esponja rosa. I have bought a pink sponge.
  • ¿Alguna vez has hablado con las ranas a medianoche? Have you talked with the frogs at midnight?
  • Todos lo hemos pensado. All of us have thought it.
  • Minerva ha conocido ya a los padres de su novio. Minerva has already met her boyfriend's parents.
  • Siempre he anhelado tener un metabolismo con el cual pueda comer lo que quiera. I have always wanted to have a metabolism that would let me eat whatever I want.
  • Hay videojuegos que han hecho historia. There are video games that have made history.

You should be aware, however, that the Spanish present perfect tense should not always be thought of as the equivalent of the English present perfect tense.

In many regions, it can be used as the equivalent of the English simple past tense. Sometimes the context will make this clear:

  • Ha llegado hace un rato. She arrived a little bit ago.
  • Cuando lo he visto no he podido creerlo. When I saw it I couldn't believe it.
  • Leo la carta que me han escrito esta mañana. I am reading the letter they wrote to me this morning.

But even where the context doesn't dictate so, the present perfect can be the equivalent of the English preterite, also known as the simple past. This is especially true for events that occurred very recently. You're also more likely to hear the present perfect used in this way in Spain than in most of Latin America, where the preterite may be preferred (e.g., llegó hace un rato).

Note that while in English, as in some of the examples above, it is possible to separate the "have" from the past participle, in Spanish you normally don't separate haber from participles.

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Erichsen, Gerald. "Using the Present Perfect Tense." ThoughtCo, May. 7, 2017, Erichsen, Gerald. (2017, May 7). Using the Present Perfect Tense. Retrieved from Erichsen, Gerald. "Using the Present Perfect Tense." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 21, 2018).