Using the Present Perfect Tense

Spanish tense isn't always the equivalent of same tense in English

Cathedral in San Miguel de Allende
¿Has viajado a San Miguel de Allende? (Have you traveled to San Miguel de Allende?).

Rob Tilley / Getty Images

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.) It generally indicates that an action has been completed that has some bearing on the present.

Forms of Present Perfect Tense

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

  • yo he + past participle (I have ...)
  • 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 ...)

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. However, if haber applies to two participles, the second haber can be omitted, as in the second sample sentence below.

Sample Sentences

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.)
  • ¡Es lo mejor que he visto y escuchado en mi vida! (It's the best thing I have seen and heard in my life!)
  • ¿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.)
  • He leído y acepto la política de privacidad. (I have read and I accept the privacy policy.)

Subjunctive Use

The subjunctive present perfect functions in much the same way:

  • Mi amiga niega que su madre haya comprado un regalo para el perro. (My friend denies that her mother has bought a gift for the dog.)
  • Titular: 14 piscinas que no se parecen a nada que hayas visto antes. (Headline: 14 swimming pools that don't seem like anything you have seen before.)
  • Es probable que hayan escondido micrófonos en la casa y estén escuchando nuestras conversaciones. (It is likely that they have hidden microphones in the house and are listening to our conversations.)
  • El la elección más sucia que hayamos conocido en los últimos tiempos. (It is the dirtiest election that we have known in recent times.)

Present Perfect With Meaning of the Preterite

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.)
  • Esta mañana he estado en Madrid. (This morning I was in Madrid.)

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).

Key Takeaways

  • The present perfect tense is formed by following the present tense of haber with a past participle.
  • No words should intervene between haber and the participle.
  • The Spanish present perfect sometimes is used to indicate than an action recently took place rather than merely that it has occurred.