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Common Spanish Tenses

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Learn More About the Spanish Tenses

When learning to speak Spanish, it is important to get to grips with the different tenses. Indeed, understanding tenses will enable you to indicate whether actions or events have taken place in the past, are taking place in the present, or will take place in the future, which can be vitally important.

Nevertheless, there are several different tenses for each of these three time periods, and some do not correspond directly with English tenses, which can make it slightly confusing. To help you to develop your understanding, we have compiled a table of the main Spanish tenses, along with explanations and examples of when to use them.

 Name  Past, Present,  or Future  When to use this Spanish tense  Frequency  of use  Examples of use
 Present / Presente  Present  Much like the present tense in English, the presente is used to describe actions in the present, facts or  conditions that exist in the present, or to express how long something has been occurring. It can occasionally  also be used to describe future actions, when that future time is specified.  High
  • Este es mi hermano
  • John juega al fútbol cada viernes
 Present perfect /  Pretérito perfecto  Past and  Present  The pretérito perfecto corresponds with the English present perfect tense, and uses the present tense form of  haber, followed by the past participle of the verb. It is primarily used to describe completed actions that took  place in the past, but have present day implications.  High
  • Ella le ha dicho a su opinión
  • Santiago ha ordenado su cuarto
 Imperfect /  Pretérito  imperfecto  Past  The pretérito imperfecto is used to describe past situations or habitual actions. It usually places an emphasis  on the the progression of an action, but can also be used to give a more general description of a past setting,  making it useful for storytelling purposes.  Medium
  • Cuando era más jóven vivía con mis padres
  • Jugábamos juntos todas las mañanas si hacía buen tiempo
 Simple past /  Pretérito  indefinido  Past  The pretérito indefinido can be used to describe a completed past action that occurred only once, or when  talking about a newly started action in the past, which interrupted another action. Additionally, it can describe  a general truth, such as a completed past relationship.  High
  • Mi amigo llegó la semana pasada
  • Vimos esta película en el cine el día de su estreno
 Past perfect /  Pretérito  pluscuamperfecto  Past  The past perfect tense, or pretérito pluscuamperfecto, is utilised when describing an event or action that  occurred before another point in the past. For example, if you are telling a story in the simple past tense, but  want to refer to an event even earlier, you would use the pretérito pluscuamperfecto.  High
  • El espectáculo ya había terminado cuando llegamos
  • Había cerrado la puerta antes de salir
 Past anterior /  Pretérito anterior  Past  Although it is almost never used in conversation, the pretérito anterior does occasionally appear in literature  and formal written works. It is similar to the pretérito pluscuamperfecto, but is used to express an action in the  past, which took place immediately before another action in the past.  Low
  • En cuanto hubo empezado la película, Jennifer se sentó
 Simple future /  Futuro simple  Future  Much like the simple future or future imperfect tense in other languages, we primarily use the futuro simple to  express intentions for the future. With that said, it can also be used to make suppositions about the future and,  more rarely, about the present.  High
  • La próxima semana estaré de vacaciones
  • El mes que viene iré a Barcelona
 Future perfect /  Futuro  compuesto  Future  The futuro compuesto, sometimes referred to as the futuro perfecto, is used when expressing a supposition  that an event or action will have taken place, either by the time of speaking, or by a specified time in the  future.  Medium
  • Él habrá ido a otro restaurante
  • Cuando yo llegue a la fiesta, ya se habrán marchado todos