Spanish Past Tenses – Pretérito Compuesto Perfecto

Today we are going to see another popular Spanish Past Tense, called the Preterite Perfect

It is the equivalent of the English Present Perfect Tense and describes actions we have or haven’t done. 

Before we get started, a short reminder of all the Past Tenses that you can find in Spanish Grammar. 

4 Main Types of Past Tenses in Spanish:

🇪🇸 Ayer almorzé con Lucas.
🇬🇧 Yesterday I had lunch with Lucas.

  • Pretérito Perfecto Compuesto / Preterite Perfect – equivalent to the English Present Perfect. It doesn’t require you to specify when a given action / event took place. The described actions normally have a connection to the present. 

🇪🇸 He comprado un auto nuevo. 
🇬🇧 I’ve bought a new car.

  • Pretérito Imperfecto / Preterite Imperfect– equivalent to the English “used to”. It describes past habits and actions / events that took place on a regular basis. 

🇪🇸 Cuando era joven, hacía ejercicio todos los días.
🇬🇧 When I was young, I used to exercise every day. 

  • Pretérito pluscuamperfecto / Preterite Pluperfect – equivalent to the English Past Perfect. It is used to describe an action / event that took place before another one. 

🇪🇸 Ya habíamos terminado antes de que llegaste. 
🇬🇧 We had already finished before you arrived. 

Preterite Perfect in Spanish – Examples

What have you done lately? Have you seen any good movies? Have you been busy? 

And that project of yours, have you finished it yet?

I, personally, have been having some with my car. I’m afraid I’ll have to take it to the mechanic, eventually. 

Do you see how everything I’ve just said uses the same grammar pattern?

Have done, have seen, have been...

In Spanish, there is a very similar structure, called Pretérito Perfecto:

🇪🇸 He estado en cama todo el día. 
🇬🇧 I’ve been in bed all day. 

🇪🇸 Nunca he comido carne vegetal. 
🇬🇧 I’ve never eaten vegetarian meat.

🇪🇸 Aún no hemos terminado el proyecto. 
🇬🇧 We haven’t finished the project yet. 

🇪🇸 ¿Alguna vez has visitado Nueva Zelanda?
🇬🇧 Have you ever visited New Zealand?

🇪🇸 Los vecinos han reclamado por el ruido. 
🇬🇧 The neighbors have complained about the noise. 

🇪🇸 ¿Por qué no habéis empezado todavía?
🇬🇧 Why haven’t you (plural) started, yet?

🇪🇸 ¿Qué has hecho? 
🇬🇧 What have you done?

🇪🇸 ¿Has visto mis lentes?
🇬🇧 Have you seen my glasses?

As you can see, I’ve marked red two words in each sentence.


Remember the name of the tense? Pretérito Compuesto Perfecto. 

That’s right. This past structure in Spanish is composed of two main elements.

🇪🇸 Test Your Spanish Knowledge 🇪🇸

The Key Elements Of The Preterite Perfect in Spanish:

Check out the examples above one more time. What is the first word marked in red?

He, has, ha, hemos, habéis, han…

Do you know what that is? 

It is the Spanish verb HABER, conjugated in the present tense. This verb is going to be our “helper” or “auxiliary”. 

Now, let’s have a look at the second part of the Spanish Preterite Perfect Tense:

estado, comido, terminado, visitado, reclamado, empezado…

These verb forms seem oddly similar, don’t they?

It is because they all represent something called Past Participle (Participio Pasado). 

Oh no, another confusing grammar name!

Trust me, there is no reason to fear. 

The Spanish Past Participle is actually pretty straightforward and easy to form. 

How to form Participio Pasado in Spanish 

In the case of regular verbs, all you need to do is to eliminate the infinitive ending, and replace it with -ADO (for the -AR group) or -IDO (for the -ER and the -IR verbs).


The -AR verbsThe -ER verbsThe -IR verbs
llamar – llamado
prestar – prestado
limpiar – limpiado
comer – comido
saber – sabido
coser – cosido
vivir – vivido
permitir – permitido
confundir – confundido

🇪🇸 Te he llamado muchas veces.
🇬🇧 I’ve called you many times.

🇪🇸 ¿Te he prestado dinero alguna vez?
🇬🇧 Have I ever lent you money?

🇪🇸 ¿Por qué no has limpiado tu cuarto todavía?
🇬🇧 Why haven’t you cleaned your room yet?

🇪🇸 Nunca has sabido ser asertivo.
🇬🇧 You’ve never known how to be assertive. 

🇪🇸 Me has confundido con otra persona.
🇬🇧 You’ve confused me with someone else. 

🇪🇸 Mis papás han vivido toda la vida en este pueblo. 
🇬🇧 My parents have lived all their life in this town. 

🇪🇸 Mi jefe no me ha permitido tomar el día libre mañana.
🇬🇧 My boss has not let me take a day off tomorrow. 

Not that hard, is it?

But what is it? I think I can hear you whisper shyly: 

“Are there any exceptions”?

Yes, my darlings, I´m afraid there are a few. 

Luckily, none of the basic verbs (ser, estar, tener, saber, poder, querer, deber) is among them. 

You can go ahead and turn those ones into past participles simply by following the rules I explained before.

Common Verbs Are Not Exceptions When Forming Past Participle

ser -sido
saber – sabido
estar – estado
poder – podido
tener – tenido
querer – querido
deber – debido

See? All of them follow the regular pattern.

10 most common irregular past participles in Spanish:

For those of you who have mastered memorization techniques, here’s the list of the most useful irregular past participles:

escribir – escrito                              poner – puesto
morir – muerto                                 romper – roto
cubrir – cubierto                              decir – dicho
ver – visto                                        soltar – suelto                       
volver – vuelto                                 resolver – resuelto

I’m quite sure you must have heard or seen these participles before in your daily conversations. 

Let’s try to use them now in a few sample sentences:

🇪🇸 ¿Has visto a María?
🇬🇧 Have you seen María?

🇪🇸 Mi abuelo no ha muerto todavía.
🇬🇧 My grandpa hasn’t passed away yet.

🇪🇸 Después de muchas horas hemos resuelto este problema.
🇬🇧 After many hours we have solved this problem. 

🇪🇸 Alguien ha roto la ventana del sótano. 
🇬🇧 Someone has broken the attic window.

🇪🇸 La Sra. Pérez aún no ha vuelto de sus vacaciones. 
🇬🇧 Mrs. Perez has not returned from her vacation, yet. 

🇪🇸 Pedro tiene calor y por eso se ha suelto la corbata. 
Pedro is hot and this is why he has loosened his tie. 

🇪🇸 ¿Dónde has puesto mis zapatos? No los encuentro en ningún lado.
🇬🇧 Where have you put my shoes? I can’t find them anywhere. 

Time Reference in the Spanish Preterito Compuesto Perfecto.

You can normally use Preterite Perfect with no time reference whatsoever. Just plain:

🇪🇸 Me he comprado un carro nuevo. 
🇬🇧 I’ve bought a new car. 

You don’t say when it happened as this is irrelevant for the message you are trying to convey. 

There are, however, certain time references that are quite common in this structure.

He estado bastante ocupado últimamente. 
I’ve been quite busy lately. 
aún / todavía
Aún / Todavía no he comprado tu regalo de cumpleaños.
I haven’t bought your birthday present yet. 
alguna vez
¿Alguna vez has visto una ballena?
Have you ever seen a whale?
No he leído nunca este libro. 
I’ve never read this book. 

If you want to ask someone how they’ve been lately, what are you going to say in Spanish?

🇪🇸 ¿Cómo has estado últimamente? – remember it, as it is a great conversation starter!

The Continuous Form of Preterito Perfecto in Spanish

Sometimes, the Preterite Perfect is used to describe actions that started in the past and still continue.

🇪🇸 El bebé ha estado durmiendo todo el día. 
🇬🇧 The baby has been sleeping all day. (and it is still asleep). 

🇪🇸 He estado negociando con este cliente por varias semanas. 
🇬🇧 I’ve been negotiating with this client for several weeks.  (and I still am)

🇪🇸 ¿Has estado tomando tus remedios?  
🇬🇧 Have you been taking your pills? (and are you still taking them?)

🇪🇸 Hemos estado preparando la fiesta en secreto. 
🇬🇧 We have been preparing the party in secret. (and we still are)

As you can see, this time I’ve marked three elements instead of two. 

Why is that?

Apart from our old “helper” – HABER – we now have another one. 

It is the verb ESTAR, in its past participle form. 

Remember the rules?


These two elements are unmovable, they will always be part of your Preterito Perfecto Continuo.

The only replaceable word is the verb representing the action: 

durmiendo, negociando, tomando, preparando… 

Have you seen this form before? It is the so-called “gerundio”, the equivalent to the English -ING form.

How to form the Spanish Gerundio? 

Piece of cake. 

Eliminate the infinitive ending and replace it with:

– ANDO (for the -AR verbs),
– IENDO (for the -ER and -IR verbs)

Let’s give it a try:


🇪🇸 He estado viajando mucho este año.
🇬🇧 I have been traveling a lot this year. 


🇪🇸 La secretaría ha estado respondiendo llamadas desde que llegó.
🇬🇧 The secretary has been answering calls since she arrived. 


🇪🇸 Clara y Pe dro han estado saliendo juntos desde el año pasado.
🇬🇧 Clara and Pedro have been dating since last year. 

The word “desde” is actually a very common time reference for the Spanish Préterito Perfecto Contínuo. Logically, it indicates the moment in the past when the action started. 

You might also see it in a combination with “hace” (a common time reference for the Spanish Preterito Indefinido). 

For instance: “desde hace 2 años” means “ for 2 years”.

🇪🇸 He estado trabajando en esta empresa desde hace 2 años. 
🇬🇧 I’ve been working in this company for 2 years. 

🇪🇸 No nos hemos visto desde hace mucho tiempo.  
🇬🇧 We haven’t seen each other for a long time. 

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Joanna Lupa
Joanna Lupa
Polish by birth, Chilean by the turns of life. Has spent 20 years in that beautiful South American country working as a language teacher and translator. Has taught Spanish and English to students of all proficiency levels. Passionate about languages, books, and traveling. A mother of 2 trilingual teenagers.

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