Spanish Past Tenses – Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto

In my last three posts, I had the pleasure of taking you on a journey through Spanish Past Tenses. 

Our first stop was the land of Pretérito Indefinido, where we saw finished past actions.

Then we moved on to the Pretérito Perfecto Valley to visit the actions that have happened recently, and the ones that haven’t happened yet. 

On the third day of our journey, we visited the Memory Kingdom of Pretérito Imperfecto inhabited by our past habits and routines. 

Today, we find ourselves exploring the last and the most remote Spanish Past Tense – Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto, or Preterite Pluperfect if you will. 

If any of you got lost on the way, here’s a map of where we have been so far.

4 Main Types of Past Tenses in Spanish:

  • Pretérito Indefinido / Preterite Indefinite – equivalent to the English Simple Past. It describes actions / events that happened at a given time in the past

🇪🇸 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. 

Spanish Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto – Its Structure and Uses 

Being a native English speaker doesn’t mean you know what each of the past tenses is called in your own language, so I am assuming not all of you are familiar with the name “Past Perfect Tense”. 

Well done if you are, but if you aren’t – here’s an example of what I am talking about:

🇬🇧 “Before I left, I had closed all the windows”. 

The “I had closed (…)” part  – is the Past Perfect Tense. 

Why am I mentioning that? 

Simply because the Spanish Preterite Pluperfect is an almost exact equivalent of the English Past Perfect

With this in mind, let’s try to translate our sample sentence to Spanish, shall we?

🇪🇸 “Antes de que salí, (yo) había cerrado todas las ventanas”

Great job!

How about some more examples of the Spanish Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto?

Spanish Preterito Pluscuamperfecto -sample sentences

🇪🇸 Pedro había manejado su coche nuevo por tan solo 2 semanas antes de que se lo robaran. 
🇬🇧 Pedro had only driven his new car for 2 weeks before it got stolen. 

🇪🇸 Los novios ya habían terminado su baile cuando llegué. 
🇬🇧 The bride and the groom had already finished their dance by the time I arrived. 

🇪🇸 No nos habíamos ni sentado cuando empezó la presentación. 
🇬🇧 We hadn’t even sat down when the presentation started. 

🇪🇸 Me enojé mucho porqué no me habías ayudado en nada. Lo tuve que hacer todo sola. 
🇬🇧 I got very angry because you hadn’t helped me with anything. I had to do everything by myself. 

🇪🇸 Mi padre preguntó a qué hora había vuelto de la fiesta.
🇬🇧 My father asked what time I had gotten back from the party. 

🇪🇸 Test Your Spanish Knowledge 🇪🇸

OK then, let’s take a closer look at the sentences above and see what we got there. 

There are 5 things that I hope will draw your attention:

Spanish Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto – The Key Information

1. It is usually used together with Préterito Indefinido, in sentences that describe two past actions, one happening before the other. 

The more remote action or event is represented by the Preterite Pluperfect.

2. Just like the English Past Perfect, Spanish Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto is built upon two main elements:          

the auxiliary verb HABER + the main verb in the Past Participle form

3. The verb HABER is conjugated in Past (Pretérito Imperfecto):

(yo) había
(tú) habías
(él) había
(nosotros) habíamos
(vosotros) habíais
(ellos) habían   

4. Just like explained in the post on Spanish Past Perfect tense, the Past Participle formation depends on the verb category:

the regular -AR verbs replace the infinitive ending with – ADO

terminar – terminado

the regular -ER and -IR verbs replace the infinitive ending with – IDO

comer – comido                      sentir – sentido

5. The irregular verbs form their own participles, e.g.: 

ir – ido                       
decir – dicho                      
hacer – hecho                       
morir – muerto                        
volver – vuelto                        
abrir – abierto                        
romper – roto                        
escribir – escrito                     

Préterito Pluscuamperfecto in Spanish – Time Expressions

Having clarified the basics, let’s try to build some more sentences with the Spanish Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto.  

This time, try to identify the time expressions that help connect the two past actions. 

Also, keep in mind which of the two actions happened first. 


1st – turning off the night lamp
2nd – going to sleep

🇪🇸 Antes de que Juan se fuera a acostar, había apagado su lámpara de noche. 
🇬🇧 Before Juan went to sleep, he had turned off the night lamp. 


1st – tall the guests leaving
2nd – washing the dishes

🇪🇸 Después de que todos los invitados se habían ido, lavamos toda la loza. 
🇬🇧 After all the guests had left, we washed all the dishes. 


1st – finishing lunch
2nd – arriving

🇪🇸 Justo habíamos terminado de almorzar cuando llegaste.
We had just finished lunch when you arrived. 


1st – boarding gate closing
2nd – getting through passport control

🇪🇸 Cuando por fin pasamos por el control de pasaportes, la puerta de embarque ya había cerrado. 
🇬🇧 When we finally got through the passport control, the boarding gate had already closed. 


1st – visa expiring
2nd – remembering to apply for a new visa

🇪🇸 A la hora que me acordé de postular la visa nueva, la anterior ya había vencido. 
🇬🇧 By the time I remembered to apply for a new visa, the previous one had already expired.  


1st – kids not changing their PJs
2nd – mother calling for lunch

🇪🇸 Alex y Rosa aún no se habían cambiado sus pijamas cuando su mamá los llamó a almorzar.    
🇬🇧 Alex and Rosa still hadn’t changed their PJs, when mom called them for lunch.

Spanish Past Tense Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto in Conditional Sentences

Those of you who have been studying Spanish for some time now might be familiar with this special version of the Pluperfect Past Tense. 

The Spanish Pluscuamperfecto Tense can also be used in conditional sentences (the so-called “IF clauses”).

The Third Conditional, to be exact. 

For those of you who are not sure what I mean, check out the examples below:

🇪🇸 Si hubiera / hubiese sabido la verdad, nunca me habría casado contigo.  
🇬🇧 If I had known the truth, I would have never married you. 

🇪🇸 Si hubiera / hubiese sido menos estricta con mis hijos, tal vez no se habrían ido de la casa tan rápido. 
🇬🇧 If I had been less strict with my children, perhaps they wouldn’t have moved out so soon. 

🇪🇸 Si Marcos no hubiera / hubiese visto el informe, no habría entendido las razones de esta decisión.
🇬🇧 If Marcos hadn’t seen the report, he wouldn’t have understood the reasons for this decision.

🇪🇸 No te habrían elegido si hubieran/hubiesen dudado en tus capacidades. 
🇬🇧 They wouldn’t have chosen you if they had doubted your skills. 

As you’ve surely noticed, some kind of Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto appears twice throughout all the examples. 

The structure that accompanies the “IF” part is called Pluscuamperfecto del Subjuntivo (Subjunctive Pluperfect).

The second, hypothetic one is known as Condicional Compuesto (Composed Conditional).

Spanish Past Tense Pluscuamperfecto del Subjuntivo

Let’s go back to our examples above. 

“hubiera / hubiese sabido”
“hubiera /hubiese sido”
“hubiera / hubiese visto”
“hubiera / hubiese elegido”

As you can see, all of them follow the same pattern, a variation of the Pluperfect we already know. 

It is the same verb HABER, but this time it is conjugated according to the rules of the subjunctive mood:

The Subjunctive Conjugation of the Spanish Verb HABER

(yo) hubiera / hubiese(tú) hubieras / hubieses
(él) hubiera / hubiese
(nosotros) hubiéramos / hubiésemos
(vosotros) hubierais / hubieseis
(ellos) hubieran / hubiesen

Why are there different conjugation options? 

Well, the first one is the one people use most often. 

Say “hubiese” if you want to sound more fancy or formal. 

Remember that both of the conjugations are equally correct, so you can learn and use the one you feel more comfortable with. 

No matter if you choose the “hubiera” or the “hubiese” form of the verb HABER, the second element of the structure will always be the same element we already know – the past participle of the main verb. 

Spanish Past Tense – Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto as Conditional

In conditional sentences, you’ll always have two parts: one expressing a condition, and one expressing its consequence. 

In the Spanish 3rd Conditional, which is mainly used to talk about regrets and speculate how things could have been different in our past, the consequence is purely hypothetical. 

This is the reason why this time the Preterite Pluperfect Tense transforms into a conditional structure. 

As tricky as it may sound, the difference between the regular pluperfect and the conditional pluperfect lies only in how you get to conjugate the verb HABER. 

Here’s when you’re going to need the “ÍA” ending. 

In the case of regular verbs, you’d simply add the “ÍA” to the infinitive: comería, cantaría, viajaría, and so on. 

However, the verb HABER is slightly irregular in that sense, and instead of HABERÍA ❌, it conjugates as HABRÍA ✅. 

The conditional Conjugation of the Spanish Verb HABER

(yo) habría
(tú) habrías
(él) habría
(nosotros) habríamos
(vosotros) habríais
(ellos) habrían

Again, the Past Participle of the main verb remains unaffected. 

Therefore, you’ll still say: “habría comido”, “habría dicho”, “habría entendido”, etc. 


Our journey through the Spanish Past Tenses was a long one, but we’ve finally reached the end of it.

Take your time, stay focused and review each of the steps slowly.

Try to come up with your own examples, as this is the best way to learn.

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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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