We’ve already looked at the present perfect
tense a few times here on Spectrum Monkey. We’ve learnt how to form it by combining the auxiliary verb haber (to have)
in the present tense with a past participle. If you need a reminder of how to form the present perfect
tense it’s worth taking another look at POST #21.
Often just referred to as the perfect
tense, the present perfect
tense describes completed actions in the present. For instance: “He hablado con él” (I have spoken with him).
Whereas the pluperfect
tense describes completed actions in the past “Yo había hablado con él” (I had spoken with him)
and the future perfect
completed actions in the future “Habré hablado con él” (I will have spoken with him).
It is easy to think of the present perfect
tense as a kind of past tense, alongside the preterite
tenses. However, this isn’t strictly the case. It describes actions that are completed, but right now, or recently enough that we still deem the actions to have taken place in the present (even though strictly speaking they may have already occurred).
To explain this better, let’s remind ourselves about the preterite
tenses and then compare and contrast this to the present perfect
We use the preterite
tense when talking about actions that have clearly started and completed in the past. For instance: “Ayer hablé con David” (I spoke with David yesterday).
Whereas the imperfect
tense is used to describe actions in the past that may not have a clearly defined start and end point. “Yo hablaba bien el español” (I used to speak Spanish well).
However, the present perfect
tense is used when talking about actions completed or “perfected” in the present time frame. For instance: “Hoy he hablado bien el español” (Today I have spoken Spanish well)
. Therefore, even though we are describing something that may have completed in the past, we are still describing it from the point of view of being very recently completed or an action that still holds true in the present.
This is the key point in understanding when
to use the present prefect
tense: The concept of completed actions that are being carried out now or recently.
So, what do we mean by recently?
There are several trigger
words or phrases we can look out for which help us identify when we should use the present perfect
. These trigger words all pre-empt the use of the present perfect
tense as they all imply a recent timeframe.
Words and phrases like: today, lately, recently, never, some / several times, still, already, this morning, this afternoon, this week, this month, this year, all my life
and so on are all examples whereby naturally the present perfect
tense is triggered. Let’s see a few examples:
|Spanish ||Meaning ||Trigger |
|“Hoy hemos aprendido mucho” ||We have learned a lot today ||today |
|“Últimamente he estado viendo demasiada televisión” ||I've been watching too much TV lately ||lately / recently |
|“Nunca he trabajado tan duro” ||Never have I worked so hard ||never |
|“Lo he visto varias veces” ||I have seen it several times ||some /several times |
|“¿Todavía no has ordenado tu habitación?” ||You still haven't tidied your room? ||still / already |
|“Te he llamado esta mañana” ||I have called you this morning ||this... |
|“He visto al menos cuatro esta semana” ||I have seen at least four this week ||this... |
|“Este año han ganado dos veces” ||This year they have won twice ||this... |
|“He tratado de mantenerme en forma toda mi vida” ||I have tried to keep fit all my life ||all my life |
It may seem strange to consider this year
as a recent timeframe. But if we remind ourselves that whilst the completed task may have occurred many months ago in the past, this year
still continues into the present moment by virtue of it being this
year and not being that
year or any other year for that matter.
Of course, we don’t need to explicitly mention the triggers like today, this morning, this week
etc to use the perfect
tense. But certainly, we should always be thinking about the time frame and if we are indeed referring to a recent point in time or a moment that is still deemed in the present. In these cases, then we should use the perfect tense. In fact, strictly speaking it is deemed grammatically incorrect to use the preterite
tense when describing actions that have completed today or in the recent past. Although, there are plenty of regional examples where this may not be strictly observed. Conclusion | En conclusión
Using the present perfect
tense is usually one of the first compound verb tenses that newcomers to Spanish will encounter. Once we grow accustomed to combining the verb haber
with a past participle, it often becomes a firm favourite as there tend to be less forms to learn and remember. However, knowing when
to use this tense is often a misunderstood aspect of Spanish grammar.
Clearly, when we describe an action we have done, it makes sense that we should choose the prefect
tense, just as we do in English. However, using this tense to describe completed actions today or recently can take a bit of getting used to, especially when in English we might tend to favour the simple form past tense.