If you want to learn the Spanish present perfect tense, you only have to know one verb conjugation, how to form a past particle and a few phrases that trigger this tense.
As a tense, the Spanish present perfect gives so much in terms of versatility and simplicity.
The Spanish present perfect is also the first tense I recommend Spanish students learn in order to start talking about the past in Spanish. It’s one of the best Spanish grammar hacks that will allow you to speak Spanish faster.
Moreover, I recommend you start with this tense because it is the easiest Spanish past tense to learn and you can use it in a lot of situations (even when it is technically wrong).
That said, when you combine the present perfect with the phrases in this post you will avoid any grammatical errors.
In this article, you’ll learn how and when to use the Spanish present perfect tense. You’ll also learn 8 Spanish phrases that trigger the use of this tense.
How to form the Spanish present perfect tense
To form the Spanish present perfect, known in Spanish as el pretérito perfecto, you’ll need to combine the present conjugations of haber with a past participle.
The formula looks as follows:
Pretérito perfecto = Haber + participio.
Firstly, here is a list of the present conjugations of haber:
|Él / Ella||Ha|
Next, you need to form a past participle for the verb you want to use in this tense.
To form past participles for regular ar verbs, you need to remove the ar and replace it with an ado. For example:
Hablar → Hablado.
To form past participles for regular er and ir verbs, you need to remove the er or ir and replace it with an ido. As follows:
Conocer → Conocido.
Now you can combine haber and past participles to form the present perfect. Here are a few quick examples (more examples later on):
English: I have eaten.
Español: He comido.
English: They have said it.
Español: Lo han dicho.
English: We have gone to the market.
Español: Hemos ido al mercado.
Another post I wrote this week explains how to form the past participles in more detail and includes a list of all of the irregular past participles. To master this tense, you’ll need to learn the irregular past participles and then get used to applying the phrases below.
Next, when exactly is the right time to use the Spanish present perfect tense?
When to use the present perfect tense
The next thing you need to consider is the time frame for which the present perfect applies.
Here you can see there are three main Spanish time frames for events in the past:
What this graph is demonstrating is that a past event could occur as follows:
- Started recently and continues into the present moment.
- Started and stopped at two defined points in time.
- Continued for a long period of time, it isn’t obvious when it started and stopped but it is no longer happening in the present.
To reiterate, any event that started in the past and continues into the present moment requires the use of the present perfect tense.
For example, if you went to the bank this morning, then this action has happened on this day (today). Since today isn’t over yet, you need to use the present perfect tense.
There are a lot of nuances and questions that can arise around this topic. For instance, you may think that you are now in the afternoon and the morning is over so this would call for the preterite. But, this isn’t the case. The key is to notice the word “this”.
If something happened yesterday morning, then the word “yesterday” would call for the past simple. But the event happened “this” morning which means you need to use the present perfect.
Moreover, if something happened “this week”, “this month” or “this year” then these phrases all call for the present perfect. Here, I’m jumping the gun, I’ll get into the phrases in the next section.
Spanish phrases that trigger the present perfect tense
Since the present perfect requires an event to start (often recently) and continue into the present moment, then all phrases that trigger the present perfect will imply this timeline for the events of the sentence.
1. Today – Hoy
Whenever you want to talk about something that has happened today, you should use the present perfect.
English: Today, I went to the gym.
Español: Hoy, he ido al gimnasio.
English: We finished our last exam today.
Español: Hemos terminado nuestro último examen hoy.
2. This morning, this afternoon, this evening – Esta mañana, esta tarde, esta noche
As I mentioned earlier, even if something happened this morning and you are currently in the middle of the afternoon you still need to use the present perfect.
English: This morning I got up at six.
Español: Esta mañana me he levantado a las seis.
English: This afternoon we ate in the park.
Español: Esta tarde hemos comido en el parque.
3. This week, this month, this year – Esta semana, este mes, este año
Continuing with the use of the word “this”, you can also talk about wider timeframes such as “this month” or “this year”.
English: This month I have been very busy.
Español: Este mes he estado muy ocupado.
English: My parents returned from vacation this week.
Español: Mis padres han vuelto de sus vacaciones esta semana.
4. Lately, recently – Últimamente, recientemente
A more subtle and less descriptive version of “this day, week, month etc.” is lately or recently.
English: I recently met an amazing girl.
Español: Recientemente, he conocido a una chica increíble.
English: I recently realised what I have to do to solve this problem.
Español: Últimamente he dado cuenta de lo que tengo que hacer para resolver este problema.
5. Never, ever – Nunca, jamás
The next three phrases extend to timeframes that expand across your whole life and, again, continue into the present moment.
If you have “never” tried something, this is as true in the present moment as it was when you were born.
English: I have never tried octopus.
Español: Nunca he probado el pulpo.
English: He has never written anything like that.
Español: Él jamás ha escrito nada así.
6. Already, still – Ya, todavía
If you “still” haven’t done something or it is “already” done, then the action continues into the present moment.
English: You still haven’t gone to the doctor?
Español: ¿Todavía no has ido al médico?
English: I have already done exercise.
Español: Ya he hecho el ejercicio.
If you aren’t talking about the event itself (the point in time) when you did exercise, you are just simply stating the fact that it has “already been done” by you, then you need to use the present perfect. This is because the “already been done” continues into the present even though the exercise finished some time ago.
Learn more about ya and todavía in this podcast.
7. All my life, in my life – Toda mi vida, en la vida.
Similar to the “never” and “already” triggers, “all my life” triggers the present perfect.
English: I haven’t heard anything so strange in my life.
Español: No he oído nada tan extraño en mi vida.
English: All my life I haven’t left the country.
Español: Toda mi vida no he salido del país.
8. Some time, a few times, several times, # times – Alguna vez, algunas veces, varias veces, # veces
If you are counting the number of times you have done something, you should use the present perfect.
English: I have been to this restaurant ten times.
Español: He estado en este restaurante diez veces.
English: I have tried to stop smoking several times.
Español: He intentado dejar de fumar varias veces.
I mentioned earlier that the choice of when to use present perfect isn’t straightforward. The phrases from this post do, however, make your life easier.
Choose some phrases from this post and then try them out when you next get an opportunity.
It is worth testing your use of this tense against the use of the past preterite because they are a common challenge for Spanish students.
What other sentences in the present perfect can you create using these sentences?