Spanish Verb Tenses
The modern Spanish verb system has 16 different verb tenses1, three non-personal forms (Infinitive2, Gerund3 and Past participle4) and three moods5 (Indicative6, Subjunctive7 and Imperative8). The 16 verb tenses are subdivided into eight simple tenses and eight compound tenses.
Verbs can be used in other forms, such as the present progressive9 and imperfect progressive10, but in Spanish grammar treatises that is not usually considered a special tense but just another verb constructions.
Verb conjugation and verb endings are not shown here. To find out how to conjugate the different verb tenses and what their endings are visit "Real Academia Española"11 website.
The Indicative (Spanish: "El Indicativo") denotes something factual or real in the time of the action: present, past or future.
The Spanish present tense, called "el presente", is quite similar but not identical in usage to the English present tense. The Present is used to express:
Estoy listo. (I am ready.)
Vamos al mercado. (We are going to the market.)
Voy a la escuela todos los días. (I go to school every day.)
Veo una película los sábados. (I see a movie on Saturdays.)
La tierra es grande. (The earth is big.)
La escuela es importante. (School is important.)
Voy al mercado el lunes. (I'll go to the store on Monday.)
Ana llega a las dos. (Ana's arriving at two.)
Si puedo, iré contigo. (If I can, I will go with you.)
El lunes por la mañana llego a mi oficina y me encuentro a una persona desconocida sentada en mi mesa... (On Monday morning I get to my office and find a stranger sitting at my desk...).
It is used in formal contexts such as historical or journalistic texts, as well as in informal contexts such as anecdotes and jokes.
Imperfect ("Pretérito imperfecto")
The imperfect tense is used to talk about incomplete actions in the past or mental states without specifying when they began or ended.
Some common adverbial expressions that indicate duration, repetition and frequency and thus require the use of the imperfect tense are: siempre (always), frecuentemente (frequently), a menudo (often), a veces (sometimes), de vez en cuando (sometimes, from time to time), muchas veces (often), cada año/día/mes (every year/day/month), todos los días/lunes (every day/every Monday), en aquella época (in those days), de niño (as a child).
Salía del banco cuando le robaron. (He was coming out of the bank when he was robbed.)
Jugaba a futbol todos los días. (I used to play football every day.)
It is often used to express contrast between "antes/ahora":
Antes viajaba siempre por España y ahora salgo al extranjero. (Before I used to travel around Spain and now I travel abroad.)
Era un día soleado pero hacía frío. (It was a sunny day, but it was cold.)
Cuando era joven, Sonia tenía el pelo rizado y largo y vestía de manera informal.
My maths teacher was very good-looking. (Mi profesor de matemáticas era muy atractivo.)
Era la una. / Eran las tres. (It was one o'clock. / It was three o'clock.)
Sergio tenía 20 años. (Sergio was 20 years old.)
En aquella época yo vivía en un piso en el centro de Barcelona. (In those days, I lived in a flat in the city centre.)
Estaban muy cansados. (They were very tired.)
Estaban muy contentos. (They were very happy.)
Quería mucho a su madre. (He adored his mother.)
Mi madre siempre cantaba mientras cocinaba. (My mother always used to sing while she was cooking.)
Acababa de salir del banco cuando le robaron. (He had just left the bank when he was robbed.)
Quería un vaso de agua. (I wanted a glass of water.)
Por favor, ¿podía decirme cuánto cuesta esto? Please, could you tell me how much it costs?
Preterite ("Pretérito perfecto simple o Pretérito indefinido")
The Preterite is the Spanish simple past tense, used to refer to events or actions that were completed in the past. This tense is often accompanied by time expressions such as "ayer, anteayer, anoche, la semana pasada, el martes, en Junio, en 1978, etc".
Picasso nació en 1881. (Picasso was born in 1881.)
Ayer encontré el libro que tú me diste (Yesterday I found the book that you gave me.)
Viví diez meses en Barcelona (I lived in Barcelona for ten months.)
Regresé a casa, cené y a las once de la noche me acosté (I went home, had dinner and at eleven o'clock went to bed.)
Mi padre empezó a cantar opera a los seis años. (My father started to sing opera at the age of six.)
Viví en Barcelona desde febrero hasta diciembre del año pasado. (I lived in Barcelona from February to December last year.)
For English speakers, there are a few verbs in Spanish which have a different meaning depending on which past tense is used.
Future ("Futuro simple o Futuro")
El año próximo, iré de vacaciones a España (Next year, I will go on holidays to Spain).
¿Quién será ese hombre? (I wonder who that man is? / Who could that man be?)
Estará haciendo la compra (She is probably doing the shopping).
¿Quieres ir a la fiesta? (Will you go to the party?)
The future is one of the simplest Spanish tenses. There is only one set of endings and most verbs, even irregular verbs use their infinitive as the root of the conjugation.
Some verbs have irregular future stems, but they still use the same endings as regular verbs. The following table lists verbs with irregular future stems (note that the stem always ends in R, and that these are the exact same as the irregular conditional stems):
Conditional ("Condicional simple o Pospretérito")
The "Condicional simple" is used to express probability, possibility, wonder or conjecture, and is usually translated as would, could, must have or probably.
Estaríamos escuchando música cuando llamaste (We were probably listening to music when you called).
¿Quién sería? (Who could it have been?)
The same verbs that are irregular in the future tense are also irregular in the conditional tense. See future tense above.
The Subjunctive (Spanish: "El Subjuntivo") denotes something subjunctive, unreal or hypothetical, while the indicative denotes something objective, factual or real.
Let's compare the indicative and the subjunctive moods:
Ellos van a Barcelona en Julio (They are going to Barcelona in July)
This sentence merely reports the fact that you are going to Barcelona in July, so the indicative mood is used.
No dudo que ellos van a Barcelona en Julio (I don't doubt that they are going to Barcelona in July)
In the above sentence, the structure "no dudo" introduces a quality of certainty, the speaker has no doubt, so the dependent verb (van) is in the indicative mood.
Dudo que ellos vayan a Barcelona en Julio (I doubt that they are going to Barcelona in July)
Here, the structure "dudo que" introduces a quality of uncertainty, the speaker does have doubt, so here the dependent verb (vayan) is in the subjuntive mood.
The subjunctive is basically used to express desire, doubt, likes, needs, advice, after impersonal expressions and with actions that are not completed yet.
Let's now study some verbs of influence in the present Indicative to trigger the Subjunctive mood in the dependent clause:
Here is a list of common structures that introduce an aspect of desire to the sentence.
Here is a list of common structures that introduce an aspect of ignorance or doubt.
Here is a list of common impersonal expressions that introduce an aspect of uncertainty or subjectivity.
Here is a list of common expressions that may indicate that the action that follows has not yet been completed.
* NOTE - "A pesar de que" and "aunque" mean 'although' in English and the main difference between them is that "a pesar de que" is more often used with the indicative rather than the subjunctive.
Here are some common time expressions used to locate an event in the future without giving an exact timing, or when the event is dependent on another one being completed. The second part of the sentence is often in the future tense, although ir a + infinitive or the imperative can also be used.
Note that "antes de" and "después de" take the infinitive when the subject of the main clause and the subordinate clause is the same.
Here is a list of expressions that always trigger the subjunctive.
Present subjunctive ("Presente de subjuntivo")
If the main verb is in the present, future, or present perfect tense or the imperative mood, and the dependent (subjunctive usually after "que") verb refers to action that takes place (whether in actuality or not) at the same time or after the main verb, then the dependent verb should be in the present subjunctive.
Espero que comas (I expect you to eat)
Imperfect subjunctive ("Pretérito imperfecto de subjuntivo")
If the main verb is in the preterite, imperfect, past perfect or conditional tense, and the dependent (subjunctive usually after "que") verb refers to action that takes place (whether in actuality or not) at the same time or after the action of the main verb, then the imperfect subjunctive is used.
Esperé que comieras (I expected you to eat)
Future subjunctive ("Futuro simple de subjuntivo")
This tense is no longer used in the modern language, except in legal language and some fixed expressions.
Cuando hablaren... (Whenever they might speak...)
Present perfect ("Pretérito perfecto")
The Spanish present perfect is used just like its English counterpart to refer to completed past actions or events, in a time frame (recent past) that includes the present.
Este año has aprendido mucho (This year you have learnt a lot)
¿Has ido alguna vez a Barcelona? (Have you ever been to Barcelona?)
¿Qúe has dicho? (What have you (just) said?)
¿Has visto mis fotos? (Have you seen my pictures?)
Pedro ha solicitado trabajo en una compañia de seguros (Pedro has applied for a job with an insurance company)
It cannot be used with specific times, dates, days, or years, unless it indicates a repetition of actions during that period of time.
Past perfect or pluperfect ("Pretérito pluscuamperfecto")
The Spanish pluperfect refers to a past event that had happened before another past event or situation, Spanish and English both use the pluperfect tense.
Llegué pronto pero Javier todavía no había terminado (I arrived soon but Javier hadn't finished yet)
Cuando llegó Manuel, la cena ya había empezado (When Manuel arrived, the dinner had already finished)
Past anterior ("Pretérito anterior")
This tense combines the preterit form of "haber" with the past participle of the main verb. It is very rare in spoken Spanish, but it is sometimes used in formal written language, almost entirely limited to subordinate (temporal, adverbial) clauses, thus it is usually introduced by temporal conjunctions such as "cuando", "apenas", "en cuanto", etc. It is used to express an action that ended immediately before another past action.
Cuando hubieron llegado todos, empezó la fiesta (When everyone had arrived, the party began)
Future perfect ("Futuro compuesto")
The future perfect is formed with the future indicative form of "haber" followed by the past participle of the main verb. It is used to indicate a future action that will be finished right before another future action.
Cuando yo llegue a la fiesta, ya se habrán marchado todos (When I arrive at the party, everybody will have left already)
Conditional perfect or compound conditional ("Conditional compuesto")
The conditional perfect is formed with the conditional indicative form of "haber" followed by the past participle of the main verb. It is used to express a hypothetical past action.
Yo habría hablado si me hubieran/hubiesen dado la oportunidad (I would have spoken if they had given me the opportunity)
Present perfect subjunctive ("Pretérito perfecto de subjuntivo")
If the main verb is in the present, future or present perfect tense or imperative mood, and the dependent (subjunctive usually after "que") verb refers to action that has been completed (whether in actuality or not), then the dependent verb should be in the present perfect subjunctive.
Espero que hayas comido (I expect you to have eaten)
Pluperfect subjunctive ("Pretérito pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo")
If the main verb is in the preterite, imperfect, past perfect or conditional tense, and the dependent verb refers to action that has been completed (whether in actuality or not), then pluperfect subjunctive is used.
Esperé que hubieras/hubieses comido (I expected you to have eaten)
Future perfect subjunctive ("Futuro compuesto de subjuntivo")
Like the simple future subjunctive, this tense is no longer used in the modern language.
Cuando yo hubiere hablado... (When I shall have spoken...)
1. Tense. The form of the verb that indicates the time of the action: present, past or future.
2. Infinitive. The infinitive is the form of the verb given as the main entry in Spanish dictionaries. It is invariable. Spanish verbs are divided intro three categories depending on the endings of their infinitive form, -ar, -er or -ir. Hablar (to speak), comer (to eat), vivir (to live).
3. Gerund. The gerund is the form of the verb that is used to say what is happening at the moment. It is invariable. In English verbs ending in -ing are gerund and in Spanish -ando or -iendo: En este momento estoy trabajando (at this moment I am working).
4. Past participle. A past participle is a non-personal form of the verb: trabajando (worked), comido (eaten), dormido (slept). When used with the verb haber, it forms compound tenses, such as the present tense: Hoy he trabajado en casa (today I have worked at home). It can also be used as an adjective: La ventana está abierta (the window is open).
5. Mood. A grammatical term used to define the speaker's attitude towards the verbal action. There are three moods, each with their own set of tenses (Indicative, Subjunctive and Imperative).
6. Indicative. The indicative mood denotes something factual or real: Vivo en España (I live in Spain).
7. Subjunctive. The subjunctive mood denotes something subjunctive, unreal or hypothetical: Quiero que vengas (I want you to come).
8. Imperative. The imperative mood is used for commands and instructions: ¡Ven! (Come!).
9. Present progressive. The present progressive is used to express ongoing, progressive action in the present: Estoy haciendo mi tarea (I am doing my homework).
10. Imperfect progressive. The imperfect progressive is used to express ongoing, progressive action in the past: Estaba escuchando la radio (I was listening to the radio).
11. Real Academia Española. Click here to visit RAE website.
If you found this post useful,
feel free to share it for others to benefit
One-to-One Spanish Lessons
3 Dunollie Pl, London NW5 2XR
Phone: 07523 273407 - E-mail: info [@] onetoonespanish.co.uk