The Spanish Past Perfect
We carry on learning the past tenses in Spanish. Last lesson we covered one of the compound past tenses in Spanish, i.e. the present perfect tense. We will cover the second compound past tense in this lesson. It is the past perfect tense. It is also called pluperfect. In Spanish, it is called “pluscuamperfecto”.
As in English, the past perfect tense is used when a past action was completed before the start of another past action. Its use is almost always the same as its use in Spanish. Therefore, it is not very complicated. On the other hand, at times, it may be difficult to decide whether to use past perfect tense or present perfect tense. We will compare these two tenses in lesson comparison of past tenses in Spanish.
Similar to present perfect tense, the past perfect tense is formed by using the auxiliary verb “haber” and the past participle of the verb. You know how to form the past participle in Spanish already from the earlier lessons. To be able to use the past perfect tense, you additionally need to know how to conjugate the auxiliary “haber” in imperfect tense. To conclude you need to conjugate “haber” in this case as follows
Imperfect of haber
(yo) había had
(tú) habías had
(él/ella, usted) había had
(nosotros/-as) habíamos had
(vosotros/-as) habíais had
(ellos/-as, ustedes) habían had
The formation of the Spanish past tense is actually just the same as the past tense in English. For example in English you would construct a sentence in past perfect by using the conjugated version of the auxiliary verb “have” which is “had” for all the subject pronouns and adding the past participles; e.g. “I had worked”.
The same sentence could be formed in Spanish as “(yo) había trabajado. Below the similar sentences are given for all the subject pronouns:
(yo) Había trabajado I had worked.
(tú) Habías vivido You had worked.
(él/ella, usted) Había vivido He/She had worked; You had worked
(nosotros/-as) Habíamos vivido We had worked.
(vosotros/-as) Habíais vivido You had worked.
(ellos/-as, ustedes) Habían vivido They had worked; You had worked
(yo) había salido I had left
(tú) habías salido You had left
(él/ella, usted) había salido He/She had left; You had left
(nosotros/-as) habíamos salido We had left
(vosotros/-as) habíais salido You had left
(ellos/-as, ustedes) habían salido They had left; You had left
Note that, as previously mentioned when explaining present perfect tense, the past participle and the “haber” should not be separated.
(yo) había abierto la puerta (I opened the door)
Also note that, again as previously mentioned, when the past participle is used in past perfect tense it does not need to be changed according to the number and the gender. Always the singular masculine form of the past participle is used in perfect tenses.
What we said before about forming questions, negative sentences, and reflexive verbs in present perfect is valid for the past perfect tense too. That means you should put the word “no” before “haber” to make a negative sentence. The questions are formed by using the auxiliary verb at the beginning. In case reflexive verbs are used with past perfect tense, the reflexive pronoun should come just before the conjugated “haber”.
- No había trabajado. He had not worked
- ¿Habías trabajado? Had you worked?
- Me había lavado las manos. I had washed my hands
Again, do not separate the “haber” and the past participle.
Learn some important adverbs which are used frequently with the past perfect tense
- Cuando ella llegó, yo ya había cerrado la puerta (When she arrived, I had already closed the door
The first part of the sentence above is formed with simple past which we cover in later sections.
- (Yo) había hecho la tarea antes de cenar. (before having dinner, I had done the homework)
- (tú) habías comido antes de hacer la tarea (before doing the homeword, you had eaten)