Compound Tenses

Student in my office: “I don’t understand compound tenses and I don’t know how to use haber.”
Roger: “You will.”

Formation: Most compound tenses are formed the same way – the correct tense of haber coupled with the appropriate past participle.


Indicative – in main clauses and in dependent clauses after verbs expressing facts

Present perfect – I have spoken – yo he hablado
Pluperfect – I had spoken – yo había hablado
Future perfect --I will have spoken – yo habré hablado
Conditional perfect – I would have spoken -- yo habría hablado

Subjunctive – in dependent clauses after verbs of doubt etc
Note that we will study the subjunctive later in the term.
Don’t worry about the subjunctive yet!

Present perfect – I am happy that you have spoken to him – me alegro de que le hayas hablado
Pluperfect – I was happy that you had spoken to him – me alegraba de que le hubieras hablado

Most important:

You must be able to conjugate haber in all the appropriate indicative tenses!

Present : he, has, ha, hemos, habéis, han

Imperfect: había, habías, había, habíamos, habíais, habían

Future: habré, habrás, habrá, habremos, habréis, habrán

Conditional: habría, habrías, habría, habríamos, habríais, habrían

Preterite: hube, hubiste, hubo, hubimos, hubisteis, hubieron
This is used with the past anterior, a very literary tense which you will not often see or use.

Daft Dialogue (in class – Ho! Ho! Ho!) To exemplify use of these tenses!

Scarcely had they got to the Spanish class, when the professor asked them the following questions:
Apenas hubieron llegado a la clase de español, cuando el profesor les hizo las preguntas siguientes:

Professor: “Have you prepared the lesson?” – ¿Has preparado la lección?
First Student: “No, I have not prepared it!” – No, no la he preparado.
Professor: “Why not?” – ¿Por qué no?
First Student: “I would have prepared it, but ...” – La habría preparado, pero ---
Professor: “I don’t want excuses!” – Yo no quiero disculpas.

Professor: “Have you prepared the lesson?” – ¿Has preparado la lección?
Second Student: “Yes, I have prepared the lesson.” – Sí, he preparado la lección.
Professor: “Excellent!” – Muy bien.

Professor: “Have you prepared the lesson?” – ¿Has preparado la lección?
Third student: “I had prepared the lesson ....” – Había preparado la lección ...
Professor: “Where is it? Haven’t you brought it to class?”
¿Dónde está? ¿No la has traído a clase?”
Third Student: “I haven’t brought it. The dog ate it.”
No la he traído. Se me la comió el perro.

Professor: “Have you prepared the lesson?” – ¿Has preparado la lección?
Fourth Student: “No. Not yet. But I will have prepared it by next class.”
No. Todavía no. Pero la habré preparado para la próxima clase.

Brief comments:

Usually, only haber is used as the auxiliary. There is no interchange between avoir and être as in French.
In addition, there is no agreement between the subject (or the direct object) of the verb and the past participle, which usually remains unchanged.
Note the lack of subjects throughout the dialogue. You don’t really need them since this is direct dialogue and speaker and spoken to are clearly defined.

Note in particular the use of the present perfect. It links the past with the immediate present – Have you done the preparation for this class? Have you brought the homework to this class? Past and present are connected in this class.

Note too that although it is formed like the passé composé in French, it has a different usage and should not be used in place of the preterite!

Finally, I am assuming that you are familiar with the use of these tenses in English and/or French; if you have comments or questions, ask me in class when I come to visit you.

Your current text book contains information about the compound tenses. Look them up in the index and study them with your teacher.

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