The Past Perfect in Spanish: Rules, Sentences and Practice

¡Hola! Welcome to a new lesson! Today we will learn about a very interesting topic when talking about past events in Spanish, the past perfect in Spanish. “El pretérito pluscuamperfecto” is the equivalent to the “Past Perfect” of the English language. This verb tense is used to talk about actions that happened before another event in the past, that is, to indicate what someone “had done” before a specific time or event. This lesson includes simple explanations and a series of examples and exercises that will help you understand this topic easily. Let’s start…

El pretérito pluscuamperfecto – The past perfect in Spanish

The Royal Spanish Academy defines the past perfect in Spanish, called “pretérito pluscuamperfecto”, as follows:

m. Gram A perfect tense that locates the action, the process or the state expressed by the verb in a previous moment to another, yet in the past. The form “había cantado”(had sung) is an example of the past perfect in Spanish.

To put it more simply, the past perfect in Spanish is useful to talk about events that ended before another event in the past. For example, let’s say that “Marcos woke up at 7:00 am today” (action No. 1) and that “Marcos went to school at 8:00 am” (action No. 2). Following this example, the past tense would take place before or after 7:00 a.m., but always in the past, which is why we could say things like “A las 7:15 am, Marcos se había bañado” (At 7:15 a.m., Marcos had bathed), “A las 7:30 Marcos había desayunado” (At 7:30 Marcos had had breakfast) “and “A las 7:55, Marcos ya se había alistado para ir a la escuela” (At 7:55, Marcos had already gone to school). Pay attention to the following image and the timeline so that you understand more clearly how the past perfect in Spanish works.

The past perfect in Spanish
The past perfect in Spanish

How to form sentences with the past perfect in Spanish

The structure behind the past perfect in Spanish

First of all, you should keep in mind that the past perfect in Spanish, often called “pretérito pluscuamperfecto” or “antecopretérito”, will make use of an auxiliary verb and the participle. Just like in English, in Spanish we will use the irregular verb “to have” (HABER) in the past tense and will then add the past participle of the main verb. Next, we present the basic structure followed by the sentences in the past perfect in Spanish. You need to memorize the forms of the verb “HABER” for each pronoun and know how to conjugate verbs in participle too.

SubjectHABERParticipio
Yohabíaescuchado
Tú/Voshabíasescuchado
El/Ella/Ustedhabíaescuchado
Nosotroshabíamosescuchado
Vosotroshabíaisescuchado
Ellos/Ustedeshabíanescuchado

Making sentences with the past perfect in Spanish

As with the present perfect in Spanish, it is possible to use words like “YA” (already), “Todavía” (Yet), Desde (Since) and Por (For) to complement the sentences. As you can see in the table above, the verb HABER will have a different form for most personal pronouns. In addition, it is very important that you use the correct form of the participle of the verbs in Spanish, paying special attention to weather the main verb has a regular participle or not.

The past perfect in Spanish is very useful to talk about things that “we had already done” at a certain point in our lives e.g. “A los 10 años, ya había aprendido a leer” (When I was 10, I had already learned to read) or things that had happened before an event like “El conductor había muerto cuando llegaron los para-médicos” (The driver had died when the paramedics arrived). Just keep in mind that the action expressed by this tense happens before another event in the past. Pay attention to this set of examples and try to discover other things we haven’t mentioned about the past perfect in Spanish. Then, practice with the interactive quiz about the lesson.

Antes de escribir “Cien años de soledad”, Gabriel había escrito “La hojarasca”.
Before writing “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, Gabriel had written “Leaf Storm”.
¿Tú habías escuchado de esa actriz alguna vez?
Had you ever heard of that actress?.
El venado había escapado antes que los cazadores llegaran.
The deer had escaped before the hunters arrived.
Le mostré el video pero dijo que ya lo había visto.
I showed him the video but he said he had already seen it.
Marcela no había terminado el reporte ayer por la noche.
Marcela had not finished the report last night.
Los empresarios no habían calculado las pérdidas correctamente.
The entrepreneurs had not calculated the losses correctly.
Yo todavía no había terminado cuando él me quitó el examen.
I had not finished when he took my exam yet.
Vosotros habíais entendido mal las instrucciones.
You had misunderstood the instructions.
Ellos habían dicho que no iba a haber fiesta desde la semana pasada.
They had said there was not going to be a party since last week.
Los científicos no habían visto el fenómeno en 20 años.
Scientists had not seen the phenomenon in 20 years

Prueba de Gramática: El pretérito pluscuamperfecto

Es hora de practicar las reglas relacionadas con el pretérito pluscuamperfecto en español. Sigue las instrucciones para cada uno de los ejercicios y completa la prueba interactiva. ¡Buena suerte!