- Recognize and understand the present perfect tense
The present perfect is an example of a compound tense, that is a verb tense that consists of two words: one auxiliary or “helping” verb plus one participle. The verb “haber” is the auxiliary verb for all the perfect tenses, and in the present perfect, you will use the present tense of “haber”. As you may imagine, if you conjugate “haber” in the past you can make the past perfect tense, and so forth for the future perfect… but for now we’ll just master the present perfect tense.
The second word in all of the perfect tenses is the past participle of the main verb. The regular formula for creating a past participle is to remove the ending from the infinitive, and put “-ado” or “-ido” on the stem, according to whether it’s an -AR, -ER, or -IR verb. There are also quite a few irregular participles that you will have to memorize.
Present perfect conjugation and irregular participles:
-AR → -ado
-ER, -IR → -ido
hablar → hablado
comer → comido
vivir → vivido
abrir → abierto
cubrir → cubierto
decir → dicho
escribir → escrito
hacer → hecho
ir → ido
morir → muerto
poner → puesto
resolver → resuelto
romper → roto
ver → visto
volver → vuelto
|él, ella, usted||ha|
|ellos, ellas, ustedes||han|
Meaning of the present perfect tense
But what does this strange new verb tense mean? For English speakers, understanding the present perfect is easy, since it corresponds fairly neatly to the present perfect tense in English:
- Yo he decidido no usar más la envoltura de plástico. (I have decided to no longer use plastic wrap.)
- Todos hemos visto las fotos horrorosas de ballenas muertas con el estómago lleno de plástico. (We all have seen the horrible photos of dead whales with their stomachs full of plastic.)
More abstractly, the perfect tenses express actions that happened before a certain point of reference—in the case of the present perfect, the action happened before a present point of reference. The present perfect is therefore very similar to the preterit past tense, and in fact some Spanish-speaking regions use them interchangeably or even use the present perfect where standard Spanish would use the preterit. There is a difference, though: the present perfect refers to an action that was completed not long before the present moment and still has some relevance to the present time. This relevance to the present point of reference is the key to the meaning of the present perfect tense. So in the example above about the plastic wrap, the decision not to use it occurred in the past, but is still relevant because it changed the speaker’s present behavior. In the example about having seen the horrible photo, the act of seeing happened in the past, but the emotional effects are still present.
Look again at the second example above, and find the adjective used to describe the whales… “ballenas muertas” (dead whales). A great many adjectives in Spanish are simply past participles, and you’ve learned quite a few already: avergonzado (embarrassed, from avergonzar, to embarrass), abierto (open, from abrir, to open), cansado (tired, from cansar, to tire), etc. So learning this new verb tense has also vastly increased your descriptive vocabulary!