Conditional Perfect in Spanish: Discussing the Possible Past

conditional perfect in SpanishThe Spanish language has many different tenses that are reserved for very specific situations, and the conditional perfect is one of these tenses. If someone “would have done” something, or something “must have been”, then the conditional perfect is used in to describe it. Like all the other tenses in Spanish, this one is formed a specific way, and is only used in certain situations, both of which we’ll be discussing today.

If you’re new to Spanish, we’ll be explaining the conditional perfect tense today so as to be easily grasped by both novices, as well as those who may have had some experience with the language. If you’re just starting out learning Spanish, or have yet to take the plunge, this article on the best ways to learn Spanish will help get you started, then this course on Spanish for beginners will be a great next step if you want to learn more.

How to Form the Conditional Perfect

The best place to begin our discussion of the conditional perfect tense is to show you how to form it. Like all of the other perfect tenses in Spanish, it requires a conjugated form of the verb haber, meaning “have”, as well as a past participle form of a verb. Let’s start off by discussing the conjugation of the verb haber.

For the conditional, we use the… wait for it… conditional form of the verb haber. For those of you who may be new to Spanish, and only know the verb tener to mean “have” or “to have”, that verb is reserved for other uses, and haber is meant for the perfect tenses. Below, is the full conjugation of haber in its conditional form. If you’d like an all-in-one course for Spanish, this course on beginner to advanced Spanish will cover many concepts of this beautiful language.

Haber (Conditional Form)

  • yo habría
  • tú habrías
  • él, ella, ud. habría
  • nosotros habríamos
  • vosotros habríais
  • ellos, ellas, uds. habrían

So there’s the first half of the conditional perfect. Now on to the second part, which is the past participle of the main verb. The past participle in English is the form of a verb with the possible endings of -ed, -d, -n, -t, or -en. For example, the past participle of the verb “to take” is “taken”, and of “to peel” is “peeled”. In Spanish, there are simple, easy-to-remember rules to find the past participle of a regular verb.

Past Participle of Regular Verbs

  1. First off, take off the last two letters of the verb (-ar, -er, or -ir), like you’re going to conjugate it. For example, we’ll use the verbs mandar (to order/command), and vivir (to live) as guides. Following this first step, these verbs become mand- and viv-.
  2. Next, you add a new ending to your incomplete verb. For verbs ending in -ar, you add the suffix -ado, and for verbs ending in -er and -ir, you add -ido. Using our sample verbs, mand- + -ado becomes mandado (“to order” becomes “ordered”), and viv- + -ido becomes vivido (“to live” is now “lived”).

Past Participle of Irregular Verbs

In any language, you have pesky irregular verbs that don’t adhere to the rules and regulations that you have memorized and are familiar with. We won’t go through all of the irregular past participles of Spanish, because that would take all day. Instead, we will simply provide a list of the most widely used irregular past participle forms. If you’d like to learn Spanish from a former NSA agent, this course on the Massey Method of Spanish will divulge the secrets to this language.

  • abrir (to open) –> abierto (open)
  • decir (to say) –> dicho (said)
  • ver (to see) –> visto (seen)
  • romper (to break) –> roto (broken)
  • hacer (to do) –> hecho (done)
  • escribir (to write) –> escrito (written)
  • poner (to put) –> puesto (put)
  • morir (to die) –> muerto (dead)

Uses of This Tense and Examples

Now that you’re familiar with how to put this tense together, it’s time to put it to use. There are two situations where you would use the conditional perfect tense.

You’re most likely to use this tense when expressing a situation that would have happened. Here, there may or may not be a contingent situation expressed that affects the first situation. If it is not expressed, it is assumed, and if it is expressed, a “si clause” is used to describe that second situation.

  • Example: Yo lo habría visto. (I would have seen it.)

Here, we combine the conditional form of haber in the yo form (habría) with the past participle of the irregular verb ver (visto) to form the phrase habría visto (I would have seen…). There is no “si clause” used here, so it is assumed that there was a reason I didn’t see the thing, but it’s not expressed.

  • Example: Ella habría comprado los dulces si hubiera tenido el dinero. (She would have bought the candy if she had the money.)

Much like the first example, we are describing something that would have occurred if something else had happened, but unlike the first example, here, the reason for it not happening is spelled out in a “si clause”: she didn’t have any money.

The second situation this tense is appropriate for is when expressing probability or supposition in the past. This situation is used much more seldom than the previous.

  • Example: Mateo habría llegado antes de la tarde. (Mateo had probably already arrived by the afternoon.)

As you can tell, this is a very specific tense, reserved for particular situations that occurred in the past (or maybe they didn’t…), and won’t be used all that much by your casual Spanish speaker. However, it is a good tool to have just in case you happen to need it. If you want to learn more about the art of Spanish conversation, this course on conversational Spanish will show you the art of imitation in language.