The pluperfect tense in Spanish is used to describe something that “had” happened. This tense might be easily confused with the preterit perfect tense, which also indicates an action “had” occurred. They are both translated into English the exact same way, but convey slightly different meanings to a native speaker, with one being reserved for everyday speech, the other for formal writing. Luckily, the pluperfect is a pretty simple tense to wrap your head around, not only in its translation, but also in its formation, both of which we will discuss today.
If you’re new to Spanish and would like to familiarize yourself with the basics before delving any deeper today, this article on the best ways to learn Spanish, combined with this course on beginner Spanish, will give you a good foundation to start from.
Forming the Pluperfect
Like we said before, the pluperfect is a pretty simple tense to form. It combines the imperfect conjugation of the verb haber (“have”) with the past participle of a verb. Let’s start with how to conjugate haber in the imperfect:
- yo había
- tú habías
- él/ella/ud. había
- nosotros habíamos
- vosotros habíais
- ellos/ellas/uds. habían
Then next half of the pluperfect is the past participle. In English, the past participle is the form of the verb that ends in -ed, -d, -t, -en, or -n. Examples of the past participle are swollen, rubbed, and dunked. In Spanish, the past participle of regular verbs is easily formed.
- First, drop the two letter ending of the word: -ar, -er, or -ir.
- Next, add the new ending: -ado for -ar verbs, and -ido for -er and -ir verbs.
For example, let’s use the verbs hablar (to speak), tener (to have), and vivir (to live). First, remove the endings (habl-, ten-, viv-), then add the appropriate endings (hablado, tenido, vivido). The verbs change from “to speak” to “spoken”, “to have” to “had”, and “to live” to “lived”, respectively. If you want to learn more about Spanish, and want to see results today, this course on quick Spanish will have you speaking Spanish this very day.
As we’ve discussed many times, and you probably know well, there are a handful of irregular verbs in Spanish, and they have different rules for conjugations, as well as forming their past participles. Below is a list of the most commonly used past participles of Spanish verbs. There are many more out there, but we just don’t have the time…
- ver (to see) –> visto (seen)
- romper (to break) –> roto (broken)
- hacer (to make) –> hecho (done)
- morir (to die) –> muerto (dead)
- decir (to say) –> dicho (said)
- abrir (to open) –> abierto (open)
When to Use the Pluperfect
Now you know how to form this tense, the next step is knowing when to use it. The following instances are appropriate for busting out this tense:
- To imply that an action had already occurred at a certain time. It may also emphasize that an action is “more past” than another when two past actions are mentioned.
- Example: ¿Adónde había comido ella? (Where had she eaten?)
- Example: Creía que se me había visto ese película. (I thought I had seen that movie.) Here, there are two past actions, but the pluperfect emphasizes that one had happened before the other in the past.
- It is also used with the phrase “para cuando”. This phrase means “by the time that”, and the pluperfect is used in conjunction with this phrase.
- Example: Habías terminado leído el libro para cuando llegó tu mama. (You had finished reading the book by the time your mother arrived.)
We mentioned this tense earlier, which can be easily confused by new Spanish speakers (and possibly even by some experts). It means pretty much the same thing in English, but there is one big difference between the two: the pluperfect is used more often in conversation, whereas the preterit perfect is reserved more for formal writing and literature. To learn more about Spanish conversation skills, this course on easy conversational Spanish will teach you some real-world skills.
Pretty simple, huh? The pluperfect is very easy to form and will really open up your Spanish speaking ability if you can use it correctly. If the pluperfect seemed a bit too easy for you, and you’d like to challenge yourself further in this language, this course on beginner to advanced Spanish will really put you through the escurridor (wringer).