Pluscuamperfecto: Practice the past perfect in Spanish
Want to take your Spanish to the next level with some “past perfect Spanish” (pluscuamperfecto) practice lessons? Do you like playing ‘El ahorcado’ (Hangman)? If you answered yes to both of these questions, you’ve come to the right place. But even if you don’t like games, you’ll still learn a lot.
The pluscuamperfecto or pluperfect (in English) are just different names used to refer to the past perfect tense. As you may know, this tense is key for both English and Spanish speakers, since it allows you to talk about past actions from a whole new perspective.
While this tense might seem intimidating, don’t worry! As our Latin American friends would say, ‘perro que ladra, no muerde’ (someone’s bark is worse than their bite) and I can assure you this “dog” likes to cuddle and won’t give you any troubles.
So, let’s get started.
The pluscuamperfecto: a simple explanation
The pluscuamperfecto, the Spanish past perfect, is a tense that allows you to time travel to the past, and take it a step further. In other words, the pluscuamperfecto is a tense that refers to past actions that happened before other past actions.
Consider this scenario: you and your work colleague decide to catch a movie after work. You buy tickets for the last show at 10:30 pm. At work, your boss is having one of those days, and decides to have a quick meeting after your shift has finished; you and your friend are fidgeting on your seats. Meeting’s over and you run to the movie theater. No popcorn, no soda, no class, but when you’re going down the hall you realize it’s too late, the movie is already showing and you missed the beginning.
From an outsider’s look, this is what that scene would look like (let’s imagine both protagonists are girls):
Two girls arrived at the movie theater, running like crazy, but the movie had already begun. (For non-native speakers, this might look like a difficult situation to explain in Spanish, but once you get your head around it, it’s not hard at all)
So, let’s dissect this situation in a super-easy way. There are two main actions expressed in this sentence, both happened in the past, but one occurred before the other…
Which one was it?
- First action: the movie began
- Second action: the girls arrived
Now, check this out:
The movie had begun when the girls arrived.
That’s the pluperfect magic. Now, take a look at the pluscuamperfecto first act.
La película había (had) empezado (begun) cuando las chicas llegaron.
See? There’s not much of a difference. Keep on reading so you can learn about the different parts and uses of the pluscuamperfecto.
How is the pluscuamperfecto formed?
The conjugated form of the pluscuamperfecto is a piece of cake, consider the following parts of this tense:
These are the dreaded enemies of language students, but it doesn’t have to be like that for you as well. The past participles are very popular amongst the compound tenses and they are key when it comes to both the present and past perfect tense in Spanish.
There are two types of past participles:
Regular past participles
To construct these particular words, all you need to do is take a regular verb in its infinitive form and chop off the ending (ar, er, ir) and add a new one (ado or ido). Let’s see how that looks:
- Amar (to love) – amado
- Caminar (to walk) – caminado
- Leer (to read) – leido
- Beber (to drink) – bebido
- Dormir (to sleep) – dormido
- Compartir (to share) – compartido
As you can see, the ar ending is replaced by ado, and both er and ir are replaced by ido.
Irregular past participles
Past participles are a tad harder to learn because you simply need to memorize them. There are no rules, only killer memorizing tricks.
Take a look at these irregulars verbs as past participles:
- Escribir (to write) – escrito
- Decir (to say) – dicho
- Hacer (to do) – hecho
- Poner (to put) – puesto
- Indicative pluscuamperfecto
In the indicative pluscuamperfecto, you need to conjugate the auxiliary verb haber (to have) in the imperfect tense.
|Vosotros habiais (used specifically in Castilian)|
Check these examples:
- Yo había comido antes de venir. (I had eaten before coming here)
- Nosotros habíamos visto esta obra antes. (We had seen this play before)
- Tú habías vivido aquí. (You had lived here)
Also known as the pluscuamperfecto mood, the subjunctive pluscuamperfecto uses a different conjugation of the auxiliary verb, and it doesn’t necessarily translates into the same tense in English, but for Spanish speakers, this is part of the pluscuamperfecto.
Take a look at this new conjugation form:
|Vosotros hubierais/hubieseis (not used in Latin America)|
Both words are equally correct for each person.
Here you have some examples (remember the translation won’t necessarily be in the English past perfect tense):
- Él hubiera ido pero está enfermo. (He would have gone but he is sick)
- Si yo hubiera llamado antes, no habrían olvidado la reunión. (If I had called before, they wouldn’t have forgotten the meeting)
These are the parts that shape the pluscuamperfecto. Now let’s see how we can use this tense in our daily life conversations.
The spanish past perfect: uses
There are a few circumstances that require the use of the pluscuamperfecto: actions that happened prior to past actions, feelings, desires, regrets, experiences. All of these can be expressed correctly using this tense.
The Spanish indicative pluscuamperfectoa
One of the most important goals the pluscuamperfecto achieves is talking about actions that occurred prior to past actions . Read the following examples:
- Fernanda se había acostado justo antes de que su amiga llamara. (Fernanda had gone to bed just before her friend called)
- Mis abuelos habían desayunado antes de venir a mi casa. (My grandparents had eaten breakfast before coming to my house)
You can also use the indicative form to talk about first time experiences:
- Nunca habia visto este lago antes (I had never seen this lake before)
- No me había sentido tan triste hasta hoy (I hadn’t felt this sad until today)
The subjuntivo del pluscuamperfecto (past perfect subjunctive)
Feelings, emotions, wishes, regrets… we’ve all experienced them. In Spanish, this is how you express your mood using the past perfect subjunctive:
- Feelings: Me habría gustado que hubieras llamado antes. (I would have liked it if you had called before)
- Wishes: Yo hubiera preferido otro restaurante (I would have preferred a different restaurant)
- Regrets: Ojalá hubiésemos ido a la fiesta * (I wish we had gone to the party)
- Impossible situations: Si no hubiésemos gastado tanto, tendríamos más dinero para el viaje. (If we hadn’t spent that much, we would have more money for the trip)
* Note: ‘Ojalá’ is the word to express regret in Spanish.
Some juicy tips:
Remember the reflexive verbs (bañar, levantar, vestir) are always hand by hand with the reflexive pronouns (me, te, se, nos, os):
- Ella se había bañado antes de que llegara el taxi. (She had taken a shower before the taxi arrived)
- Tú no te habías levantado cuando te llamé. (You hadn’t gotten up when I called you)
- Nosotros nos habíamos vestido antes de saber a dónde iríamos. (We had gotten dressed before knowing where we would go)
There are some really useful words you have probably noticed in the examples above: ya (already), cuando (when), antes de (before), nunca (never), todavia (still). These are known as pluscuamperfecto time prepositions. These are very helpful words that’ll bring life into your pluscuamperfecto speech.
Before you take a much needed mental break, it’s time to practice!
Practice the past perfect in Spanish:
No pressure! The following exercises are just to test your knowledge in a fun, individual way. Answers can be found at the bottom.
Exercise 1: Write the correct form of the indicativo del pluscuamperfecto
- Mis amigos ya (llegar) ______________ a la clase cuando yo llegué.
- Ella (comer) __________ antes de llegar a la cena.
- La fiesta ya (empezar) ___________.
- Nosotros (pedir) ___________ una entrada, pero el mesonero lo olvidó.
- Yo (dormir) ____________ antes de tomar este vuelo.
- Él nunca (ver) ____________ el Salto Ángel antes.
- Ya ellos (viajar) ___________ a Colombia.
- Mi mamá nunca (hacer) ____________ un sancocho tan delicioso.
Exercise 2: Fill in the gaps using the subjuntivo del pluscuamperfecto
- Ojalá (traer) ___________ un libro para leer mientras espero.
- Si yo (estudiar) ____________, me sentiría más preparado.
- Me (encantar) ____________ que (venir) __________ a mi casa.
- Pienso que (ser) _____________ interesante conocer la capital.
- Al principio, me entristeció que no (llamar) ___________ antes.
Exercise 3 (a fun one at that): Music!
Here’s a list of some popular songs that’ll show you this tense put into action. First, try to listen to these songs a few times and see if you can hear and write the sentences in pluscuamperfecto. After that, search for the lyrics to check if you were right.
- “Si No Te Hubieras Ido” by Marco Antonio Solis (beyond easy)
- “Como Si No Nos Hubieramos Amado” by Laura Pausini (beyond sad)
- “Ya Lo Había Vivido” by Franco de Vita
- “Te Hubieras Ido Antes” by Reik
- Habían llegado
- Había comido
- Había empezado
- Habíamos pedido
- Había dormido
- Había visto
- Habían viajado
- Había hecho
- Hubiera/hubiese traído
- Hubiera/hubiese estudiado
- Hubiera/hubiese encantado, hubieras/hubieses venido
- Hubiera/hubiese sido
- Hubieras/hubieses llamado