Easy Learning Spanish

The pluperfect or past perfect tense - Easy Learning Grammar Spanish

What is the pluperfect tense?
The pluperfect is a verb tense that is used to talk about what had happened or had been true at a point in the past, for example, I’d forgotten to finish my homework.

1   Using the pluperfect tense

  • When talking about the past, we sometimes refer to things that had happened previously. In English, we often use had followed by a past participle such as spoken, eaten, lived or been to do this. This tense is known as the pluperfect or past perfect tense.
  • The Spanish pluperfect tense is used and formed in a similar way.
Ya habíamos comido cuando llegó.We’d already eaten when he arrived.
Nunca lo había visto antes de aquella noche.I’d never seen it before that night.

2   Forming the pluperfect tense

  • Like the perfect tense, the pluperfect tense in Spanish has two parts to it:
  • the imperfect tense of the verb haber (meaning to have)
  • the past participle.
  • The table below shows how you can combine the imperfect tense of haber with the past participle of any verb to form the pluperfect tense. Here, the past participles are taken from the following regular verbs: hablar (meaning to speak); trabajar (meaning to work); comer (meaning to eat); vender (meaning to sell); vivir (meaning to live); decidir (meaning to decide).
Subject pronounImperfect of haberPast ParticipleMeaning
(yo)habíahabladoI had spoken
(tú)habíastrabajadoyou had worked
(él/ella/usted)habíacomidohe/she/it/you had eaten
(nosotros/nosotras)habíamosvendidowe had sold
(vosotros/vosotras)habíaisvividoyou had lived
(ellos/ellas/ustedes)habíandecididothey/you had decided
No había trabajado antes.He hadn’t worked before.
Había vendido su caballo.She had sold her horse.
  • Remember that some very common verbs have irregular past participles.
abrir (to open)abierto (opened)
cubrir (to cover)cubierto (covered)
decir (to say)dicho (said)
escribir (to write)escrito (written)
freír (to fry)frito or freído (fried)
hacer (to do, to make)hecho (done, made)
morir (to die)muerto (died)
oír (to hear)oído (heard)
poner (to put)puesto (put)
romper (to break)roto (broken)
ver (to see)visto (seen)
volver (to return)vuelto (returned)
No había dicho nada.He hadn’t said anything.
Tres personas habían muerto.Three people had died.
Tiphabía/habías/habían and so on must NEVER be separated from the past participle. Any object pronouns go before the form of haber being used, and not between the form of haber and the past participle.
No lo había visto.I hadn’t seen it.

3   Reflexive verbs in the pluperfect tense

  • The pluperfect tense of reflexive verbs is formed in the same way as for ordinary verbs. The reflexive pronouns (me, te, se, nos, os, se) come before había, habías, había, and so on. The table on the next page shows the pluperfect tense of lavarse in full.
Subject pronounReflexive pronounImperfect tense of haberPast ParticipleMeaning
(yo)mehabíalavadoI had washed
(tú)tehabíaslavadoyou had washed

sehabíalavadohe had washed
she had washed
one had washed
it had washed
you had washed
noshabíamoslavadowe had washed
we had washed
oshabíaislavadoyou had washed
you had washed
sehabíanlavadothey had washed
they had washed
you had washed
Grammar Extra!Don’t use the pluperfect with desde, desde hacía and hacía ... que when talking about how long something had been going on for. Use the imperfect instead.
Estaba enfermo desde 2000.He had been ill since 2000.
Conducía ese coche desde hacía tres meses.He had been driving that car for three months.
Hacía mucho tiempo que salían juntos.They had been going out together for a long time.
In European Spanish you can use the pluperfect tense in the negative with desde and desde hacía.
No lo había visto desde hacía mucho tiempo.I hadn’t seen him for a long time.
Key points
  • The Spanish pluperfect tense is formed using the imperfect tense of haber and a past particple.
  • In Spanish, the pluperfect tense is used very much as it is in English.
  • The past participle of regular -ar verbs ends in -ado, while that of regular -er and -ir verbs ends in -ido.
  • Make sure you know the irregular forms: abierto, cubierto, dicho, escrito, frito, hecho, muerto, puesto, roto, visto, vuelto.

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