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Spanish Verb Tenses

The modern Spanish verb system has 16 different verb tenses1, three non-personal forms (Infinitive2, Gerund3 and Past participle4) and three moods5 (Indicative6, Subjunctive7 and Imperative8). The 16 verb tenses are subdivided into eight simple tenses and eight compound tenses.

Verbs can be used in other forms, such as the present progressive9 and imperfect progressive10, but in Spanish grammar treatises that is not usually considered a special tense but just another verb constructions.

Verb conjugation and verb endings are not shown here. To find out how to conjugate the different verb tenses and what their endings are visit "Real Academia Española"11 website.

1. The Indicative (simple tenses)

2. The subjunctive (simple tenses)

3. The Indicative (compound tenses)

4. The subjunctive (compound tenses)


The Indicative (simple tenses) 

The Indicative (Spanish: "El Indicativo") denotes something factual or real in the time of the action: present, past or future.

Present ("Presente")

The Spanish present tense, called "el presente", is quite similar but not identical in usage to the English present tense. The Present is used to express:

  • Current actions and situations: 

Estoy listo. (I am ready.)

Vamos al mercado. (We are going to the market.)

  • Habitual actions:

Voy a la escuela todos los días. (I go to school every day.)

Veo una película los sábados. (I see a movie on Saturdays.)

  • Absolute and general truths:

La tierra es grande. (The earth is big.)

La escuela es importante. (School is important.)

  • Actions which will occur in the near future:

Voy al mercado el lunes. (I'll go to the store on Monday.)

Ana llega a las dos. (Ana's arriving at two.)

  • Conditions in "si" clauses:

Si puedo, iré contigo. (If I can, I will go with you.)

  • Using the present tense to narrate past events:

El lunes por la mañana llego a mi oficina y me encuentro a una persona desconocida sentada en mi mesa... (On Monday morning I get to my office and find a stranger sitting at my desk...).

It is used in formal contexts such as historical or journalistic texts, as well as in informal contexts such as anecdotes and jokes.

Imperfect ("Pretérito imperfecto")

The imperfect tense is used to talk about incomplete actions in the past or mental states without specifying when they began or ended.

Some common adverbial expressions that indicate duration, repetition and frequency and thus require the use of the imperfect tense are: siempre (always), frecuentemente (frequently), a menudo (often), a veces (sometimes), de vez en cuando (sometimes, from time to time), muchas veces (often), cada año/día/mes (every year/day/month), todos los días/lunes (every day/every Monday), en aquella época (in those days), de niño (as a child).

  • It is often equivalent to 'was ___-ing' in English when used to describe a past situation, interrupted by the main action, which is in the preterite:

Salía del banco cuando le robaron. (He was coming out of the bank when he was robbed.)

  • The Spanish imperfect can also express repeated or habitual actions in the past - equivalent to 'used to' in English.

Jugaba a futbol todos los días. (I used to play football every day.)

It is often used to express contrast between "antes/ahora":

Antes viajaba siempre por España y ahora salgo al extranjero. (Before I used to travel around Spain and now I travel abroad.)

  • Description of places, people and objects in the past:

Era un día soleado pero hacía frío. (It was a sunny day, but it was cold.)

Cuando era joven, Sonia tenía el pelo rizado y largo y vestía de manera informal.

My maths teacher was very good-looking. (Mi profesor de matemáticas era muy atractivo.)

  •  Reference to time and age in the past:

Era la una. / Eran las tres. (It was one o'clock. / It was three o'clock.)

Sergio tenía 20 años. (Sergio was 20 years old.)

  • Description of an ongoing activity or physical, mental and emotional states in the past:

En aquella época yo vivía en un piso en el centro de Barcelona. (In those days, I lived in a flat in the city centre.)

Estaban muy cansados. (They were very tired.)

Estaban muy contentos. (They were very happy.)

Quería mucho a su madre. (He adored his mother.)

  • Description of two simultaneous open-ended activities in the past, using "mientras":

Mi madre siempre cantaba mientras cocinaba. (My mother always used to sing while she was cooking.)

  • Reference to a past event which immediately precedes another. In this case, the imperfect of acabar + infinitive is used:

Acababa de salir del banco cuando le robaron. (He had just left the bank when he was robbed.)

  • With verbs like "querer" and "poder" is used to express courtesy.

Quería un vaso de agua. (I wanted a glass of water.)

Por favor, ¿podía decirme cuánto cuesta esto? Please, could you tell me how much it costs?

Preterite ("Pretérito perfecto simple o Pretérito indefinido")

The Preterite is the Spanish simple past tense, used to refer to events or actions that were completed in the past. This tense is often accompanied by time expressions such as "ayer, anteayer, anoche, la semana pasada, el martes, en Junio, en 1978, etc".

  • It is used to locate events in the past.

Picasso nació en 1881. (Picasso was born in 1881.)

  • To refer to single, complete actions in the past.

Ayer encontré el libro que tú me diste (Yesterday I found the book that you gave me.)

  • To refer to events that lasted for a specific period of time.

Viví diez meses en Barcelona (I lived in Barcelona for ten months.)

  • It can be used on narrative events or a series of events that follow one another:

Regresé a casa, cené y a las once de la noche me acosté (I went home, had dinner and at eleven o'clock went to bed.)

  • To indicate the beginning/end of a state or action

Mi padre empezó a cantar opera a los seis años. (My father started to sing opera at the age of six.)

  • To delimit the duration of events in the past:

Viví en Barcelona desde febrero hasta diciembre del año pasado. (I lived in Barcelona from February to December last year.)

For English speakers, there are a few verbs in Spanish which have a different meaning depending on which past tense is used.





No poder


No querer



With Preterito


managed, succeeded

did not manage or succeed

tried, intended


found out

got, received

With imperfecto

knew, acquainted with

was able

was not able

wanted, loved

did not want, love

knew (a fact)

had, used to have, was (I was 25 years old)

Future ("Futuro simple o Futuro")

  • The "Futuro" is used to tell what 'will' happen, or what 'shall' happen.

El año próximo, iré de vacaciones a España (Next year, I will go on holidays to Spain).

  • The future tense is also used to express wonder or probability in the present state.

¿Quién será ese hombre? (I wonder who that man is? / Who could that man be?)

Estará haciendo la compra (She is probably doing the shopping).

  • The future tense is not used to express a willingness to do something. For this, use the verb "querer".

¿Quieres ir a la fiesta? (Will you go to the party?)

The future is one of the simplest Spanish tenses. There is only one set of endings and most verbs, even irregular verbs use their infinitive as the root of the conjugation.

Some verbs have irregular future stems, but they still use the same endings as regular verbs. The following table lists verbs with irregular future stems (note that the stem always ends in R, and that these are the exact same as the irregular conditional stems):
















Future stem















Similarly-conjugated verbs






componer, disponer, imponer, proponer, reponerse, suponer




contener, detener, mantener, obtener, retener





Conditional ("Condicional simple o Pospretérito")

The "Condicional simple" is used to express probability, possibility, wonder or conjecture, and is usually translated as would, could, must have or probably.

Estaríamos escuchando música cuando llamaste (We were probably listening to music when you called).

¿Quién sería? (Who could it have been?)

The same verbs that are irregular in the future tense are also irregular in the conditional tense. See future tense above.



The Subjunctive (simple tenses) 

The Subjunctive (Spanish: "El Subjuntivo") denotes something subjunctive, unreal or hypothetical, while the indicative denotes something objective, factual or real.

Let's compare the indicative and the subjunctive moods:

Ellos van a Barcelona en Julio (They are going to Barcelona in July)

This sentence merely reports the fact that you are going to Barcelona in July, so the indicative mood is used.

No dudo que ellos van a Barcelona en Julio (I don't doubt that they are going to Barcelona in July)

In the above sentence, the structure "no dudo" introduces a quality of certainty, the speaker has no doubt, so the dependent verb (van) is in the indicative mood.

Dudo que ellos vayan a Barcelona en Julio (I doubt that they are going to Barcelona in July)

Here, the structure "dudo que" introduces a quality of uncertainty, the speaker does have doubt, so here the dependent verb (vayan) is in the subjuntive mood.

The subjunctive is basically used to express desire, doubt, likes, needs, advice, after impersonal expressions and with actions that are not completed yet.

Let's now study some verbs of influence in the present Indicative to trigger the Subjunctive mood in the dependent clause:

  • Expressing desire

Here is a list of common structures that introduce an aspect of desire to the sentence.

Present Subjuntive

- desire

Desear que

Querer que

Esperar que

Preferir que

Rogar que

Ojalá (que)

¡Que + P. Sub!

Pedir que

Sugerir que

Recomendar que

Mandar que

Prohibir que

Insistir en que

Decir que

Ser aconsejable que

Ser necesario que

- Deseo que tengas suerte en el examen (I wish you luck in your exam).

- Él quiere que yo escriba una carta (He wants me to write a letter).

- Los chicos esperan que las chicas vengan a la fiesta (The boys hope that the girls will come to the party).

- Yo prefiero que jueguen fuera (I prefer that they play outside).

- Rogamos que la mujer no cante (We begged that the woman not sing).

- Ojalá que no llueva (I hope it won't rain).

- ¡Que pases buen fin de semana! (Have a good weekend!).

- Pido que la mujer no cante más (I ask that the woman not sing any more).

- El profesor prohibe que sus estudiantes hablen (The teacher forbids that his students talk).

- Mi profesor insiste en que practique mi español cada día (My teacher insists that I practise my Spanish every day).

- Ella le dice a Pedro que venga (She tells Pedro to come).

- Es aconsejable que duermas ocho horas cada noche (It is advisable that you sleep eight hours every night).

- Es necesario que vuelvas pronto (It's necessary that you come back soon).




  • Expressing possibility, probability and doubt

Here is a list of common structures that introduce an aspect of ignorance or doubt.

Present Subjunctive

- ignorance or doubt

Dudar que

No creer/pensar que

Puede ser/Puede que

Temer que


Tal vez

No estar seguro que


Ser improbable que

Ser probable que

Ser incierto que

Ser posible/imposible que

- Dudo que tú hables chino (I doubt that you speak Chinese).

- No creo que Pedro sea guapo (I don't think that Pedro is handsome).

- Puede que lleguemos tarde (We may be late).

- Temo que Sara no venga a la fiesta (I fear that Sara won't come to the party).

- Quizá vengan mañana (Perhaps they'll come tomorrow).

- Tal vez me compre la moto (Perhaps I'll buy the motorcar).

- No estoy seguro que tú conduzcas (I'm not sure that you can drive).

- Probablemente vayamos a Barcelona (We'll probably go to Barcelona).

- Es improbable que tú corras una maratón (It's doubtful that you run a marathon).

- Es probable que estudie derecho (I may study law).

- Es incierto que ellos vivan en Londres (it's uncertain that they live in London).

- Es posible que llueva (It might rain).




  • Expressing needs

Present Subjuntive

- needs




- Busco a una persona que hable español (I'm looking for someone who can speak Spanish)

- Necesito una impresora que haga fotocopias (I need a printer that does copying)

- Quiero una persona que sea responsable (I want a person who is responsible)


  • Expressing likes, dislikes and emotions

Present Subjuntive

- likes, emotions

(No) me gusta que

Me da pena que

Me molesta que

Odio que

No aguanto que

Me encanta que

Me alegro de que

Me extraña/sorprende que

Siento/lamento que

- Me gusta que la función empiece puntual (I like the show to start on time).

- Me da pena que te vayas tan pronto (It saddens me that you are going so soon).

- Me molesta que la gente fume (It annoys me when people smoke).

- Odio que ronques (I hate you snoring).

- No aguanto que me mientas (I can't stand you lying to me).

- Me encanta que me hagan regalos (I love getting presents).

- Me alegro de que estéis juntos otra vez (I'm pleased that you are back together).

- Me extraña que no llame (I'm surprised that she doesn't call).

- Siento que no funcione (I'm sorry that I doesn't work).



  • Expressing advice

- Te aconsejo que te cases en tu país (I advise you to get married in your country).

- Sugiero que estudies para el examen (I suggest that you study for the exam).

- Te recomendé que fueras a ver al médico (I recommended that you go and see a doctor)

- Te propongo que dediques tres minutitos a contestar este questionario (I ask you to spend just three short minutes answering this questionnaire).

Present Subjuntive

- advice

Aconsejar que

Sugerir que

Recomendar que

Proponer que



  • Expressing value judments

Here is a list of common impersonal expressions that introduce an aspect of uncertainty or subjectivity.

Present Subjunctive

- imp. expressions

Ser bueno/malo que

Ser importante que

Ser posible que

Ser raro que

Ser ridículo que

Ser terrible que

Ser aconsejable que

Ser mejor/peor que

Ser lógico que

Ser difícil/fácil que

 - Es bueno que ella nade por lo menos 3 veces por semana (It's good that she swims at least three times a week).

- Es importante que los padres hablen con sus hijos (It's important that parents talk to their children).

- Es posible que compre un coche pronto (It's posible that I will buy a car soon).

- Es malo que fumes (It's bad that you smoke).

- Es ridículo que él no bese a su mujer en público (It's ridiculous that he doesn't kiss his wife in public).

- Es terrible que los niños no amen a sus padres (It's terrible that the children don't love their parents).





  • Incomplete actions

Here is a list of common expressions that may indicate that the action that follows has not yet been completed.

- Yo no iré a menos que tu vayas (I won't go unless you go).

- Ella no llamará antes de que él llame (She won't call before he calls).

- Ella pagará a Manuel después de que él acabe el proyecto (She'll pay Manuel after he finishes the project).

- Esperaré hasta que tu regreses (I'll wait until you come back).

- Mezclaré las bebidas mientras que tú prepares los aperitivos (I'll mix the drinks while you prepare the appetizers).

- Les contaré las noticias tan pronto como ellos lleguen (I'll tell them the news as soon as they get here).

- Iremos a jugar a futbol aunque llueva mañana (We'll go to play football, although it rains tomorrow).

Present Subjunctive

- incomplete action

A menos que

Antes de que

Después (de) que

Hasta que

Mientras que

Tan pronto como/en cuanto


A pesar de que*



* NOTE - "A pesar de que" and "aunque" mean 'although' in English and the main difference between them is that "a pesar de que" is more often used with the indicative rather than the subjunctive.

  • Referring to the future

Here are some common time expressions used to locate an event in the future without giving an exact timing, or when the event is dependent on another one being completed. The second part of the sentence is often in the future tense, although ir a + infinitive or the imperative can also be used.

Present Subjunctive

- refering to the future


Tan pronto como

En cuanto

Después (de) que

Hasta que

Antes (de) que

- Cuando termine de estudiar, veré la película (When I finish eating, I'll watch the film)

- Visitaré a mis amigos cuando vaya a Barcelona (I'll visit my friends when I go to Barcelona).

- Pagaremos el alquiler en cuanto cobremos (We'll pay the rent as soon as we get paid).

- Pagaré las clases tan pronto como cobremos (I'll pay the lessons as soon as I get paid).

- Lo haremos antes de que llegue el jefe (We'll do it before the boos arrives).

- Saldré después de comer (I'll go out after I've eaten).

- Nosotros lo haremos antes de llegar (We'll do it before we arrive).





Note that "antes de" and "después de" take the infinitive when the subject of the main clause and the subordinate clause is the same.

  • Expressions that always take the subjunctive

Here is a list of expressions that always trigger the subjunctive.

Present Subjunctive


En caso de que

Sin que

Con tal (de) que

Antes (de) que

Para que/de modo que

A menos que/A no ser que

A fin de que (in order that)

Para que (so that)

 - En caso de que ese fontanero no venga llame a otro  (In case that plumber doesn't come over call another one).

- Voy a hablar con mi abogado sin que mi jefe lo sepa (I'll talk to my lawyer without my boss knowing).

- Yo organizaré la fiesta con tal de quevengas (I'll organize the party provided that you come).

- Ella no llamará antes de que él llame (She won't call before he calls).

- Llevaré un paraguas para que no nos mojemos (I'll take an umbrella so that we don't get wet).

- Nos quedaremos en casa a no ser que haga sol (We'll stay at home unless it's sunny).




Present subjunctive ("Presente de subjuntivo")

If the main verb is in the present, future, or present perfect tense or the imperative mood, and the dependent (subjunctive usually after "que") verb refers to action that takes place (whether in actuality or not) at the same time or after the main verb, then the dependent verb should be in the present subjunctive.

Espero que comas (I expect you to eat)

Imperfect subjunctive ("Pretérito imperfecto de subjuntivo")

If the main verb is in the preterite, imperfect, past perfect or conditional tense, and the dependent (subjunctive usually after "que") verb refers to action that takes place (whether in actuality or not) at the same time or after the action of the main verb, then the imperfect subjunctive is used.

Esperé que comieras (I expected you to eat)

Future subjunctive ("Futuro simple de subjuntivo")

This tense is no longer used in the modern language, except in legal language and some fixed expressions.

Cuando hablaren... (Whenever they might speak...)



The Indicative (compound tenses) 

Present perfect ("Pretérito perfecto")

The Spanish present perfect is used just like its English counterpart to refer to completed past actions or events, in a time frame (recent past) that includes the present.

  • To refer to actions that took place in a period of time that is specified but not finished yet. It is often accompanied by time expressions that include the present: "hoy (today), recientemente (recently), últimamente (lately), esta mañana/tarde/semana (this morning/afternoon/week), este mes/año/siglo (this month/year/century), estas vacaciones (these holidays), hace un rato (a few moments ago), etc.

Este año has aprendido mucho (This year you have learnt a lot)

  • The Present Perfect can also be used to refer to past events without specifying a time and very often expressions of frequency are used: muchas veces (lots of times), varias veces (a few times), alguna vez (some time;ever), cuatro veces (four times), una vez (once), casi nunca (hardly ever), nunca (never).

¿Has ido alguna vez a Barcelona? (Have you ever been to Barcelona?)

  • To talk about very recent events:

¿Qúe has dicho? (What have you (just) said?)

  • We usually use the Present Perfect when there is no time expressions:

¿Has visto mis fotos? (Have you seen my pictures?)

Pedro ha solicitado trabajo en una compañia de seguros (Pedro has applied for a job with an insurance company)

It cannot be used with specific times, dates, days, or years, unless it indicates a repetition of actions during that period of time.

Past perfect or pluperfect ("Pretérito pluscuamperfecto")

The Spanish pluperfect refers to a past event that had happened before another past event or situation, Spanish and English both use the pluperfect tense.

Llegué pronto pero Javier todavía no había terminado (I arrived soon but Javier hadn't finished yet)

Cuando llegó Manuel, la cena ya había empezado (When Manuel arrived, the dinner had already finished)


Past anterior ("Pretérito anterior")

This tense combines the preterit form of "haber" with the past participle of the main verb. It is very rare in spoken Spanish, but it is sometimes used in formal written language, almost entirely limited to subordinate (temporal, adverbial) clauses, thus it is usually introduced by temporal conjunctions such as "cuando", "apenas", "en cuanto", etc. It is used to express an action that ended immediately before another past action.

Cuando hubieron llegado todos, empezó la fiesta (When everyone had arrived, the party began)

Future perfect ("Futuro compuesto")

The future perfect is formed with the future indicative form of "haber" followed by the past participle of the main verb. It is used to indicate a future action that will be finished right before another future action.

Cuando yo llegue a la fiesta, ya se habrán marchado todos (When I arrive at the party, everybody will have left already)

Conditional perfect or compound conditional ("Conditional compuesto")

The conditional perfect is formed with the conditional indicative form of "haber" followed by the past participle of the main verb. It is used to express a hypothetical past action.

Yo habría hablado si me hubieran/hubiesen dado la oportunidad (I would have spoken if they had given me the opportunity)



The Subjunctive (compound tenses) 

Present perfect subjunctive ("Pretérito perfecto de subjuntivo")

If the main verb is in the present, future or present perfect tense or imperative mood, and the dependent (subjunctive usually after "que") verb refers to action that has been completed (whether in actuality or not), then the dependent verb should be in the present perfect subjunctive.

Espero que hayas comido (I expect you to have eaten)

Pluperfect subjunctive ("Pretérito pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo")

If the main verb is in the preterite, imperfect, past perfect or conditional tense, and the dependent verb refers to action that has been completed (whether in actuality or not), then pluperfect subjunctive is used.

Esperé que hubieras/hubieses comido (I expected you to have eaten)

Future perfect subjunctive ("Futuro compuesto de subjuntivo")

Like the simple future subjunctive, this tense is no longer used in the modern language.

Cuando yo hubiere hablado... (When I shall have spoken...)




1. Tense. The form of the verb that indicates the time of the action: present, past or future.

2. Infinitive. The infinitive is the form of the verb given as the main entry in Spanish dictionaries. It is invariable. Spanish verbs are divided intro three categories depending on the endings of their infinitive form, -ar, -er or -ir. Hablar (to speak), comer (to eat), vivir (to live).

3. Gerund. The gerund is the form of the verb that is used to say what is happening at the moment. It is invariable. In English verbs ending in -ing are gerund and in Spanish -ando or -iendo: En este momento estoy trabajando (at this moment I am working).

4. Past participle. A past participle is a non-personal form of the verb: trabajando (worked), comido (eaten), dormido (slept). When used with the verb haber, it forms compound tenses, such as the present tense: Hoy he trabajado en casa (today I have worked at home). It can also be used as an adjective: La ventana está abierta (the window is open).

5. Mood. A grammatical term used to define the speaker's attitude towards the verbal action. There are three moods, each with their own set of tenses (Indicative, Subjunctive and Imperative).

6. Indicative. The indicative mood denotes something factual or real: Vivo en España (I live in Spain).

7. Subjunctive. The subjunctive mood denotes something subjunctive, unreal or hypothetical: Quiero que vengas (I want you to come).

8. Imperative. The imperative mood is used for commands and instructions: ¡Ven! (Come!).

9. Present progressive. The present progressive is used to express ongoing, progressive action in the present: Estoy haciendo mi tarea (I am doing my homework).

10. Imperfect progressive. The imperfect progressive is used to express ongoing, progressive action in the past: Estaba escuchando la radio (I was listening to the radio).

11. Real Academia Española. Click here to visit RAE website.




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