Grammar Guide – Verb Tenses

PastPresentFutureHypothesizingPreterite vs ImperfectModesTense Correspondence

Discussing the Past (summary)

  1. To discuss events in the past, use preterite or imperfect. Make sure to check the difference between imperfect and preterite.
  2. To talk about somebody else’s past actions, use expressions of influence/emotion… + present perfect subjunctive, imperfect subjunctive, or pluperefect subjunctive.
  3. To talk about actions that were pending at a point in the past and things that may have or not existed, use imperfect subjunctive.
  4. To hypothesize about the past, use 3rd type: si + pluperefect subjunctive.
  5. To talk about a past action that preceeded another past action, use plueperfect.
  6. To answer question Have you ever? or to refer to past events with relevance to the present, use present perfect.

Discussing the Present (summary)

  1. To talk about habitual present actions, events or states, use present indicative. To discuss actions in progress, use present progressive.
  2. To talk about somebody else’s present actions, use expressions of influence/emotion… + present subjunctive or imperative.
  3. To talk about things that may have or not existed, use present subjunctive.
  4. To hypothesize (contrary to the fact), use 2nd type: si + imperfect subjunctive or conditional.

Discussing the Future (summary)

  1. To speak about a future action use present indicative, futuro popular (ir a + verb) or future tense.
  2. To express influence, talk about somebody’s future actions use expressions of influence/emotion… + present subjunctive.
  3. To talk about the actions that are pending use present subjunctive.
  4. To hypothesize about the future, use 1st type: si + present indicative, futuro popular (ir a + verb) or infinitive.
  5. To talk about something that will have happened by certain time, use future perfect.

3 Types of Hypothesizing

Structures in Spanish are very similar to those in English:

  1. Hypothetical situtaions in the future and the present:
    Si + present indicativethe present indicative
    a future tense
    Si llueve,no salgo
    saldré/voy a salir/estaré saliendo
    no salgas!
    If it rains (it may or may not),I don’t go out
    will not go out/am not going out
    don’t go out!
  2. Hypothetical situtaions in the future and the present that are contrary to fact or very unlikely:
    Si + imperfect subjunctiveconditional
    Si lloviera,no saldría.
    If it rained (it does not),I would not go out.
  3. Hypothetical situtaions in the past that are contrary to fact:
    Si + pluperfect subjunctiveconditional perfect
    Si hubiera llovido,no habría salido.
    If it had rained (it did not),I would not have gone out.
Preterite — beginning or end of a past action
Imperfect –habitual action in the past.
El partido de fútbol empezó a la una.
Terminó a las cuatro.
Había un partido todos los sábados.
Preterite — completed action.
Imperfect — what was happening when another action
interrupted it.
El partido duró tres horas.
Estaba en la cocina cuando terminó.
Preterite — series of comppleted actions.
Imperfect — give background detials
(time, location, weather, age …)
Los jugadores corrieron, saltaron y gritaron.
Llovía un poco durante el partido.
Preterite — ayer, anteayer, anoche, un vez, dos veces,
el año pasado, el lunes pasado, de repente
Imperfect — todos los días, todos los lunes, siempre, frecuantemente,
mientras, de niño/a, de joven.
These words are often associated with corresponding tenses.
But not necessarily!!!
Ayer cenamos temprano.
Ayer cenábamos cuando Juan llamó.
De niño jugaba el fútbol.
De niño empezó a jugar al fútbol.
Preterite of some verbs have English equivalents different
from the infinitives. Their English equivalents
in imperfect do not differ from the infinitives.
Preterite and imperfect are often used together in the same sentence.
1. Imperfect tells what was happening when another action (preterite) broke its continuity.
2. Preterite reports the action which took place because of a condition described by imperfect.
Miguel estudiaba cuando sonó el télefono.
Olivia comió tanto porque tenía mucha hambre.
Preterite and imperfect are often used together
when presenting an event. Imperfect is used to
set the stage, describe conditions that caused actions,
or to emphasize their conitnuing nature,
while preterite just narrates actions.

Overall, imperfect combines two constructions from English: past progressive and would/used to
while preterite corresponds to simple past.

These are tenses that you do need to know. There are more (in theory) and those are listed below.

Modo Indicativo

Imperfecto / Copretéritohablaba
Pospretérito / Condicionalhablaría
Progressivo / Gerundiohablando
Presente Perfecto / Antepresentehe hablado
Pluscuamperfecto / Antecopretéritohabía hablado
Condicional Perfecto / Antepospretéritohabría hablado

Modo Subjuntivo

Presente de Subjuntivohable
Subjuntivo Pasado / Imperfectohablara/hablase
Antepresente / Presento Perfecto de Subjuntivohaya hablado
Antepretérito / Pluscuamperfecto de Subjuntivohubiera/hubiese hablado

Correspondence between Tenses in English and Spanish

English TensesPastPresentFutureFuture in the Past
IndefiniteI spoke
I speak
I will speak
I would speak
PerfectI had spoken
I have spoken
Present Perfect/
Acabar de
I will have spoken
Future Perfect
I would have spoken
Perfect Conditional
ContinuousI was speaking
Imperfect (Preterite Progressive)
I am speaking
Present Progressive Future Popular
I will be speaking
Future Progressive
I would be speaking
Conditional Progressive
Perfect ContinuosI had been speaking
Pluscuamperfect Progressive
I have been speaking
Present Perfect Progressive
I will have been speaking
Future Perfect Progressive
I would have been speaking
Perfect Conditional Progressive
Spanish IndicativePreteriteImperfectoPresentoFuturoCondicional
Simpleyo hable
Past Indefinite
yo hablaba
Past Conitnuous/
I used to,would
yo hablo
Present Indefinite
yo hablaré
yo hablaría
Future in the Past
Perfectoyo hube hablado
no clear correspondence
does not existyo he hablado
Present Perfect
yo habré hablado
Future Perfect
yo habría hablado
Future in the Past Perfect
Progressivoyo estuve hablando
Past Conitnuous (very rare)
yo estaba hablando
Past Conitnuous
yo estoy hablando
Present Conitnuous
yo estaré hablando
Future Conitnuous
yo estaría hablando
Future in the Past Continuous
yo hube estado hablando
no clear correspondence
does not existyo he estado hablando
Present Perfect Conitnuous
yo habré estado hablando
Future Perfect Conitnuous
yo habría estado hablando
Future in the Past Perfect Conitnuous
Simpleyo hablara/hablaseyo hableyo hablare
Perfectoyo hubiera/hubiese habladoyo haya habladoyo hubiere hablado
Progressivoyo estuviera hablandoyo esté hablandoyo estuviere hablando
Perfecto Progressivoyo hubiera/hubiese estado hablandoyo haya estado hablandoyo hubiere estado hablando
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