The Past Perfect Tense in Spanish

Last week we looked at how to use the perfect tense in Spanish to talk about what you “have” done recently. After you feel confident with this tense it would be a good idea to learn the past perfect or the pluperfect (pluscuamperfecto) since it is formed in a similar way. The past perfect is used to talk about what “had” happened prior to something else.

Learners often struggle to understand exactly when to use this tense, but you just use it whenever you want to talk about something that happened before something else happened. It is particularly good for telling stories and explaining a sequence of events.

Example sentences:

I had already left when they arrived.
It had already started raining before I left for work.
We had already finished packing when the taxi arrived.

You will find that you often need to use the word “already” with this tense and the key word is “had” rather than “have” done something.

Forming the Past Perfect tense

As with the perfect tense you need to use the verb “haber” in the imperfect form for the first part to say who “had” done the action and then you need the past participle exactly the same as in the perfect tense.

Past perfect = haber (imperfect form) + past participle

Haber

Había (I had)
Habías (You had) [one person]
Había (He/She had)
Habíamos (We had)
Habíais (You had) [2 or more people]
Habían (They had)

You will notice that the first and third person forms of the verb are the same. To make it clear exactly who you are talking about if you need to use one of these, it would be a good idea to add the relevant subject pronoun, e.g. “yo” (I), “él” (he) or “ella” (she).

If you need to remind yourself how to form the past participle, check out the previous blog post: “How to talk about what you have done in Spanish”.

Examples:

I had already bought his present before seeing the special offer.
Ya había comprado su regalo antes de ver la oferta especial.

Common verbs that are used in this tense are:

Había pasado (I had spent)
Había ido (I had gone)
Había dado (I had given)
Había sido (I had been)
Había estado (I had been)
Había hecho (I had done/made)
Había visto (I had seen)
Había llegado (I had arrived)

Examples sentences of ways you can use the past perfect tense in Spanish:

Yo lo había hecho tantas veces antes que ahora tarda poco.
I had done it so many times before that now it takes little time.

Él nunca había estado tan contento.
He had never been so happy.

Nunca había visto tantas personas allí.
I had never seen so many people there.

Ya habían dado las llaves a los turistas.
They had already given the keys to the tourists.

No sabía que ya habían ido.
I didn’t know that they had gone already.

Ya había hecho las comidas cuando pagaron.
She had already made the meals when they paid.

No quería que ella supiera que yo había llegado tan tarde.
I didn’t want her to know that I had arrived so late.

Había pasado tanto tiempo en Madrid cuando vivía en España que todavía lo conozco bien.
I had spent so much time in Madrid when I lived in Spain that I still know it well.

The best way to become confident with a new tense is to use it, so why not try out some past perfect tenses with a native speaker or Spanish friend?