Compound Tenses

Tiempos compuestos

Spanish verb conjugations can be divided into two categories: simple tenses and compound tenses.

Simple tenses have only one part (yo como) whereas compound tenses have two (yo estoy comiendo). Spanish compound tenses can be subdivided into two categories: progressive tenses and perfect tenses. Compound tenses are obviously more complicated than simple tenses – this lesson will explain what you need to know about them.

But first, a chart of the three kinds of Spanish tenses. The simple tense on the left is the conjugation for the auxiliary verb of the compound tenses in the middle and right columns:

Simple Tenses Compound Tenses*
Perfect Tenses Progressive Tenses
Present Present perfect Present progressive
Imperfect Pluperfect Imperfect progressive
Preterite Preterite perfect Preterite progressive
Future Future perfect Future progressive
Conditional Conditional perfect Conditional progressive
Subjunctive Present perfect subjunctive
Imperfect subjunctive Pluperfect subjunctive
Future subjunctive    
Infinitive Perfect infinitive  

* Note: For the sake of simplicity, I’ve lumped all the compound conjugations together. Subjunctive and conditional are actually moods, not tenses, but they follow the exact same conjugation rules as compound tenses.

Characteristics of Spanish compound tenses

1. Compound tenses are always made up of two parts: the conjugated auxiliary verb and a participle. In the chart above, the tense in the simple column is the tense used as the auxiliary verb for the compound tenses listed next to it.

There are two types of compound tenses:

  • Perfect tenses are conjugated with haber as the auxiliary verb + the past participle.
  • Progressive tenses have estar as the auxiliary verb + the gerund.
Yo como.   I eat.
Yo he comido.   I have eaten.
Yo estoy comiendo.   I am eating.
Él vendrá.   He will come.
Él habrá venido.   He will have come.
Él estará viniendo.   He will be coming.

2. Object pronouns always precede the auxiliary verb in perfect tenses (except for the perfect infinitive):

Lo he visto.   I’ve seen it.
¿Me habías mentido?   Have you lied to me?

However, they may either precede the auxiliary or be attached to the gerund in progressive tenses – learn more.

Te estoy hablando/
Estoy hablándote.
  I’m talking to you.
Lo estará mirando/
Estará mirándolo.
  He will be watching it.

For detailed information about the conjugations and uses of the individual compound tenses, follow the links in the summary table at the top of the page.

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