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The grammatical term tense comes from Old French tens, from Latin tempus, meaning "time." So a verb tense refers to the time that the action of a verb occurs. Spanish has three tenses:
Divided between these three tenses are 12 verb forms.*
The Spanish present tense has two verb forms:
The Spanish past tense consists of seven verb forms:
- imperfecto | imperfect
- imperfecto progresivo | imperfect progressive
- pluscuamperfecto | past perfect (pluperfect)
- pretérito anterior | preterite perfect
- pretérito | simple past
- pretérito perfecto | present perfecto
- pretérito progresivo | past progressive
The Spanish future tense comes in three varieties:
* Specific verb forms are often called "verb tenses," but technically this isn’t correct. There are just three tenses, as listed above; the "tenses" listed in each category (what I refer to as "verb forms") are properly called "aspects."
Verb tense and mood
Verb tense must always be considered with respect to verb mood, a separate but related phenomenon. The 12 verb forms above are all in the indicative mood, which is the default and largest mood. Any given verb form is a combination of one tense and one mood. You can see how they all fit together in my Spanish verb timeline.
In addition to being grouped by time, verb conjugations can be separated into simple tenses and compound tenses, which is simply a matter of how many words are included in their conjugations.
- Presente, imperfecto, pretérito, and futuro are simple (one-word) verb conjugations.
- Pretérito anterior, pluscuamperfecto, pretérito perfecto, and futuro perfecto are compound (two-word) verb conjugations.
Tense vs Mood
Tense is about time, Mood is about attitude.
- There are three Tenses: present, past, and future – they tell you when something happens.
- The six Moods indicate how the speaker feels about what’s happening, whether it’s fact, supposition, command, or possibility.
Every verb form has Tense and Mood – they work together, as you can see in my Spanish verb timeline.
- Introduction to Spanish verbs
- What is verb conjugation?
- Verb conjugation tables
- Alternative tense names
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