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How to form the Spanish conditional perfect?
The conditional perfect is a compound verb form. This means it’s a form that requires an auxiliary (also known as a “helping verb,” like “to have”) and a main verb. The auxiliary for the conditional perfect is haber, which is conjugated in the conditional present, and the main verb is a form called the past participle.
Haber present conditional
El niño habríadicho la verdad.
auxiliary⤶ ⤷main verb
The child would have told the truth.
How to use the conditional perfect?
|CLAUSE 2 |
|Habrías terminado la tarea,|
You would have finished your homework,
si hubieras empezado antes.
if you had started earlier.
|Habría pagado la cuenta,|
I would have paid the bill,
pero no tenía mi cartera.|
but I didn’t have my wallet.
Habríamos preferido |
We would have preferred
que nos llamaras esta mañana.|
that you called us this morning.
Uses of the conditional perfect in Spanish
To describe a past action that would have happenedOne of the most common uses of the conditional perfect is to express regret or relief in hypothetical situations in the past using a “si (if) clause.” The conditional perfect expresses a situation that is opposite to reality (counterfactual) or hypothetical in the past, followed by a si clause that describes the condition that should have been fulfilled. In this case, the unfulfilled condition will be expressed using the past perfect subjunctive.
Conditional perfect + si past perfect subjunctive
No habríamos perdido el avión si hubiéramos llegado a tiempo.
We wouldn’t have missed the plane if we had arrived on time.
Just like with English “if clauses,” the order of the clauses can be switched without changing the meaning.
De haber sabido que el producto estaba en oferta, lo habría comprado.Had I known that the product was on sale, I would have bought it.
A: ¿Fuiste a la fiesta?
Did you go to the party?
A: ¿Por qué? Te hubieras divertido (instead of te habrías divertido).
Why? You would have had fun.
To give suggestions or advice
Another use of the conditional perfect paired with an “if clause” is to give suggestions or advice and how they may have resulted in a different situation in the past. In this case we use the Spanish imperfect subjunctive in the si clause.
Conditional perfect + si imperfect subjunctive
si me escucharas más seguido.if you listened to me more often.
To express wishes or desires
To express a desire that could have occurred in the past but didn’t, you can use the following combo:
Conditional perfect + imperfect/past perfect subjunctive
Me habría gustado que mi hijo estudiara/hubiera estudiado en el extranjero el año pasado.
I would have liked my son to have studied abroad last year.
To give an excuse or explanation
When describing an action that would have happened if something else had been the case, the conditional perfect is usually followed by the expression pero (but) + preterite or imperfect to give an excuse for something that did not happen in the past.
Conditional perfect + imperfect
Te habría regresado la llamada, pero estaba muy ocupado. I would have called you back, but I was very busy (in general).
Conditional perfect + preterite
Te habría regresado la llamada, pero estuve muy ocupado. I would have called you back, but I was very busy (that particular day/moment).
We can also use this pairing of tenses to give explanations about why something didn’t happen in the past.
El profesor habría ido a la excursión con nosotros,
The teacher would have gone on the field trip with us,
Los músicos habrían dado el concierto,
The musicians would have given the concert,
pero se enfermó.
but he got sick.
pero el evento se canceló.
but the event was canceled.
To describe assumptions
Another use of the conditional perfect is to express an action we’re not certain about in the past, but may have occurred based on our knowledge. In these cases, the conditional perfect is used in simple sentences, but it is related to another event that happened previously. For instance:
La ventana estaba abierta.🤔Jorge habría olvidado cerrarla. The window was open. Jorge may have forgotten to close it.
⤷Evidence or experience: he usually forgets to close it.
Past → the window was open
Before the past → he probably left it open
Now, consider the situation where your friend Luis prepared a surprise party and organized everything before the event. In the following examples, the speaker hypothesizes how these past actions occurred.
Luis me preparó una fiesta sorpresa. Yo pienso que él organizó todo y para hacerlo…
Luis prepared a surprise party for me. I think that he organized everything and to do so…
Él le habría llamadoa todos mis amigos y familiares.
Él habría decorado la casa.
He must have called all my friends and family.
He must have decorated the house.
It’s also common to find this use of the conditional perfect in the news, where the police or other authorities hypothesize how events happened. For example, when talking about a bank robbery:
Los ladrones habrían planeado el robo meses atrás.
The thieves must have planned the robbery months ago.
Los ladrones habrían usado un auto negro para escapar.
The thieves must have used a black car to escape.
Finally, it’s also common to find examples of the conditional perfect when historians hypothesize about how certain historic events occurred.
El barco habría llegado con 400 tripulantes a la isla.
The ship must have arrived with 400 crew members to the island.
El científico habría experimentado varias veces antes de inventar esa máquina.
The scientist must have experimented numerous times before he invented that machine.
To sum up
The conditional perfect is a compound tense formed with the present conditional of the verb haber and a past participle. It is typically used with another clause or sentence to:
- talk about what would have happened if something else hadn’t or to express regret or relief
- Paired with a “si (if) clause” to give a condition
- give suggestions, advice
- Paired with a “si (if) clause”
- give excuses or explanations
- Paired with clause starting with pero (but)
- express wishes of desires
- describe assumptions about the past
Clause: a clause is a group of words that make up a sentence. It contains a subject and a predicate and they can be independent (can stand alone) or dependent (needs another clause to make sense).
If you come early, we can go to the theater.
This sentence has TWO CLAUSES:
- If you come early, (dependent clause)
- we can go to the theater (main clause).
Main clause refers to a phrase that contains a subject and a conjugated verb and communicates a complete thought. For example:
Habrían sido unas excelentes vacaciones.
It would have been a great vacation.
A subordinate clause is a complement to a sentence’s main clause. It doesn’t express a complete thought, for which it is considered a dependent clause. For example:
Si hubiera ido a la playa.
If I had gone to the beach.