How to use the conditional perfect in Spanish?

An image of a woman wearing a hat.
Have you ever wondered what would have happened, but didn’t? To express what would have happened we use the conditional perfect (condicional perfecto). In Spanish, the conditional perfect consists of two words that uses the verb haber (to have) and a form of a verb called the past participle: Si no hubieras leído esta introducción, te habrías perdido información relevante. (If you had not read this introduction, you would have missed important information 😉.) In this post, we will tell you how to express what would have happened or did not happen in the past and how to use the conditional perfect to give advice, excuses, and make assumptions in the past. Keep reading!

Table of Contents

For review of grammar terms used in the post, make sure to check out the Unpacking the grammar section at the end.

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

Past Participle

El niño habríadicho la verdad.

                   auxiliary       ⤷main verb

The child would have told the truth.

Do you remember how to conjugate haber in the present conditional? Don’t worry, we have you covered! Check out our Spanish conjugation tables and while you’re at it, also check this list of past participles in case you need to review how to form the past participle in Spanish. Now that we know how to form it, let’s move on to its uses.

How to use the conditional perfect?

The conditional perfect is used to discuss an event that didn’t happen relative to another event in the past. Although it can be used in simple sentences to make assumptions about the past, it’s usually paired with another clause that gives us either the condition that should have been fulfilled, or the excuse for why it didn’t happen.
Conditional perfect
Different tenses
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.
Notice how the two clauses are linked with either si (if),  pero (but), or que (that) and are followed by a verb in a different tense. Let’s get into the different types of sentences you can use with the conditional perfect and the different tenses it pairs up with!

Uses of the conditional perfect in Spanish

  • To describe a past action that would have happened

    One 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.

In the sentence above, the first clause contains the conditional perfect indicating the action that would have happened (we wouldn’t have missed the plane), and the second clause expresses the condition that was not fulfilled (we didn’t arrive on time).
⤷TIP The past perfect subjunctive is formed with the imperfect subjunctive of the verb haber + past participle. Check the conjugations for the conditional perfect and the past perfect subjunctive here.
As mentioned above, these types of sentences are commonly used to express regret or relief.

Nos habríamos ahorrado mucho tiempo
We would have saved a lot of time

Marcos habría quemado la comida
Marcos would have burned the food

si hubiéramos leído las instrucciones.
if we had read the instructions.

si no hubiera apagado la estufa antes.
if he hadn’t turned off the stove before.


Just like with English “if clauses,” the order of the clauses can be switched without changing the meaning.

⤷TIP Some native speakers use the expression de haber sabido que… + conditional perfect (had I known that) to express hypothetical actions in the past.

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.

When using the conditional perfect and past perfect subjunctive in colloquial Spanish, many native speakers replace the form of habría (conditional) with hubiera (imperfect subjunctive).
For example:
A: ¿Fuiste a la fiesta?
Did you go to the party?
B: No
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

Ya habrían ganado varios campeonatos
They would have already won many championships

si los dueños invirtieran más en el equipo.
if the owners invested more in the team.

Eso te habría pasado
This would not have happened to you

Si me escucharas más seguido.
if you listened to me more often.

⤷TIP A common way to give advice is with the phrase “si yo fuera tú…” (if I were you…): Si yo fuera tú, habría pedido el día libre. If I were you, I would have asked for the day off.
For more on Spanish “si” clauses and hypothetical sentences, click the link to read our post! Now let’s move on to other uses of the conditional perfect beyond “if clauses.”
  • 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.

Recall that in order to use the subjunctive in the subordinate clause, the subject of the two clauses must be different. If the subjects are the same, then use the infinitive in the second clause: Me habría gustado estudiar en Granada cuando era joven. I would have liked to study in Granada when I was young.
  • 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

pero se enfermó.
but he got sick.

Los músicos habrían dado el concierto,
The musicians would have given the concert,

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.
 ⤷Evidence or experience: he usually forgets to close it.

The window was open. Jorge may have forgotten 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.

He must have called all my friends and family.

Él habría decorado la casa.

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
Ready for some practice? Try our activities to practice the uses of the Spanish conditional perfect. An answer key is provided for you.
Are you interested in learning more about Spanish Grammar? Check out our Spanish Grammar Homepage.
Unpacking the grammar
Sentence: to make a sentence you need a subject and a predicate. Sentences can be simple: “You ran,” “We bought milk,” or complex with more than one clause: “He said he was going to the store, but instead he stayed home.”

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:

  1. If you come early, (dependent clause)
  2. 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.

Meet The Author:
Maria Leticia Temoltzin-Espejel
Leticia Temoltzin (Lety) is a linguist and language professor.

To embark on your next language adventure, join the Mango fam!

Extra Resources:

Conditional perfect table


Conditional perfect activity


Conditional perfect activity

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