How to use the present perfect in Spanish?

A young woman wearing a jeans jacket overlooking buildings on a historical street.

In Spanish, to talk about experiences or past events that are connected to the present we use the present perfect. For example: Ya hemos viajado a Perú. (We have already traveled to Peru.) Today we’ll talk about the present perfect, a tense you can use to talk about, for example, all your awesome travel experiences. The good thing with this tense is that it’s very similar to English! Do you want to know more? Read on!

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!

What is the Spanish present perfect? When is it used?

The present perfect in Spanish is a compound tense. This means it’s a tense made up of two verbs: an auxiliary verb and a main verb. I’ll explain how to form it later on, so keep reading!

The present perfect in Spanish can be used to talk about past actions or events but that are somehow connected to the present. Let’s see in detail when it’s used:

Think about the place where you live. How long have you lived there? I’ve lived in this apartment since I arrived in Chile, that is 2012! If I wanted to say this to you in Spanish, I’d say:

He vivido en este apartamento desde 2012.
I have lived in this apartment since 2012.

I can use the present perfect here because it’s an action that started in 2012, but that is still going on (I continue to live in the same apartment). If you think about it, it’s the same use we make of it in English!
Let’s make another example with a more recent past. The last time I talked with my brother was last Sunday, so I could say this:

No he hablado con mi hermano esta semana.
I haven’t talked with my brother this week.

In this last example I can use the present perfect because the action (not talking with my brother) continues up to today. (I still haven’t talked with him!)

We can also use the present perfect to talk about experiences we’ve never had with negative words like nunca (never) and jamás (ever):

Nunca he comido ostiones.
I’ve never eaten oysters.

Jamás he ido a Bolivia.
I’ve never been to Bolivia.

Conversely, you can use the frequency adverb siempre (always) to express something that started in the past and continues into the present:

Siempre he pensado que la educación es lo más importante.
I’ve always thought that education is the most important thing.

Now, let’s talk about the things we’ve done today. I’ll start:

Hoy he cocinado el almuerzo, he almorzado y he lavado los platos. Today I have cooked lunch, I have had lunch, and I have washed the dishes. 

If I say this in the evening, I can use the present perfect because hoy (today) is not over (I completed the actions before now, but the period of time —hoy (today) — isn’t over yet). However, if the time period were over, then using the preterite would be a much better call:
La semana pasada cociné ravioles.
Last week I cooked ravioli.
In this regard, time markers (words like hoy) are very important because they help you identify when the present perfect is necessary. Let’s see a second example:
Hemos viajado mucho este año.
We have traveled a lot this year.
As you can see, I’m using the present perfect tense because the period of time (este año, this year) isn’t over yet.

To talk about an action completed recently there’s another alternative in Spanish, and that is using acabar de (to have just) in the present tense:

Acabo de cocinar el almuerzo.
I have just cooked lunch.

Similar to our previous point, you can use the present perfect in Spanish to talk about experiences without mentioning when they happened. Remember I told you about travel experiences? This is one of my favorite topics! Let’s talk about them. I’ll start:

En mi tiempo en Chile, he viajado a Isla de Pascua y he visitado el norte de la Patagonia.
In my time in Chile, I have traveled to Easter Island, and I have visited the north of Patagonia.

Did you see what I did there? I told you where I’ve been, but I didn’t say when. To do so, the preterite is my go-to tense:

Fui a Isla de Pascua en 2012.
I went to Easter Island in 2012.

If you want to know more about the Spanish preterite, don’t miss this post!

In Spain and some regions of Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru, the present perfect is used for recent events, even if the time period being referenced is over. Whereas in most parts of Latin America we use the preterite when the time period is over, regardless of how recent the past event was.
Spain and some regions of Ecuador, Bolivia, and PeruMost parts of Latin America
He ido al supermercado esta mañana.
I went to the supermarket this morning.
Fui al supermercado esta mañana.
I went to the supermarket this morning.

How to form the Spanish present perfect?

I’m sure that you already have some sort of rule based on the examples in our previous section, don’t you? These are the ingredients for the present perfect in Spanish:

auxiliary verb haber in present simple + main verb in past participle

Let’s see what we have here:

  • The first thing we need is the auxiliary verb haber (to have) conjugated in the simple present. The verb haber is not commonly used in simple tenses, but it’s quite common for the impersonal forms hay (there is/there are), había (there used to be), hubo (there was/there were), etc.
  • Then, you need the main verb of your sentence in a form called the past participle. The past participle is a verb form that expresses the principal action, for example: estudiado (studied), comido (eaten), escrito (written). If you’re not familiar with this verb form, check out these conjugation tables that will make it easier for you to learn them.

Now, I have a little test for you. Take a minute to go back to the first section and read the examples again. Focus on the form of the verbs in the past participle.

Did you notice that all past participles end in -o? This is because past participles as verbs are always invariable and they don’t need to agree with anything else in the sentence such as: vivido (lived), cocinado (cooked), visitado (visited).

Past participles can also be used as adjectives. In this case, they do need to agree in gender and number with the noun they modify:
past participle in present perfectpast participle as adjective
Ana se ha casado dos veces.
Ana has gotten married twice.
Ana está casada.
Ana is married.

For more on how to use Spanish past participles, click the link!

Here are a few extra important details you need to consider with the present perfect structure:

¿Has hablado con Juan esta semana?
Have you talked with Juan this week?

Even if you use an adverb in the sentence, haber and the main verb go together:

Nunca he comido curanto.
I have never eaten curanto.

No han visto a Juan últimamente.
They haven’t seen Juan lately.

Nadie ha llamado hoy.
No one has called today.

Lo hemos visto con su hermana Lucía.
We have seen him with his sister Lucía.

What are the time markers of the present perfect?

As you can probably imagine, there are some words and phrases that trigger the use of the present perfect in Spanish. Do you want to know what they are? Then check out this list of time markers we’ve prepared especially for you!

In Summary

We have just learned how to use the present perfect in Spanish to talk about life experiences and about past events connected to the present. Remember, when forming this tense, you need two elements: the verb haber (in the simple present) and a main verb in the past participle form.

And since you’re here, what about checking what you’ve learned with this exercise? I hope you like it. ¡Hasta la próxima!

Are you interested in learning more about Spanish Grammar? Check out our Spanish Grammar Homepage.
Unpacking the grammar

An auxiliary verb is a verb like “to be” or “to have” in English that “help” to form tenses or voices.

  • In Spanish, the auxiliary verb for all perfect tenses is haber (to have); and for continuous tenses is estar (to be).

A main verb is the principal verb of the sentence, which shows the action the subject is doing. In the sentence Yo he sido profesora por 17 años. (I have been a teacher for 17 years.), he (have) is the auxiliary verb and sido (been) is the main verb.

Meet The Author:
Natalia Molina
Natalia Molina Ceballos
Spanish Coach
Natalia is a Spanish coach at Mango Languages.

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

Extra Resources:

Present perfect markers
Haber conjugations


Present perfect activity


Present perfect activity

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