In Spanish Grammar, Spanish Lessons

The Spanish Past Tense for Beginners

In English, one way we can talk about the past is using the verb ‘to have’ in the present tense:

I have been
I have seen
I have eaten

This tense is called the present perfect.
The same tense exists in Spanish:

He comido = I have eaten
Ha perdido = She(he) has lost
Has vivido = You have lived

There is more than one past tense in Spanish, and as you learn more and more Spanish, you’ll get familiar with all of them, but we recommend you start by learning the present perfect for a few reasons:

1. It’s the easiest to learn since there’s less to memorize
2. It’s very commonly used (more often than in English)
3. Even if you use it incorrectly, you’ll still be understood


To form the present perfect:
 use the present tense of the verb haber + the past participle


to have



The conjugation of haber is relatively simple. Memorize it, because it will come up again, and again, and again 😉

Note: Haber means ‘to have’, but is almost exclusively used as an auxiliary verb (a verb used in forming tenses). For possessive situations use tener, which also means to have (Ex: I have two cats / tengo dos gatos)


cantar -> cantado
hablar -> hablado


conocer -> conocido
vivir -> vivido

There is only a single conjugation for a verb when it’s in the past participle. That’s what makes this tense easier than others – you only need to memorize the conjugations of haber, and a single conjugation for all other verbs!

In general, the rule is:
 ar verbs change their ending to ado
both er and ir verbs change their ending to ido

comer -> He comido = I have eaten
perder -> Ha perdido sus llaves
= She(he) has lost her keys
vivir -> ¿Has vivido en España? = Have you lived in Spain?

Irregular Past Participles

There is a general rule for past participles, in which ar verbs end in ado and er/ir verbs end in ido, but there are also irregulars that have their own unique conjugation.

AR (ado) ER (ido) IR (ido)
cantar –> cantado conocer –> conocido vivir –> vivido
empezar –> empezado creer –> creído ir –> ido
llamar –> llamado vender –> vendido dormir –> dormido
abrir – abierto
decir – dicho
escribir – escrito
hacer – hecho
poner – puesto
ver – visto
volver – vuelto

Download the Spanish past tense cheat sheet, get more past participles and exercises


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