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The Pluperfect Tense in Spanish

Like in English, the Spanish pluperfect tense describes something that happened before something else, for example, something that "had" already happened at a certain point in time or before another past action. Let's find out how to conjugate the Spanish pluperfect tense and hear several examples in action.


Conjugating the Spanish Pluperfect

The Spanish pluperfect tense, which is sometimes referred to as the past perfect tense, is pretty easy to conjugate! It is very similar to the Spanish present perfect tense (the verb haber in the present tense + the participle) except that haber will be conjugated in the Spanish imperfect tense. So, the formula for the pluperfect tense in Spanish would be:


haber in the imperfect tense + the participle


Let's first take a look at the imperfect conjugation of haber:


Personal Pronoun: Conjugation of Haber:
yo había
él/ella/usted había
nosotros/as habíamos
vosotros/as habíais
ellos/ellas/ustedes habían








Now we need a Spanish participle. These correspond to English participles (which often but not always end in -ed or -en). Examples include regular -ar verbs like hablado (talked/spoken) and mirado (looked), regular -er verbs like comido (eaten) and aprendido (learned), regular -ir verbs like recibido (received) and dormido (slept), and irregular verbs like abierto (opened), visto (seen), and dicho (said). For a list of more irregular Spanish participles as well as a detailed explanation of how to conjugate participles in Spanish, we invite you to consult this lesson on the present perfect tense in Spanish


Meaning of the Spanish Pluperfect

Whereas the verb haber in the present tense can be translated as "have" in the context of the present perfect in examples like Yo he comido (I have eaten), Tú has comenzado (You have begun), or Nosotros/as hemos hablado (We have talked/spoken), the translation for the imperfect conjugation of haber within the pluperfect tense is "had." That said, let's look at those same verbs conjugated in the pluperfect, noting their translations:


Yo había comido: I had eaten

Tú habías comenzado: You had begun

Nosotros/as habíamos hablado: We had talked/spoken


Examples of the Spanish Pluperfect

Now that we know how to conjugate the Spanish pluperfect and how to translate it, let's view a few examples. You will note from the translations that the Spanish pluperfect is used in very similar situations as the pluperfect in English. 


Cuando Cenicienta quiso dar las gracias, el hada ya había desaparecido.

When Cinderella tried to say thank you, the fairy had already disappeared.

Caption 1, Cuentos de hadas Cenicienta - Part 2

 Play Caption


Here, the pluperfect is used to indicate that the fairy "had disappeared" prior to the moment that Cinderella "tried" to say goodbye (as described by the preterite verb quiso).  Let's see another one:


Pero es que nunca había visto una anguila.

But the thing is that I had never seen an eel.

Caption 3, Guillermina y Candelario Un pez mágico - Part 2

 Play Caption


In this example, rather than expressing that "he'd" never "seen" an eel before some other past action, the speaker employs the pluperfect to explain that, at the moment in the past that he is describing, he "hadn't seen" an eel ever in his life. Let's look at one more: 


decidieron regresar al lugar de donde habían venido.

they decided to return to the place where they had come from.

Caption 44, Aprendiendo con Carlos América precolombina - El mito de Bachué

 Play Caption


In this final example, the preterite verb decidieron lets us know that in that moment in the past, "they decided" to go back to the location where they "had come from" (at some other moment in time prior to deciding to go back, of course!). 


That's all for today. We hope that this lesson has helped you to understand how the Spanish pluperfect tense is conjugated and used... and don't forget to leave us your suggestions and comments


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