The colloquial expression "Woulda, coulda, shoulda" is often used to express regret about something that, in retrospect, one "would have," "could have," or "should have" done differently. As learners of Spanish are often anxious to find manners of expressing these same ideas in Spanish, today, we'll provide some simple formulas for doing so.
When conjugated in the conditional tense, the auxiliary verb haber means "would have." Let's take a look at this conjugation:
Yo habría (I would have)
Tú habrías (You would have)
Él/Ella/Usted habría (He/She/You would have)
Nosotros/Nosotras habríamos (We would have)
Vosotros/Vosotras habríais (You all would have)
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes habrían (They/You all would have)
Then, to express what one "would have" done under other circumstances, we use the past participle. Although certain verbs have irregular past participle forms, in the majority of cases, the past participle is formed by replacing the -ar of infinitive -ar verbs with -ado or the -er or -ir of -er and -ir verbs with -ido as follows:
Infinitive: comenzar / Past participle: comenzado
Infinitive: comer / Past participle: comido
Infinitive: subir / Past participle: subido
Aside from this simple formula for conjugating the past participle of verbs, irregular past participles must be memorized. Some of the most common irregular past participles include: decir: dicho (said), escribir: escrito (written), hacer: hecho (done), poner: puesto (put), romper: roto (broken), morir: muerto (dead), ver: visto (seen), volver: vuelto (returned), cubrir: cubierto (covered). Although it would be impossible to list all of the irregular past participles here, you will find that many of them follow similar patterns that should become increasingly familiar with additional exposure to Spanish.
Now that we know the formula for expressing the idea of "would have" in Spanish, let's take a look at some examples:
Ya habríais ahorrado... -Dos mil euros.
You would have saved... -Two thousand euros.
Caption 72, 75 minutos Gangas para ricos - Part 8Play Caption
Sólo se trataba de cerrar los ojos y aguantar el dolor, como habría hecho Ricardo Mendoza.
It was just about closing my eyes and dealing with the pain, like Ricardo Mendoza would have done.
Captions 47-48, Los Años Maravillosos Capítulo 1 - Part 8Play Caption
Y si lo hiciera, yo ya me habría dado cuenta. -¿Sí?
And if he did, I would have realized it by now. -Really?
Caption 33, X6 1 - La banda - Part 10Play Caption
The formula for talking about things we "could have" done, but didn't, involves the conditional conjugation of the verb poder (to be able), plus the infinitive haber, plus the past participle. The conditional of the verb poder is as follows:
Yo podría (I could)
Tú podrías (You could)
Él/Ella/Usted podría (He/She/You could)
Nosotros/Nosotras podríamos (We could)
Vosotros/Vosotras podríais (You all could)
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes podrían (They/You all could)
Note that while the translation of the verb poder in its conditional form is "could," the addition of the infinitive haber creates a structure meaning "could have." For example, while Yo podría ir al circo means "I could go to the circus," Yo podría haber ido al circo (I could have gone to the circus) conveys the idea of an unfulfilled possibility. Let's take a look at some examples of this construction:
¡Pero qué bien! ¡Lo mismo me podría haber contestado un policía!
But how great! A policeman could have answered me the same way.
Caption 4, Muñeca Brava 43 La reunión - Part 5Play Caption
Te la podrías haber traído más grande. ¿Cuántas has cogido?
You could have brought a bigger one. How many have you picked?
Caption 118, 75 minutos Del campo a la mesa - Part 11Play Caption
Te podrías haber vestido un poco más de... con... no sé, de señorita, digo.
You could have dressed a little more like... with... I don't know, like a lady, I mean.
Captions 35-36, Muñeca Brava 2 Venganza - Part 4Play Caption
As you can see, this formula is extremely similar to the previous one, except that it employs the conditional form of the verb deber. Although the verb deber frequently involves the idea of obligation, with such translations as "to have to" or the idea that one "must" do something, in its conditional form, it takes on the meaning "should." Let's take a look at its conditional conjugation:
Yo debería (I should)
Tú deberías (You should)
Él/Ella/Usted debería (He/She/You should)
Nosotros/Nosotras deberíamos (We should)
Vosotros/Vosotras deberíais (You all should)
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes deberían (They/You all should)
As with our previous formula, the addition of the infinitive haber changes the meaning from "should" to "should have." Using the same example of the circus, while Yo debería ir al circo means "I should go to the circus," Yo debería haber ido al circo (I should have gone to the circus) expresses regret about not having gone. Let's take a look at some additional examples:
Le debería haber dado un trompazo en la boca nada más.
I should have punched her in the mouth and that's it.
Caption 16, Muñeca Brava 30 Revelaciones - Part 11Play Caption
Digo, debería haber confiado y...
I mean, I should have trusted and...
Caption 46, Club de las ideas Intuición - Part 1Play Caption
Of course, just as one might have the feeling that he, she, or someone else should have done something differently in the past, we can also find fault with things that we or others shouldn't have done:
No deberías haber salido de casa.
You shouldn't have left the house.
Caption 45, Muñeca Brava 46 Recuperación - Part 4Play Caption
We hope that these simple formulas help you to speak about what you "would have," "could have," or "should have" done in Spanish, and don't forget to leave us your questions and comments.