Verb Tense Names in Spanish

Spanish tense names can at times be very confusing.  Some books use English names while other books use Spanish names for the tenses.  Also books and teachers use different names for the same tense.

The first clue to the type of tense is often with the word “perfect” or perfecto in Spanish.  The term perfect indicates a kind of completion.  The action is complete, wrapped up and put away in a box at a particular moment in time.  In contrast an imperfect tense is on-going and incomplete.

Another way to distinguish between perfect and imperfect tenses is to think of a time-line.  Imperfect actions occur over a period of time and serve as a background.  Perfect actions have a completion date.

Tenses names in Spanish

Some tense names include the term perfect or imperfect where others do not. Here is the list of names of Spanish verb tenses divided by the perfect and imperfect tenses.


Perfect Tenses

Pretérito Perfecto

¿Has terminado tu bocadillo?

Have you finished your sandwich?

Pretérito Indefinido

Ayer el edificio cayó.

Yesterday the building fell down.

Pretérito Anterior  *Used in literary texts / not common for every day use.

Tan pronto como ella hubo llegado, él salió el cuarto.

As soon as she arrived, he left the room.

Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto

Había cerrado con llave la puerta antes del robo.

He closed  / had closed the door before the robbery.

Futuro Perfecto

Habrá aprendido español en 2016.

  In 2016, she will have learnt Spanish.


Imperfect Tenses:


Sophie dibuja cada día.

Sophie draws every day.


Jugaba con mis muñecas.

I played  / used to play  / was playing with my dolls. * Depends on the context.


Viviré en Londres.

I will live in London.


Have you been confused by the Spanish tense names?  Do you use other terms for the tenses listed above?

6 commentarios

Marian Maroszek · 6 marzo, 2014 a las 7:30


Names of tenses are OK I guess, but use of Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto de Indicativo in every textbook I met was more like this:

Cuando vinimos, ellos ya habían salido.
When we came, they had already left.

So we have two finished actions in the past, finished in different periods of time. In my opinion examples like this one show much better the usage of this tense. Something like Past Perfect in English. Am I right?


Marian Maroszek

    María · 10 marzo, 2014 a las 7:30

    Hola, Marian:

    You are right, your example is very good and it is great for Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto; two finished actions in the past. Most of books use examples with the adverbs “ya, todavía no” to illustrate this tense. However, in real Spanish use it is very normal to use without the adverbs too — like in our example:

    He had closed the door before the robbery. > Había cerrado con llave la puerta antes del robo.

    There are two implicit actions as we consider the robbery and action itself.

    Find more examples and practice of Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto in this link from our blog:érito+pluscuamperfecto

    Of course, you can send us the exercises completed to: and we will correct them for you (and for free) 🙂

    ¡Muchísimas gracias por participar!


      Marian Maroszek · 10 marzo, 2014 a las 7:30


      “However, in real Spanish use it is very normal to use without the adverbs too — like in our example”

      And this is the most important information for me – the way tenses can be used in normal life. As far as I can see Spanish is very… flexible (I would say) 🙂 . Thanks for reply.



        María · 10 marzo, 2014 a las 7:30

        You are very welcome.
        I hope our examples from the document we sent you are useful too.

        We hope to see you soon in El Blog para Aprender Español.

        Hasta pronto,


Phil Watkinson · 6 marzo, 2014 a las 7:30

Hola María y Raquel,

I use the english names for the verb tenses, I suppose it is only natural since I am an English speaker. There are two questions to answer before I will use the Spanish names:

* The ‘Pretérito Indefinido’ (Past simple in English) is a strange way to describe a tense that represents specific, completed action in the past – there is nothing ‘indefinite’ about it. Why it is named so?

* What are the spanish names for the progressive tenses? Por ejemplo, ‘Qué esta haciendo?’ (What are you doing?) is the present progressive tense in English, and we have the future progressive (What will you be doing?) and past progressive (What were you doing?). Perhaps in Spanish they are not treated as separate tenses but part of the main tenses?

Thank you again for interesting and useful articles.


    María · 10 marzo, 2014 a las 7:30

    Hola, Phil:

    First of all, thank you for visiting our blog to practice Spanish.

    You are right, sometimes the names for Tenses are a little bit confuse. In the case of Pretérito Indefinido in Spanish, the action has been completed in a moment completely independent from present and always in the past. This action in the past is indefinitely previous.

    For progressive tenses in Spanish, we speak about “perífrasis verbales”: estar + gerundio, ir a + infinitivo, tener que + infinitivo etc. Clic here for further information:

    We hope this information helps you!

    Gracias por participar,


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