08 January 2020

Pretérito pluscuamperfecto: talking about anterior past actions in Spanish

How do we talk about past events that happened prior to those past events? If you are already familiar with the pretérito perfecto and the imperfecto, the pluscuamperfecto tense in Spanish will be easy for you to master! Read on to learn more about the use and formation of the Spanish pluscuamperfecto.

Pocket watches laid out in a circle, some are distorted
The Spanish pretérito pluscuamperfecto

When to use the pluscuamperfecto

1. The Spanish pretérito pluscuamperfecto (or pluperfect in English) is used to describe events or actions that have happened further back in the past than a past action we are referring to.

If you think about it in English, it would be something like:
“When I got home yesterday, my mom had already left for work.

Two actions have usually happened. In the example, the first is that my mom had left, and the second is that I got home. My mom had left before I arrived home.

2. There is another special use for the pluscuamperfecto. If you are talking about an experience that you’ve never had before that you are experiencing this very moment, you can use the pluscuamperfecto.

For example:

Nunca había estado en París antes.
I had never been to Paris before (until now).

You had never been in Paris until now is what the sentence is saying.

Be careful, this should not be confused with a sentence about an experience that you’ve never had.

Nunca hemos ido a Disneyland.
We have never gone to Disneyland.

How to form the pluscuamperfecto

The pretérito pluscuamperfecto is very easy to form. The formula is as follows:

(subject) + verb haber in imperfecto + past participle

If you would like to learn how to form the past particple, you can take a look at this article about the pretérito indefinido and well as this article about forming the imperfecto.

Table of how to conjugate the verb forms to create the pluscueamperfecto
How to form the pretérito pluscuamperfecto

Examples of the pluscuamperfecto

Now that you know how to use and form the pluscuamperfecto, here are some examples of the verb tense in use:

Cuando llegué a la fiesta, ya se había acabado toda la comida.
When I arrived at the party, all the food had already been finished.

In this example, the action of the food being finished has happened before I arrived at the party.

Llegué corriendo a la estación pero mi tren ya había salido.
I arrived at the station running but my train had already left.

In this example, the train left before I arrived at the station.

Laura no ha ido al cine con nosotros porque ya había visto la película.
Laura didn’t come to the movies with us because she had already seen the film.

Laura had seen the movie before we went to the movies, there we need to use pluscuamperfecto de describe this action.

Nunca había probado una paella tan buena.
I had never had a paella this good (until now).

This is one of the special ways that indicate an experience that hasn’t happened until this moment.