The No BS Guide to Spanish Tense

This guide has been written to help people understand some of the base tenses in Spanish. It gives a basic overview of the base Indicative and Perfect tenses in Spanish. It does not cover academic issues or the Subjunctive.

There are many things left out however it provides enough information for people to use it as a reference tool. As a native English speaker I have written it from an 'English' point of view.

(Sorry for the formatting but I have limited options in DL's interface)



We will take a look first at English so we can use this to see what’s going on in Spanish. When people talk about "tense" 99% of the time they are actually talking about 2 separate things i. "tense" and ii. "aspect".


There are 3 tenses in English: I went (past tense), I go (present tense),I will go (future tense)


There are 3 basic aspects in English:

Simple (I go): Used to give information

Continuous ( I am going): Used to focus on temporary action

Perfect (I have gone): Used to describe a period of time.

So there are 9 basic Tense and Aspect in English

SIMPLE I worked, I work, I will work

CONTINUOUS I was working, I am working, I will be working

PERFECT I had worked, I have worked, I will have worked




For these examples I will be using the verb 'Trabajar' (to work)

SIMPLE PAST: Trabajé*or Trabajaba (I worked)

SIMPLE PRESENT: Trabajo (I work)

SIMPLE FUTURE: Trabajaré (I will work)

*Spanish uses the preterit and imperfect in past.



PAST CONTINUOUS: Estuve trabajando* or Estaba trabajando (I was working)

PRESENT CONTINUOUS: Estoy trabajando (I am working)

FUTURE CONTINUOUS: Estaré trabajando (I will be working)

*again you have 2 options in past

The verb structure is exactly the same in English as it is in Spanish

I am working = Yo estoy trabajando = (be) + Present Participle



PAST PERFECT: Hubo Trabajado* or Había trabajado (I had worked)

PRESENT PERFECT: He trabajado (I have worked)

FUTURE PERFECT: Habré trabajado (I will have worked)

Again you have 2 options in past and the verb structure is again exactly the same in English and Spanish:

I have worked = Yo he trabajado = (have) + Past Participle


So when we compare English to Spanish we can see that basically they are the same, except in Spanish you have a choice between the imperfect and preterit pasts.

I hope this guide was helpful and again this is designed as a tool to help people learn, not to explore all the issues concerning specific issues.

3 years ago

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This is a great guide. Thanks for creating it! It just looks like the formatting of the highlighted areas might need a little attention. I also didn't quite understand your closing statement.

3 years ago
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  • 6 help people learn, (comma) not to explore (not meant as an exploration) all the issues...

Thanks for taking the time to post this:)

3 years ago

oooo thanks, yes that comma does make it clearer

3 years ago

lol, aye I am trying to work on that, but thanks for the comment

3 years ago

this is a good guide but please put the english translation for each example it makes it easier to stick in mind

3 years ago


3 years ago

I am wondering what the preterit means... Can anyone possibly explain this to me? If you could that would be awesome.

3 years ago

I worked yesterday would be the preterit in English (trabajé in Spnaish), it is a completed action in the past. IMHO it is the closest in meaning to the simple past in English

3 years ago

Thanks. :)

3 years ago

This makes a lot of sense. Thank you!

3 years ago

Thanks, your explanations are excellent. There is only one disagreement that I have. While some translate the imperfect and preterit as you have, others give them each different translation. Preterit, according to them,is translated as the normal past while imperfect is translated with the lead in words used to giving a slightly different flavor.

3 years ago

I am taking a Spanish class, and what we're taught is that various situations lead to you using preterit or imperfect. One of the biggest factors was preterit is a one time action, whereas imperfect is over a period of time. There are other factors as well.

3 years ago

Thanks JonWhite12, as for you comment on the past forms, tbh thats beyond the scope of this guide, its aim to show the similarity in structure between English and Spanish so people have a context in which to understand Spanish. The way things are viewed and explained say at A2 and C2 levels are completely different.

3 years ago
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Thank you for explaining this. I'm at Past Perfect and I hadn't got it yet. This has been very helpful.


1 year ago

does yo always mean i

4 months ago
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