Looking for Accelerated Spanish? We've rebranded!

Click here to learn more.

Spanish complex tenses

The past of the past? The continuous future? What is the purpose of complex verb phrases such as habías hecho and estará haciendo? Let’s learn how to do fun, complex things with verb tenses.

Full Podcast Episode


By the end of this episode, you’ll have learned some advanced things you can do with verbs.

Intro: Join us on a rigorous, step-by-step journey to fluency. I’m Timothy and this is LearnCraft Spanish.

This week we’re going to learn the verb Ir and start using complex tenses, such as the past of the future and the future of the past.

For today, we’re going to explore why tenses can sometimes be complex like this, and why it’s important for communicating your thoughts in Spanish.

Let’s start by going over something we’ve already begun practicing. What’s the difference between these two sentences?

Él es bueno.

Él está siendo bueno.

In the first case, we’re talking about him in general: We’re describing him as a good person. But in the second case, we’re emphasizing the present moment, the fact that he’s being good in the moment, though it might not always be the case.

But what if that moment that we’re emphasizing is in the past? Check out these two examples:

Ella era buena.

Ella estaba siendo buena.

Once again, the difference is the emphasis on what she is in general versus what she’s being in a particular moment. But we’ve used estaba to put that moment in the past.

And then check out these examples:

Ella será buena.

Ella estará siendo buena.

We could translate both of these as “she will be good”, but the second one emphasizes how she’ll be in a particular moment in the future.

So let’s practice using Estar to use both siendo and haciendo in a particular past or future moment.

She was being good.

Ella estaba siendo bueno.

I was being a bad friend.

Yo estaba siendo un bad amigo.

Yo estaba siendo un mal amigo.

I will be doing my homework.

Estaré haciendo mi homework.

Estaré haciendo mi tarea.

They were doing what I asked them.

Estaban haciendo lo que les I asked.

Estaban haciendo lo que les pedí.

You were being jealous.

Estabas siendo jealous.

Estabas siendo celoso.

We were making cakes for the party.

Estábamos haciendo cakes para the party.

Estábamos haciendo tortas para la fiesta.

You (formal) will be doing that.

Usted estará haciendo eso.

Now for something pretty crazy: We’re going to start doing the same thing with Haber as well.

Haber and Estar are actually pretty similar in this specific way — both of them can be followed by a form of another verb. After Haber, you’ll use the participle of another verb; for example, he sido or hemos hecho. After Estar, you can use the gerund of another verb; for example estoy siendo or están haciendo.

So what happens if we put Haber in the past or the future, and then use a participle? Well, believe it or not, you already do this in English all the time. For example, compare these two sentences: “They haven’t done it” versus “They hadn’t done it.”

Both of these involve something in the past, but in the first case, you’re pointing backwards from right now. “At this present moment, I can tell you that they have not done it.” But in the second case, we’re pointing backwards from some moment in the past. Let’s say we’re referring to some day last week. “As of that day, they had not done it.”

Technically, this is called the “pluperfect”, or in simpler terms, the past of the past. We’ll learn how to form sentences like this in a minute, but first let’s review how to use Haber the way we’ve already been doing it.

The thing is, the forms that we’ve already learned he, hemos, ha, has, and han, are actually considered the present tense forms of Haber, even though they’re used to put another verb in the past. Let’s quickly review how to use these with a mini-quiz.

I have done it.

Lo he hecho.

That has been good.

Eso ha sido bueno.

We haven’t been here.

No hemos estado aquí.

Now let’s learn the past tense conjugations of Haber, to put things in the past of the past!

The most common is the form había, spelled h-a-b-i-a, with an accent mark over the I. You can use this for the first person singular, “I”, or third person singular, “he or she”. So for example:

I had done it.

Yo lo había hecho.

See if you can predict how to say this one:

She had been here.

Ella había estado aquí.

This can be tricky, because we don’t usually think hard about whether we’re saying “I have done something” versus “I had done something”. But they do mean very different things. This is the kind of expression that flows effortlessly in your native language, but takes a lot of thought to get it right in a second language (which is true of a lot of things we’ve learned on this podcast). But it will become natural with some practice. So let’s drill this with a mini-quiz that shuffles up the present tense and the past tense of Haber. In each case, make sure that if someone “has” done something, you’ll use he or ha, but if they “had” done it, you’ll use había.

I have done it well.

Yo lo he hecho bien.

I had been her friend(m) for a while.

Yo había sido su amigo por un tiempo.

She had been his friend.

Ella había sido su amiga.

He hadn’t been at that place.

Él no había estado en ese lugar.

You(formal) have been well?

¿Usted ha estado bien?

The boy hadn’t done it?

¿El chico no lo había hecho?

Remember that if you’re having trouble with this, you can always get more practice with the flashcards at LCSPodcast.com/41.

We can also easily learn more conjugations of the past tense of Haber by changing había based on the patterns we’ve learned for other verbs. So “you had” is habías, “they had” is habían, and “we had” is habíamos. Let’s practice these with a pretty simple quiz that simply plays the potato head game with this sentence: Había estado aquí.

So how would you say:

They had been here.

Habían estado aquí.

We had been here.

Habíamos estado aquí.

You had been here.

Habías estado aquí.

We’ll get a lot more practice with the past of the past in today’s final quiz, but we have one more thing to cover first: The past of the future!

Why would we ever need something so bizarre? Check out this sentence: “By that day, she will have done it.” So what we’re describing here is the future, but we’re saying that at that point, something will be true in the past. Here’s how you would say this in Spanish:

Para ese día, ella lo habrá hecho.

So what we’re using here is a future tense conjugation of Haber, the word habrá. This is similar to estará and será, with a stress on the syllable “rah!”. It’s slightly irregular though, because you would expect this to be “ha-be-rá”, but it’s habrá, with the E missing. So h-a-b-r-a, with an accent mark on the final A. This word is only used for the third person singular, and it’s the only future tense form we’re going to learn for now.

Let’s practice this in a few sentences. Each one will use habrá followed by a participle, either sido or estado or hecho.

He will have been here.

Él habrá estado aquí.

She will have been my friend for a while.

Ella habrá sido mi amiga por un tiempo.

That day you(formal) will have done it.

Ese día usted lo habrá hecho.

Notice that in that last example, we put the direct object, lo, before habrá. This is how we structure sentences that use a chain of verbs like this, with the object pronoun before the first, conjugated verb: lo habrá hecho, lo estaba haciendo, lo estamos siendo, and so on.

Let’s practice all of these complex uses of verbs with today’s final quiz.

That day, you had done something as a favor.

Ese día, habías hecho algo como un favor.

We all had been with them(f).

Todos habíamos estado con ellas.

Please, tell me if he is smarter than them.

Por favor, tell me si él es más smart que ellos.

Por favor, dime si él es más inteligente que ellos.

We DID tell him to go with us.

Sí le we told que he go con nosotros.

Sí le dijimos que fuera con nosotros.

She told me that they don't know us.

Me she told que no nos they know.

Me dijo que no nos conocen.

I'm doing that with you.

Estoy haciendo eso contigo.

I'm going to make you that.

Te voy a hacer eso.

That day, I'll be making something because of you.

Ese día, estaré haciendo algo por ti.

Someone had already done that.

Alguien ya había hecho eso.

Someone else will have everything.

Alguien más will have todo.

Alguien más tendrá todo.

She won't have done anything.

No habrá hecho nada.

No, now it's very dangerous.

No, ahora es muy dangerous.

No, ahora es muy peligroso.

She was doing what nobody had done.

Ella estaba haciendo lo que nadie había hecho.

We hadn't been here.

No habíamos estado aquí.

He told us that you hadn't been with me.

Nos he told que no habías estado conmigo.

Nos dijo que no habías estado conmigo.

I was being good(m) with them(m).

Yo estaba siendo bueno con ellos.

By then, she will have told them.

Para then, les habrá told.

Para entonces, les habrá dicho.

I hadn't wanted to do that.

No había wanted hacer eso.

No había querido hacer eso.

You(formal) will be doing something else.

Usted estará haciendo algo más.

They had said that it was intended for me.

Habían said que era para mí.

Habían dicho que era para mí.

They had been with you (formal).

Habían estado con usted.

I HAD done what I wanted to do.

Yo sí había hecho lo que I wanted hacer.

Yo sí había hecho lo que quería hacer.

Get more practice with these advanced uses of Haber at LCSPodcast.com/41.

This show is brought to you by LearnCraftSpanish.com. The Spanish voice in this episode was our coach Michael Agudelo. Our music was provided by the Seattle Marimba Quartet, and I’m Timothy, encouraging you to do the hard work of learning Spanish. Acquiring a second language is one of the most fulfilling things you can do, so start your fluency journey today at LCSPodcast.com.

Get the Free Podcast Materials
Sign up for instant access to the free course that goes with the podcast!
Access the Free Materials