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Transcript 1
Lesson
Quiz 1

The Present Perfect vs. Preterit



Mouse-over Spanish text fragments in red to see English translation
To decide between when to use the pretérito perfecto and the pretérito, we need to keep in mind the unit of time in which an action took place and the unit of time in which the speaker is referring to it. From these two tenses, the pretérito perfecto is the closest to the present time. We use the pretérito perfecto with time expressions such as hoy, esta mañana, este mes, etc., to emphasize that an action is still inside the unit of time of the present. On the other hand, the pretérito refers to actions outside the unit of time, and therefore, this tense uses time expressions such as ayer, la semana pasada, el mes pasado, el año pasado, hace cinco años, etc., which make clear that an action finished completely and has no longer any relevance in the present time.

Pretérito perfecto:
1) The unit of time to which the speaker is referring to hasn’t finished yet.

--It’s 9 pm and the day hasn’t finished yet. The speaker is talking inside the unit of time of “today.”
Hoy he tenido una entrevista de trabajo.
Today I’ve had a job interview.

--It’s Thursday and the week hasn’t finished yet. The speaker is talking inside the unit of time of “this week.”
Esta semana he corrido treinta millas.
This week I‘ve run thirty miles.

--It’s August 20th and the month hasn’t finished yet. The speaker is talking inside the unit of time of this “month.”
Este mes he leído tres novelas.
This month I’ve read three novels.

--It’s November and year hasn’t finished yet. The speaker is talking inside the unit of time of this “year.”
Este año he ahorrado diez mil euros.
This year I’ve saved ten thousand euros.

2) The unit of time to which the speaker is referring to has finished, but it is still very close to the present time. In these cases, the use of the pretérito perfecto is preferred in Spain, even though both tenses are correct, and the speaker may choose to use either one (the use of the pretérito perfecto brings the action closer to the present). In Latin America, however, the pretérito is always used.

--It’s 10pm and the unit of time of “this morning” has already finished, but the action is still very close to the present time.
Esta mañana no he desayunado. (Spain)
This morning I haven’t had breakfast.
Esta mañana no desayuné. (Latin America)
This morning I didn’t have breakfast.

--It is Monday and the unit of time of “this weekend” has already finished, but the action is still very close to the present time.
Este fin de semana he estado en Austria. (Spain)
This weekend I have been to Austria.
Este fin de semana estuve en Austria. (Latin America)
This weekend I was in Austria.

3) We use the pretérito perfecto without mentioning any expression of time, but it is understood that the action happened “today” or recently.

¿Dónde has estado? Where have you been?
¿Has ido al banco? Have you gone to the bank?
¿Has lavado los platos? Have you washed the dishes?
¿Has llamado al médico? Have you called the doctor?

Note: The use of the pretérito is preferred in Latin America.

Pretérito:
We use the pretérito when the action is outside the unit of time in which the speaker is talking. Expressions of time like ayer, la semana pasada, el mes pasado, el año pasado, etc, are used.

Ayer tuve una entrevista de trabajo.
Yesterday I had a job interview.

La semana pasada corrí treinta millas.
Last week I run thirty miles.

El mes pasado leí tres novelas.
Last month I read three novels.

El año pasado ahorré diez mil euros.
Last year I saved ten thousand dollars.

El fin de semana pasado estuve en Austria.
Last weekend I was in Austria.