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Regarding the pretérito perfecto tense, here is what I can gather so far:

We CAN use it...:

  • For recent actions, i.e. within a timeframe still incomplete i.e. today, this week etc.

  • Past actions that continue or repeat into the present, or continue to affect the present.

  • Often used with the adverb "ya".

We CANNOT use it...:

  • To express actions which started in the past but are still in progress, e.g. I might use "llevo tres años viviendo aqui" instead of "hace tres años que he vivido aquí"
  • To express having just done something. Here you would use "acabar de" + infinitive.

Recently I tried to express the fact that I lived in England for a year and I said "vivía un año en Inglaterra". I was told by a Spanish friend that this was incorrect and I should have said "he vivido un año en Inglaterra" or "viví un año en Inglaterra". I understand why the latter can be used (i.e. the pretérito indefinido) but I was surprised by the suggestion that I should use the pretérito perfecto as it was clear that I was living there several years ago, and to me it had no connection with the present. So, was my friend correct in suggesting that I use the pretérito perfecto in this case? If so, it doesn't seem to be covered by the rules I state above, so what new rule do I need?

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You can use the present perfect for actions recently finished. If you lived in England recently, your friend is right: you should say He vivido un año en Inglaterra. It can also be used as part of a recent action, even if this is not so recent in itself. For instance, if you have not seen your friend for a long time and he asks you about your life since you last met, you may say: He vivido un año en Inglaterra y luego otros cinco en Italia. You lived in England five years ago, but now you are talking about this as a part of your life that ends now, or very recently, so the pretérito perfecto is the correct tense.

If you lived there some time ago, you should say Viví un año en Inglaterra, using the pretérito indefinido. But the use of the pretérito imperfecto (Vivía un año en Inglaterra) is wrong in most cases. You can use it in some cases when you are not being precise about the past. For instance: Pasé mi juventud en muchos países: igual vivía un año en Inglaterra que pasaba seis meses en Jamaica.

Additionally: one of your examples in your We CANNOT use it section is wrong. Hace tres años que vivo aquí is perfectly good, though it is not pretérito perfecto. Hace tres años que he vivido aquí would, on the contrary, be an incorrect use of the pretérito perfecto.

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    Another interesting thing about pretérito perfecto is it may only use now (or a time frame including now) as its point of reference. You can't say "He comido ayer", but you can say "He comido esta mañana" so long as we're still in the morning. This is why it's so often used to refer to past actions with present relevance even if the actions were quite some time ago. (he estadiado japonés implies it's relevant to now) – user0721090601 Feb 27 '15 at 23:09
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    @Gorpik: thanks for the answer. I've edited my question to correct the mistake you pointed out and added some context. – DavB Mar 1 '15 at 8:25

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