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I'm learning about past and perfect tenses, still it's quite hard to determine their meanings sometimes. Let's say I have these 3 sentences:

  1. He aprendido
  2. Aprendo hace 2 horas
  3. Aprendí hace 2 horas

Now, here is what I understand about them:

  1. "He aprendido" means "I have studied" (as Present perfect in English)
  2. "Aprendo hace 2 horas" means "I've been studying for 2 hours", so I am still studying (Present perfect continuous)
  3. "Aprendí hace 2 horas" means "I studied 2 hours ago" (Simple past in English)

Are they all true? Or are they interpreted differently in Spanish?

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    It is aprendí, not aprendé. The latter would be the voseo version of the imperative. – Gorpik Feb 27 '15 at 11:08
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I think you haven't grasped the complete sense inside Spanish verbal tenses:


Pretérito perfecto compuesto (a.k.a. antepresente, or just pretérito perfecto)

He aprendido → I have learnt.

This phrase does not mean "I have studied", because you can learn by other means besides studying. It expresses that you were learning, and in the moment you say this (present time) you have already done that process, so you can be sure it is done. Now you have the knowledge that you were learning.

Do not think this is the precise equivalent for English Present perfect just because both are built in a similar way. There are some differences, according to the Spanish-speaking region where you look at. For example:

  • it is widely used in Spanish from Spain, to express a something about the past, with or without a link to the present. In many countries in South America in those cases is used the "Pretérito imperfecto" or the "Pretérito indefinido" instead.

  • in most of America, it is used to express something done and already finished in the past.


Tiempo presente

Aprendo hace dos horas

This is a present action, but just as you write it, sounds strange to me. I would write instead:

Aprendo desde hace dos horas.
Estoy aprendiendo desde hace dos horas. → I am learning since two hours ago.

Both convey almost the same meaning in Spanish, as far as I know, because you give a time clause at the end, that stresses the fact that it is something that is being carried out.


Pretérito indefinido

Aprendí hace dos horas → I learnt two hours ago.

This means something completely finished in the past. In your example, this process ended two hours ago, and after that, no further improvement was made.

In general, pretérito indefinido must be used when you are talking about something happened in the past, but not very recently (because if it were too recently, the Pretérito perfecto compuesto should be used instead).

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I think that you understood the usage of the tenses correctly, but you still have some trouble conjugating the right form. From your examples:

He aprendido

Does mean "I have studied".

He aprendido a coser con mi abuela

He aprendido a hablar español en El Salvador

A correction for the Present perfect continuous:

Llevo estudiando dos horas / He estado estudiando dos horas

That conveys the meaning of "I've been studying for 2 hours" or "I've been doing something for a period of time"

Llevo estudiando inglés desde que era pequeño

Llevo esperándote dos horas / He estado esperándote dos horas

For the Simple past:

Aprendí hace dos horas

Aprendí a montar en bicicleta cuando tenía ocho años

Aprendí a hacer esto hace X tiempo

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