2

I hear there are common tenses and literary tense in Spanish, although I have tried to google it, I'm still struggling it and very curious.

To smoothly self-study Spanish, and avoiding unnecessary frustration, I have to know it.

Can you list common tenses native speakers use every day that I must learn?

Will literary tenses be automatically learned if they rarely use them?

2

Here's a table of all the conjugation forms in Spanish: LINK

Indicativo

The most common forms are:

  • Presente: yo canto → I sing
  • Pretérito perfecto simple: yo canté → I sang
  • Pretérito perfecto compuesto: yo he cantado → I have sung
  • Pretérito imperfecto: yo cantaba → I sang, I used to sing, I would sing [habit in the past]
  • Pretérito pluscuamperfecto: yo había cantado → I had sung
  • Futuro: yo cantaré → I will sing
  • Condicional: yo cantaría → I would sing
  • Condicional perfecto: yo habría cantado → I would have sung

Some forms that aren't as common are:

  • Futuro perfecto: yo habré cantado → I will have sung

These are the literary forms, so they are hardly ever used:

  • Pretérito anterior: yo hube cantado (no direct translation to English)

Subjuntivo

The most common ones are:

  • Presente: yo cante → I sing
  • Pretérito perfecto compuesto: yo haya cantado → I have sung
  • Pretérito imperfecto: yo cantara/cantase1 → I sang
  • Pretérito pluscuamperfecto: yo hubiera/hubiese1 cantado → I had sung

These are the literary forms, so they are hardly ever used:

  • Futuro: yo cantare (no direct translation to English)
  • Futuro perfecto: yo hubiere cantado (no direct translation to English)

Imperativo

  • Presente: canta (tú), cantad (vosotros), cante (usted), canten (ustedes), cantemos (cantemos) → Sing; Let's sing

The forms marked as literary are: pretérito anterior de indicativo, futuro de subjuntivo and futuro perfecto de subjuntivo. Here's how they would be used in a literary context (a book, a poem, etc.) and its equivalent in standard Spanish:

En cuanto hube terminado de comer, me levanté de la mesa y me fui.= En cuanto terminé de comer, me levanté de la mesa y me fui.

The pretérito anterior is used to describe an action that happened immediately before another. It usually follows adverbs of immediateness such as apenas, en cuanto, tan pronto como, una vez que, etc. It's rare in modern Spanish, and usually replaced by a pretérito perfecto simple.

Cuando tuviéremos dinero, nos iremos de vacaciones. = Cuando tengamos dinero, nos iremos de vacaciones.

The futuro de subjuntivo is used to describe a hypothetical, not finished action in the future. This form is almost nonexistant, and almost always replaced by a presente de subjuntivo or a presente de indicativo in type I if-clauses, which never take a subjunctive. It is only used in some legal texts or sayings such as "a donde fueres, haz lo que vieres".

Para cuando los dueños hubieren llegado a la casa, deberás haberte ido. = Para cuando los dueños hayan llegado a la casa, deberás haberte ido.

The futuro perfecto de subjuntivo is used to describe a hypothetical, finished action in the future. This form is also almost nonexistant, and almost always replaced by a pretérito perfecto de subjuntivo.

None of these three forms are used in everyday Spanish, nor in formal Spanish. They are archaic forms (except for the pretérito anterior, but this form is also gradually disappearing), so I don't recommend learning them, or not at first at least.


1: Hubiera and hubiese, as well as cantara and cantase are forms that coexist and mean exactly the same thing. The -ara, -era form is more popular than the -ase, -ese one in most Spanish speaking countries. In some dialects, however, they are equally prevalent.

  • Why do you use I was singing = Yo cantaba? That's actually past continuous and it can offer both imperfect and perfect preterite forms: Yo estaba/estuve cantando. Also, the imperfect cantaba can also be used with would, like I would sing as a repeated action in the past. As for the subjunctive, could you provide an example to see where yo cante = I sang? I have never seen this. The same for yo cantara = I sing? Or yo hubiese cantado = I have sung? I don't think those forms are correct. – Alejandro Mar 3 '16 at 11:58
  • @Ustanak native speaker? mind to answer? – Phil Mar 3 '16 at 12:22
  • @Phil I'm a native speaker but I don't want to provide an answer since Yay's one is good but I need first to get my hesitations answered. – Alejandro Mar 3 '16 at 12:24
  • @Ustanak Will you understand if you see literary tenses? – Phil Mar 3 '16 at 12:27
  • @Ustanak yo cantaba is something between I sang and I was singing. None of those capture the whole meaning of yo cantaba, so I decided to go with both. I would sing is indeed a good alternative. I didn't want to put it to not create confusion with the conditional form, but it is the most appropiate translation. I'll edit the yo cante/yo hubiera cantado part. – Yay Mar 3 '16 at 15:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.