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Good afternoon,

In one of the movies I encountered a situation in which one employee tells that "he worked hard to make this happen" (original movie is in English). In English gramatically it is correct - he worked hard for some period of time in the past to make this happen. But in Spanish version of the movie (translated into Spanish, with subtitles) he said:

He trabajado duro para ello.

I need to add small detail - I watched with translation for Spain, not Latin America. I am aware of the fact that in Spain people use pretérito perfecto compuesto for events happened very recently in the past, while in Latin America this construction is not widespread and usual pretérito perfecto (yo trabajé) is used mostly even for very recent past events.

But here this employee doesn't refer to action(s) he did today or even this week. He is talking about long period of time, as you can guess. So I would say "Trabajé duro para ello" (at least I think this would not be a mistake). In fact, this is not the first time I encounter usage of pretérito perfecto compuesto for past actions not necesarily happened today. But I was in doubt, maybe translators did mistakes in such cases, translating literally construction "I have done" from English (in English this construction has more uses and nuances of usage).

The questions are:

1) Why this employee used this construction?

2) What are other uses of pretérito perfecto compuesto, besides telling about very recent past events? Asking this because it seems based on such examples as there are some uses. I only know that pretérito perfecto compuesto also is common when word "ya" is used in a sentence, like in 2 examples below (still, these are recent events):

Ya han comido. = They have already eaten.

¿No han salido ya las mujeres? = Haven’t the women left yet?

P.S. I changed subtitles and translation of this movie scene into Latin American Spanish and this time employee in Spanish said the following:

In speech: Trabajé muy duro...

In subtitles: He trabajado muy duro...

There is a discrepancy between speech and subtitles translation because movie is in English, in such cases speaking and subtitles (their translation) never correspond (only if you watch original Spanish movie with Spanish subtitles).

  • It is just bad translation from English. This: He trabajado duro para ello. means: I have worked hard for that. And the English does not use the present prefect: have worked.It uses simple past: trabajó. The translator was incapable of translating:make something happen. – Lambie Oct 26 '19 at 16:38
  • third person singular of haber + trabajar is: ha trabajado, not: he trabajado. – Lambie Oct 26 '19 at 17:12
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I'll refer basically to the Nueva Gramática de la Lengua Española (NGLE), beginning at section 23.7a.

NGLE 23.7a says that the compound preterit refers to former events from a reference point located in the present, while with the simple preterit the reference point itself is located in the past. The compound preterit expresses current persistence of past events.

However, 23.7b notes that this contrast is found nowadays in central and southern Spain, and in Latin America mostly in coastal Peru, the Andean regions of Bolivia and Colombia, and northwestern and central Argentina. 23.7c says that in Mexico, Central America and many places on the Caribbean, the contrast is aspectual: the simple preterit is for events that finished in the past, while the compound preterit refers to events that are ongoing in the present.

And then, in other areas (i.e. Chile, a large part of Argentina, etc.) the contrast between the two tenses has been largely neutralized and only the simple preterit is in common use.

If this sounds rather entangled it's because it is. There are two tenses, and what they mean might be different according to the region, and the contrast itself might be gross or subtle, and sometimes, in some places, there's no contrast at all.

Consider also that your question is about a translation of a movie that is originally in English, and the translators/subtitlers nowadays are not known for paying attention to nuances, so I wouldn't dwell too much on this. For the most part you'll do well if you use these tenses as in NGLE 23.7a or 23.7b. And if you want to communicate with Chileans, Argentinians (mostly), Uruguayans or Paraguayans, you can simply forget about the compound preterit. We all understand each other in any case.

  • Dear pablodf76, understood. 2 questions slightly off the original topic. 1) I use some movies original in Spanish, as well as English movies (some of my favourite ones) translated into English. You said that translators are not known for paying attention to nuances. If watching English movies translated to Spanish, what should I be aware of? What kind of mistakes are typical, if there are any? 2) Well-noted regarding regional differences. You mentioned, though, that you (natives) understand each other in any case. So if you use compound preterit in Chili, you would be understood anyway? – Alex Oct 27 '19 at 14:23
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    1) That's rather difficult. I just know I notice things I would've translated differently in most movies but I can't actually make a list of them. 2) Yes, the compound preterit is not a strange or moribund tense, it's just not that common in certain areas. – pablodf76 Oct 27 '19 at 14:31
  • How funny, you don't really address the translation issue,which I did )(for the specific sentence) and got two downvotes. You might not dwell on it too much but as a translator, I take exception to that remark. "He trabajado duro" is not moribund. It's just a translation error here. We usually say people are moribund. – Lambie Jan 4 at 0:06
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He worked hard to make this happen.

In terms of translation into Spanish:

There is absolutely no reason to not use the simple past tense in Spanish: trabajó. This would never be: ha trabajado because the English is not have worked!

Whatever differences exist in the various varieties of Spanish, this would not be one of them.

There is a lot of poor translation in sub-titles.

The translator failed to translate the idea: make it happen.

make it happen means: to occur

One way to say this is using the verb salir in Spanish, which the Real Academia confirms means occur: Dicho de una cosa: Ocurrir, sobrevenir u ofrecerse de nuevo. Salir un empleo.

He worked hard to make this happen. [for this to happen]

would translate as:

Trabajó duro para que salga eso. [para que takes subjunctive in the present tense of the verb which can be used if the "eso" continues to be true at the present time].

OR:

Trabajó duro para que saliera eso.

The imperfect is used if the entire thing is in the past though in English is simple past.

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