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When is it better to use the Present Perfect as opposed to the Preterite in Spanish?

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  • When is it better to use the Present Perfect as opposed to the Preterite in Spanish?

    I am very interested in the stylistic elements of simply using the present perfect in conversational Spanish when the preterite may be more appropriate.

  • #2
    Ah, THE question... Difficult to say, for several reasons:
    1) terminology. The name of this tenses have chaged too many times; when I was in the school, it was pretérito perfecto simple (amé, comí, viví) and pretérito perfecto compuesto (he amado, he comido, he vivido); for my parents, it was pretérito indefinido or pasado simple and pretérito perfecto; nowadays, I don't know. So I'm assuming we're talking about present perfect = pretérito perfecto compuesto = he amado and preterite = pretérito perfecto simple = amé.
    2) difficult to define the use.They say that pretérito perfecto simple (amé) is used in finished actions without a relationship with present time, and pretérito perfecto compuesto (he amado) in finished actions with a relationship with present time. So this weekend he comido paella, but last weekend comí paella. However, we can also use PPS for specific facts (¿Comiste paella? Sí, ayer.) ans PPC for general facts (¿Has comido paella? Sí, muchas veces). And also we can see PPC talking about future (Para mañana he terminado este trabajo), but in this case is not very "correct".
    3) regional uses. In central Spain we usually hear too much PPC (El mes pasado he estado en Cuenca), but in Galicia too much PPS (¿Ya terminaste de comer?). In AmLat, more PPS than PPC, as far as I know.
    4) psicological uses. In some cases, talking here directly about style, we can use one tense or the other according to our perception of time. The typical example: "Esta mañana llovió, pero esta tarde ha hecho calor". Other options would also be "correct" (both PPS or both PPC).

    So, it's really difficult to say when to use each. Talking about style, not about correction, you can use PPC instead of PPS to imitate "Madrid Spanish" or when you feel close to that action that you're talking about. The wikipedia example is perfect: "Hace dos años que ha muerto mi madre" vs "Hace dos años que murió mi madre". In that case, PPC would be something like an "antepresente" or "almost present".

    Did it help, or was a complete nonsense?
    www.lingostan.com

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    • #3
      That was extremely helpful Victor! I guess there are multiple ways of expressing these ideas just like in any language. This at least gives me a guideline to follow. Thanks!

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      • #4
        Great! Other opinions would be really welcome, especially from LatAm people, who can enlighten us about uses in America...
        www.lingostan.com

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        • #5
          I need to read this several times to absorb it! It's interesting that different languages use their equivalent forms in different ways - for example the French equivalent of the preterite (the past historic) is only used in writing, never in speech; no doubt I'll soon need to wrap my head around the rules for Italian!

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          • #6
            You're right. Supposing a complete equivalence between languages (verbal tenses for example) is a major obstable to achieve some real understanding about them. Even more interesting is to discover how each language shapes the mind and way of thinking of natives...
            www.lingostan.com

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