Pretérito anterior in Spanish: Formation, usage and examples

The past preterite is a verb tense used in Spanish, although it is less common in everyday use and is mainly found in the literary and formal register. It is formed by combining the preterite perfect simple (preterite indefinite) of the verb "haber" in its preterite form and the past participle of the conjugated verb.


The pretérito anterior in Spanish at a glance

Despite being a grammatical tense still existing in Spanish, the Pretérito Anterior has fallen into disuse and is not commonly used in everyday speech or in contemporary writing. It is important to note that, in its place, the Pluscuamperfecto de Indicativo, or Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto (había hablado, había comido, había vivido) fulfills the same function of describing actions that occurred before another past time in the past.

Historically, the Pretérito Anterior was used in the Spanish language to describe completed actions that occurred before another event in the past. It was formed by combining the preterite perfect simple (or preterite indefinite) of the verb "haber" and the past participle of the main verb.

Formation of the pretérito anterior in Spanish

To form the past preterite in Spanish you must take the following grammatical structure:

Subject + [preterite perfect simple of "haber"] + past participle of the conjugated verb.

Conjugation table

Pronombre personal Verbo "haber" Verbos terminados en -ar como hablar Verbos terminados en -er como comer Verbos terminados en -ir como vivir
Yo hube hablado comido vivido
Tú hubiste hablado comido vivido
Él / Ella / Usted hubo hablado comido vivido
Nosotros / Nosotras hubimos hablado comido vivido
Vosotros / Vosotras hubisteis hablado comido vivido
Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes hubieron hablado comido vivido
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Uses of the past tense in Spanish

The use of the past preterite has declined greatly and it is important to keep in mind that, due to its literary nature, this verb tense is not frequently used in everyday speech, and in many contexts, the past perfect simple or the past perfect compound tense is preferred to express past actions.

The appropriate verb tense to express actions that occurred before another past event in the past is the Pluscuamperfect of Indicative (had spoken, had eaten, had lived). This verb tense is the one used in current Spanish to describe actions in the past of the past.

Examples of the pretérito anterior in Spanish

  1. Hablar (verb -ar): I had talked to my friend before leaving.
  2. Comer (verb -er): She had eaten after doing her homework.
  3. Vivir (vivir -ir): You had lived for many years in Spain when I lived in Germany.

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