Voting in a ReferendumLast Sunday, October 1st, Spain and Catalonia lived a day that will go down in history. For some, the terrible police actions during the vote process are already a new page in the “Spanish black legend” book; for others, the Spanish Goverment aborted a coup, cloaked in “a dress of democracy”.

Judging this situation is not our role. However, from, we are sure that next generations will study this episode in their History books.

What we can wonder today is how Erasmus students in Barcelona, foreign journalists or, why not?, our pupils, might describe what they saw these days in Catalonia.

The past, is the most complex part in Spanish verbal system. Logically, when we talk about past facts, we need to keep many variables in mind: the time and ending of the action, the time of the situation, the reference with other verbal actions…

Let’s take a look to these past tenses and we’ll learn how we may use them for talking or writing about historical events.

Presente histórico

Present tense is an unmarked tense. That means that we may use it to speak in different times: past, present or future. Using el presente histórico, we can move a distant event closer to the present, in order to involve the receiver emotionally.

Isabel I de Castilla y Fernando II de Aragón se casan en 1469. Unen de esta forma los dos reinos más importantes de la Península Ibérica, se alían contra Portugal y refuerzan su posición frente a Francia y Navarra.

Pretérito indefinido or Pretérito perfecto simple

This tense refers to a finished action in a finished period of time. It’s very used to list actions in a chronological order. In contrast to el presente histórico, el pretérito indefinido, set the action in its actual moment, without emotional displacements.

Los romanos conquistaron la Península Ibérica, crearon asentamientos y ciudades e impusieron su cultura y lengua a los pueblos conquistados.

Pretérito imperfecto

A good narration needs descriptions besides actions. In order to describe circunstances around the actions or frequent actions, Spanish language has el pretérito imperfecto. This is very useful for describing cultures, traditions and peoples.

Cuando Colón desembarcó, pensaba que estaba en la India. Estos indios estaban desnudos; tenían cuerpos hermosos, buenas caras y sus cabellos eran como la cola de los caballos y cortos.

Pretérito perfecto (compuesto)

The point of reference is a key point when we talk about past tenses. It’s possible to talk about an process that started in the past but the action itself or its effects come to the present. We can express this using el pretérito perfecto compuesto. It’s very used to focus on events that have never happened in the history, or they happend but not anymore, and we can also count the number of times they happened.

Hispania fue conquistada por los romanos en el 218 a.C. Después ha sido conquistada por los visigodos, los árabes y los franceses. Desde la expulsión del ejército francés en 1813, ningún ejército ha invadido estas tierras.

Pretérito pluscuamperfecto

If we need to compare two past and finished actions and one of them happened before the other, we have two options: we can express them in order, using el pretérito indefinido, or we can change the logical order in the sentence, using el pretérito pluscuamperfecto. It can be used to describe a situation before an event happened.

La población había sufrido una época de pobreza y hambre cuando se proclamó la II República. Aquel cambio lo habían deseado muchos y otros lo habían temido durante mucho tiempo.

If you are able to manage all these tenses and you understand the importance of using them, congratulations!, you have passed Spanish A2 level. On the contrary, if you still confuse them and they can be a nightmare for you, don’t worry, we have the perfect course for you. Take a look at our “Spanish for different levels course” and reserve a free trial lesson here. We’ll make history together.


Image: Election MG, by Rama @Wikipedia.