Unit 17: Additional grammatical structures

17.6 The Simple Past Perfect Tense

As a vestige of Latin, there exists in Spanish a simple (one-word) past perfect tense, which is identical to the –ra forms of the imperfect subjunctive. This tense is used almost exclusively in subordinate clauses and is found occasionally in journalistic, literary and other formal writing. Its meaning is always past perfect (pluperfect), never subjunctive. Some consider its usage a stylistic affectation, to achieve a more “elevated” tone. Nevertheless, this once-archaic tense is found more and more frequently in writing (though never used in speech.)

If the tense of the verb of the independent clause is in the past, and should you see this form in the subordinate clause when there seems to be no reason for use of the subjunctive, chances are that you have stumbled across this relic from the Latin.

Renunció cuando hiciera lo debido. He resigned when he had done what he should.
Cuando saciaran su hambre, salieron de su escondite. When they had sated their hunger, they left their hiding place.

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Spanish for Reading and Translation by Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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