Lesson 33 - Indefinite Time In The Past

For a few months we have been looking at a verb tense which, for convenience, we have called the "Recent Past" tense.

In English this is made up of "have/has + Past Participle" and in Spanish we use the appropriate form of haber + Past Participle. An example of the "recent past" use in English would be "I have written the first part of this article". This is something I "have done" recently and which is affecting the present in some way, as opposed to something I "did" at a specific time in the past, as in "last week I wrote an article".

One of the sentences we used previously as an example of this tense was: ¿Has estado en Inglaterra? meaning: "Have you been to England?"

If you think about it, this sentence could refer to two different time frames. We could use it to refer to the "recent past"; for example if we were speaking to an English neighbour we hadn't seen for a couple of weeks and wondered where they had got to recently.

On the other hand, imagine you were chatting to a Spanish person and telling them where you came from. If you then asked: "Have you been to England?" you would not be enquiring about whether they had visited England recently; you would be asking if they had ever been to England in their lives. If the answer was just "yes", you would still have no idea whether this visit occurred this year, last year or twenty years ago.

The only difference we sometimes make when asking this kind of question is to add the word "ever". This underlines the idea of "any time in the past", without changing the tense used. We might well use this question in our conversations with Spanish people we are getting to know.

The way to say "ever" in Spanish is alguna vez (any time). So "Have you been to England?" – ¿Has estado en Inglaterra? could also be "Have you ever been to England?" – ¿Has estado alguna vez en Inglaterra?.

We can now see clearly that the "recent past" tense can also be used to talk about "indefinite" times in the past; experiences in the past in which no reference is made to exactly when they occurred.

Here are some more examples in English and Spanish. The words "ever" and alguna vez are not obligatory and sometimes sound better in one language than the other.

¿Has visto la película Gone with the Wind?
Have you ever seen the film Gone with the Wind?"

We might reply: Sí, la he visto, or No, no la he visto nunca, or Sí, la he visto muchas veces – "I have seen it many times" or No me acuerdo – "I don't remember" – although that would be unlikely I think! Incidentally, if you really want to ask this question, it might be useful to know that the Spanish translation is Lo que el viento se llevó.

Has cantado alguna vez en público?
Have you ever sung in public?

Sí, he cantado en público, en un bar Karaoke en Playa Flamenca - just giving you some suggestions here.

¿Has conocido alguna vez a una persona famosa?
Have you ever met a famous person?

Sí, mi padre era actor de Shakespeare.

Now, I'm getting silly!
See you next month!

Jane Cronin's "Step by Step Spanish" articles are available as e-books at www.janecronin.eu where you can also obtain Jane's "Step by Step Internet Spanish"