When to use the perfect tense versus the simple past (Perfecto vs Indefinido)

Unlike European Spanish speakers, Latin American Spanish speakers show a strong preference for using El Pretérito Indefinido for most past actions where peninsular speakers would choose to use El Pretérito Perfecto. This happens regardless of the action's chronological distance or time frames.

Here are some examples using El Pretérito Indefinido:

Esta mañana fui al médico con mi hija.This morning I went to the doctor with my daughter.

¿Tomaste café con Luis esta tarde?Did you have coffee with Luis this afternoon?

Hoy tuve una fuerte discusión con mi jefa.I had a big argument with my boss today.

The use of El Pretérito Perfecto in Latin America depends on regional variations but in general we can say it's restricted to actions started in the past that continue in the present or are not finished, or recent past actions the speaker wants to emphasise.

El Pretérito Perfecto examples:

Esta semana Pedro ha llamado a muchos clientes.Pedro has called lots of clients this week. (He is still calling clients)

Me he encontrado a Sara hace unos minutos. Está muy guapa.I just bumped into Sara a few minutes ago. She is looking very beautiful. (This has just happened and I want to highlight it)

However, in general most Latin American Spanish speakers don't really observe this difference between El Pretérito Indefinido and El Pretérito Perfecto. Most of Latin America tends to just use El Pretérito Indefinido, while in the Andean region speakers tend to just use El Pretérito Perfecto.

In most places El Pretérito Indefinido will be used with "nunca" and "siempre" and even with time expressions which have a connection to the present, such as: hoy, este mes, este año, esta noche, esta mañana, esta semana...

Hoy no desayuné.I haven't had/didn't have breakfast today.

Esta mañana Pedro llamó a muchos clientes.This morning Pedro has called/called a lot of clients.

Unlike the example in the previous section, here Pedro is not calling clients anymore.
 

El Pretérito Perfecto can also appear in more formal contexts, like newspapers or news reports. For example:

La policía local ha capturado al asesino.The local police has captured the murderer.
 
El gobierno ha distribuido un millón de vacunas.The government has distrubuted a million vaccines.

 

 

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Examples and resources

Esta mañana Pedro llamó a muchos clientes.This morning Pedro has called/called a lot of clients.
¿Tomaste café con Luis esta tarde?Did you have coffee with Luis this afternoon?
Hoy no desayuné.I haven't had/didn't have breakfast today.
Esta mañana fui al médico con mi hija.This morning I went to the doctor with my daughter.
Me he encontrado a Sara hace unos minutos. Está muy guapa.I just bumped into Sara a few minutes ago. She is looking very beautiful. (This has just happened and I want to highlight it)
El gobierno ha distribuido un millón de vacunas.The government has distrubuted a million vaccines.
Esta semana Pedro ha llamado a muchos clientes.Pedro has called lots of clients this week. (He is still calling clients)
La policía local ha capturado al asesino.The local police has captured the murderer.
Hoy tuve una fuerte discusión con mi jefa.I had a big argument with my boss today.
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