Spanish time markers: Ayer…, hoy…, mañana…

spanish time markers

Talking about past events would be almost impossible without time markers.

In Spanish, we use time markers to talk about different past events. After all, there are several Spanish tenses you could use to do it.

When the speaker uses time markers, it becomes easier for the listener to understand what the speaker is saying. Also, identifying the time context isn’t a challenge.

Since time markers help you provide clearer information, they have become a must-have in your Spanish vocabulary.

Today, we will teach you how to use them and what things you need to keep in mind.

What are time markers?

Time markers are Spanish words that refer to a moment in time when a subject carries out an action.

For example, if you say “La semana pasada, compré un carro” = (Last week, I bought a car), you’re using “La semana pasada…” as a time marker.

In Spanish, there are many types of past tenses and these all are used in different ways. In general, all Spanish past sentences must have a time marker. Otherwise, the listener should recognize what time the speaker is talking about by understanding the context.

Let’s see the sample conversation below to get a better idea:

-Juan: Hola, Carlos ¿Cómo te encuentras? ¿Sabes? El mes pasado, me compré una casa nueva.

-Carlos: Hola Juan. Me encuentro excelente ¿y tú? ¿Qué tal?. Me parece una gran noticia. Casualmente, quería comentarte que yo también logré mudarme.

-Juan: ¡Qué exito! El mes pasado fue un gran mes para los dos. Debo irme, hablamos luego

-Carlos: Tienes toda la razón Juan. Yo tambien debo irme ¡Hasta luego!

As you can see, Juan is providing a time context by saying “El mes pasado…”. On the other side, Carlos isn’t providing information about the time he moved. Still, you can assume that he’s talking about last month.

That assumption is valid unless Carlos says the contrary. For this case, the assumption made is valid because Juan reaffirmed that “El mes pasado fué un gran mes para los dos”.

Now, with all of this said, let’s see when should we use each Spanish past tense.

When do we have to use present perfect?

We use present perfect to express a past event that still has a connection with the present time or is near the present time. For this case, you should use time markers like esta tarde”, “hoy”, andeste año”.

Let’s look at the following examples:

Esta tarde me he encontrado a María.

This afternoon I met Maria.

Hoy he comido mucho y no he ido a ejercitarme.

Today I ate a lot and I didn’t go to exercise.

Estoy muy feliz, este año hemos comprado una casa en la playa.

I am very happy, this year we bought a house on the beach.

When do we have to use indefinite past?

In Spanish, we use indefinite past when we talk about specific events in the past that have already ended. Some time markers for this past tense are: “anoche”, “ayer”, and “en” + day/month/year/date.

Let’s see some good examples below to better understand how you should use these time markers:

En 1502, Cristobal Colón descubrió América.

In 1502, Christopher Columbus discovered America.

Mis amigos se casaron en marzo.

My friends got married in March.

Anoche fuimos al cine a ver Spiderman.

Last night we went to the cinema to watch Spiderman.

Mis papás viajaron a China en abril de 1996.

My parents traveled to China in April 1996.

 When do we have to use imperfect past?

Spanish speakers use imperfect past for three main purposes. First, to describe a situation in the past. Second, to describe a repeated action in the past. And third, to describe people or things in the past.

Some time markers we use in this past tense are: mientras”, “siempre”, “con frecuencia”, and generalmente”.

The following examples will help you understand how to use these time markers:

José era alto y moreno. Él siempre sonreía.

Jose was tall and with brunette skin. He always smiled.

Mientras caminaba a casa, escuchaba como los pajaritos cantaban.

While I walked home, I heard the little birds sing.

Cada viernes íbamos al mercado a comprar carne, pollo y verduras.

Every Friday we went to the market to buy meat, chicken, and vegetables.

 How to use time markers

At this point, you already have an idea of how to use time markers. But, in this section, we will teach you a few other things you have to keep in mind.

First, since the present perfect describes situations in the past that have a connection with the present time, we need to use time markers with the same purpose.

Time markers that Spanish speakers typically use with present perfect are listed below:

Hoy (Today). And, everything that encompasses “Today”. For example: hace 5 minutos”, “hace un rato”, “esta mañana”, “esta tarde”, “hace un momento”, and hace una hora”.

“Ya” = (Now, Right now)

“Alguna vez” = (Ever)

“Este año” = (This year)

“Este mes” = (This month)

“Últimamente” = (Lately)

On the other hand, when we talk about past events using indefinite past, we must use time markers that describe moments that have already ended.

Keep in mind that these past events do not have a connection with the present time. Consequently, the most common time markers used with this tense are:

“Ayer” = (Yesterday)

“Anoche” = (Last night)

“Antes de Ayer” = (The day before yesterday)

“El otro día” = (The other day)

“El lunes”/“el jueves pasado” = (On Monday/ last Thursday ).

You can also use any other expression that describes a concrete day:

“La semana pasada” = (Last week)

“El mes pasado” = (Last month)

“El año pasado” = (Last year)

“Hace 5 años” = (5 years ago). This time marker is very flexible so you can change the number “5” for any other number you need to use.

En” + “año” = (In + Year) i.e “En 1950”

“El” + “fecha” = (The + Date) i.e. “El 19 de abril de 1955”.

Finally, the time markers we use with imperfect past are those that describe events that last in time. They do not describe punctual moments.

The typical time markers Spanish speakers use with this tense are listed below:

“Habitualmente” = (Habitually)

“Normalmente” = (Usually)

“Cuando era pequeño”/”joven” = (When I was little/young)

“En aquella epoca” = (At that time)

“Cuando tenía + edad” = (When I was + age) i.e “Cuando tenía 10 años”.

“Cada día” = (Each day/ Every day)

“Todos los días” = (Every day)

The last thing you should learn is how to place time markers in a sentence.

In general, you can place time markers at the beginning of the sentence, in the middle, or at the end. Usually, Spanish speakers place time markers before the main verb if they use present perfect or imperfect past.

Nevertheless, when using the indefinite past, the time marker could go before or after the main verb.

You can practice with some activities, click here!

Time markers in Spanish

In summary, as you may realize, using time markers is quite simple. However, there are lots of them. For that reason, you’ll need to start practicing as soon as possible.

Adding time markers to your vocabulary will help you improve not only your speaking skills but how you communicate.

Providing clear information is important to avoid misunderstandings. So, don’t hesitate to use time markers when speaking Spanish.

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