I suspect that evolution of Spanish tenses stopped, while being in the middle of replacement of conjugated tenses by compound tenses.

In some scenarios compound tense was adopted, in some other cases not yet.

But grammar rules, mass education/media, standardization came along; and carved the usage patterns that happened to exist at that time into "stone", preventing further evolution.

Reasons for suspicion:

  • I have read that around Madrid the compound past(s) are used in situations where Latin Americans would conjugate the main verb not just "haber.

  • In some cases, the present perfect is used differently in English vs Spanish, even though according to the respective grammar rules, there should be 1-to-1 correspondence.

That is, grammar rules attempt to explain something mostly arbitrary. Those usage patterns of the past are to some degree accidental, and do not determine the correctness of what someone says in the future. Correctness is determined by the listener, not the rules made by linguists.

Is there any evidence for or against, that evolution of tenses (or grammar in general) got stopped around 19/20th century? What about other Latin/Indo-european languages?

  • 1
    Not so different than English. If I understand correctly you are referring to people saying yo he hecho vs yo hice. It varies within Latin America and Spain too. Do not assume that Spain evolved less or has stopped evolving, in many cases New World variants of European languages conserve archaic features. In any case, to your question about other languages, as a rule, the further East you go in Europe, the more people simply use auxiliary + past participle. Similarly gerunds (present progressive) are not really used in French or German, and English is stricter there than Spanish. Oct 19, 2015 at 20:57
  • For example: journals.cambridge.org/action/…
    – Michaelyus
    Oct 20, 2015 at 10:13
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    The compound tenses have existed in Spanish for quite some time now. That the specific uses of forms changes isn't too surprising. The use of the future and conditional in main clauses is definitely undergoing a substantial shift in meaning, such that in speech it's probably less common to have them refer to future oriented actions. What evolution would you expect to see? Vos during that time definitely obtained its rich variety of verbal forms, too. Enclisis in main clauses evolved its near extinction over the past two-three centuries. Oct 23, 2015 at 23:40

1 Answer 1


Languages change, it's inevitable. Even an almost geographically isolated language will change: maybe in a limited way, or at a slower pace, but it will.

Some changes are more visible and happen in a shorter time, like acquisition of vocabulary through loaning or calques, but other changes will take more time, like sound shifts and so on.

However, I'm not sure what you mean by "evolution of tenses", as in how verb tenses are conjugated? They will change at some point, but it might take more than a human lifetime to do so, and that's probably why from your point of view, the language seems "immobile".

In short, there is no reason to think a language has stopped evolving completely.

  • Actually, shouldn't a geographically isolated language change faster? Travel is a mutually normalising influence between dialects. Oct 19, 2015 at 16:16
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    @NikolayErshov I suppose isolation wouldn't be the only factor but I'd say no. Sardinian is relatively isolated and changed less and more slowly than the rest of the Italian peninsula. As a result, you still have clear remnants of Latin being used by Sardinian varieties (e.g. ego to say "I").
    – Alenanno
    Oct 19, 2015 at 16:18
  • basically I mean that conjugated tenses disappear and be replaced with tenses that only require the auxillary to be conjugated, eg "comi" -> "he comido"
    – foobarbaz
    Oct 19, 2015 at 17:40
  • Ah, you mean Grammaticalization -- that cycles back and forth between synthetic and analytic.
    – jlawler
    Oct 19, 2015 at 19:41
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    @jlawler I wonder whether we got stuck at the point of this cycle, where we happened to be at around 19/20th century, when mass education/media, language standardization, RAE, teaching of grammar, ... took off.
    – user10716
    Oct 21, 2015 at 6:17

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