In Spanish, there are a few tenses that exist but are almost never used in daily life, like the subjunctive future and future perfect tenses. They are only utilized in legal documents and older pieces of literature.

Question: Why are these inflections still recognized as tenses of present-day languages, when meaning can be conveyed with or without those tenses? Why are they still classified in a way which makes it seem like they still have currency?

  • 2
    There's a couple of assumptions hiding in this question which should be made explicit: the passive "[these are] recognized as tenses" and the subjective "makes it seem like". Who is recognizing them? And what about the way their classification is presented gave you the impression of them still having currency? Also, how else would you classify them that wouldn't give that impression?
    – IMSoP
    Jan 30, 2020 at 17:44

4 Answers 4


As far as I know, every language has forms of expression specific of the written/formal language. Actually, I would say that in spanish the spoken language is slightly closer to the written language than in many other european languages. As for the examples you mention:

-It is not true that the perfect future is not used. As a native speaker I can tell you that it is widely used. Example: "Para cuando llegues ya habremos terminado de cenar" it is a perfectly normal sentence , which doesn't sound far-fetched or anything like that and which makes a crucial use of the perfect future in the first person (plural) ("habremos terminado" = "we will have finished", literally)

-The future subjuctive: It is true that it is not very common, BUT, as you mention, it is common to find it in written language and also in some sayings and expressions in the spoken language. For example, "donde fueres haz lo que vieres"(equivalent of the english saying "when in Rome do as the romans") or similar constructions. I would say the future subjuctive is common enough and useful enough so that calling it obsolete makes no sense.

An interesting example, however, is how the imperfect and perfect simple subjuctive past tenses of latin merged into one single tense in spanish, thus making the two forms "fueras" and "fueses" equivalent. In this case spanish DID lose something, namely, the perfective aspect of the simple subjuctive past, whose role can be played by either its imperfective counterpart or the subjuctive pluscuamperfect ("hubiese sido"), both very common in conditional constructions.


Because language changes gradually.

So for some features (in this case the mentioned Spanish tenses) there is first some alternative to express them, and this alternative becomes more frequent than the old form over time, until the old form sounds bookish and archaic or even obsolete. In the final step, the old form is no longer available and sounds ungrammatical.

  • 2
    Right. Bear in mind also that Spanish has many dialects, and people have been writing in all of them for centuries, so one runs across them occasionally, even if nobody would ever talk that way. In fact, almost all written text is organized in ways that nobody would ever use when speaking colloquially.
    – jlawler
    Jan 29, 2020 at 22:28
  • 2
    English demonstrates similar development. Many speakers will use archaic Elizabethan-era vocabulary and grammar when talking about religious subjects (thou art, it is meet, blessed be he, etc.). Jan 30, 2020 at 3:05
  • @RobertColumbia but you wouldn’t consider that grammar as a “tense” in modern English, would you? My question is, why does Spanish give learners the impression that obsolete tenses are still in currency?
    – Axel Tong
    Jan 30, 2020 at 13:50
  • 6
    @AxelTong You make it sound like "Spanish" is a single person who you've had a conversation with, and who told you these tenses were still used. Surely there are hundreds of different ways that people learn Spanish, some of which will mention these tenses and some of which won't?
    – IMSoP
    Jan 30, 2020 at 17:47
  • 7
    "Spanish" doesn't give learners any impression: it is teachers and teaching materials that do that. The way a language is taught to foreigners can vary hugely.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 30, 2020 at 21:10

Classification has nothing to do with frequency of use. Even if they are only rarely employed in restricted formal contexts, they remain tenses.


Spanish does not have obsolete tenses except the future subjunctive which is not particularly worthy of note (its almost identical to the past subjunctive with a vowel switch).

In fact, I would go as far as saying that Spanish uses all of its tenses quite profusely - unlike French, Italian where there are quite a number of tenses which are semi-obsolete and native speakers struggle with. In spoken French even the simple past is quite rare, let alone the past subjunctive.

What Spanish does have, is lots of second language speakers who are not comfortable with all of the language's tenses - which is precisely what makes them instantly recognizable as second language speakers.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.