When learning Spanish, you are more likely to learn words that are simple in nature, but help convey the idea that you are wishing to express.
For example – antes (before), and despues (after) are words that can be used to express the timing of something that happened, or will happen.
- Voy a hacerlo despues de mi trabajo – I will do it after my work.
- Ella le dio a él los boletos antes del concierto – She gave him the tickets before the concert.
The issue with these words, is that they leave the listener wondering exactly when it occurred (will occur). The words after and before can be quite vague especially in certain contexts.
You may have expanded your vocabulary to pronto (soon), or even the construction of “hace <time>” (time ago)
- Hay muchas nubes, va a llover pronto – There are many clouds, it is going to rain soon.
- Voy a salir en cinco minutes – I will leave in five minutes (from now).
- Salimos de clase hace veinte minutos – We left class twenty minutes ago.
The idea of “soon” is a bit more direct than the 1st examples, but still has a bit of vagueness to it. The latter two examples specifically tell the person when something will occur / occurred, but in conversation, you don’t always want to state direct times. If you want to say, I just did something – do you always want to say “I did this one minute ago?” or, “I will do this in one minute” We most likely would say “I just did this” or, “I’m about to do this”. So how do you convey these ideas in Spanish?
Let’s discover two important phrases that describe something that just happened, or that is just about to happen – something that shows the immediate or imminent completion of something (without stating the exact time).
This is where you use the constructions of: Acabar de + infinitive (just happened), and Estar a punto de + infinitive (just about to happen).
Acabar de + infinitivo
This Spanish term describes the very recent past, as in something that just happened. In English the structure would be to have just done something, for example
Yo acabo de hablar con María – I just spoke with María. (perhaps a just a couple of minutes ago)
And in the same way as you use the construction of something that just occurred in the present – you can also use it in the past, future, etc.
- Él acaba de comprar un carro. – He just bought a car.
- Tú acababas de comer cuando él llegó a la casa. – You just ate when he came home.
- Cuando tú termines la universidad, acabarás de haber cumplido veinticinco años. – When you finish college, you will just have turned 25 years old.
Estar a punto de + infinitivo
This expression in Spanish, unlike Acabar de + infinitivo, expressing the recent past, Estar a punto de is used to describe the very near future, something that will happen quickly or, in some cases it may be merely the possibility of something happening. The best translation would be: to be about to, for example:
Ella está a punto de llegar a la casa. – She is about to arrive at home. (as in any moment)
You use the construction of estar a punto de in the present/future you can use it in the future and we also have a “future in the past”. The idea is the same; the only thing that changes is the tense, or, the time in which events occur.
- Yo estoy a punto de acostarme – I am about to go lie down
- Yo estoy a punto de terminar la universidad. – I am about to finish university.
Future in the past:
- Los chicos estuvieron a punto de tener un accidente. – The boys were about to have an accident.
Future in the past:
- La compañía estaba a punto de cerrar un negocio, pero el dueño cambió de paracer. – The company was about to close a deal, but the owner changed his mind.
As you can see, the idea of the occurrence of “just about to happen” falls within the context of “just about right now” in the first example. Or, “just about to happen after the courses are done” in the second example (I will be done immediately after the courses are done in the very near future).