Verbs are a cornerstone of any language; without them you can’t communicate properly. Spanish is no different, and grasping the basics of verb conjugation is essential to become an effective speaker of the language.
In this article, you’ll learn how to structure Spanish verbs, their common rules, and exceptions, as well as basic temporal conjugations.
Understanding Spanish verb conjugation
In Spanish, you’ll find verbs change more than they do in English. They have to fit the subject, the tenses and the mode.
These changes are known as conjugations. To conjugate a verb, we consider the subject pronoun and modify the verb accordingly.
|You (singular)||Tú (informal), Usted (formal)|
|He, She, It||Él / Ella|
|We||Nosotros / Nosotras|
|You (plural)||Vosotros / Vosotras|
|They||Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes|
This is important, because in Spanish we use different endings for the verbs depending on who performs the action.
From here it becomes easy to conjugate, since most regular verbs simply follow a set of rules.
Irregular verbs, on the other hand, don’t follow the same pattern as the regular ones. However, as you will discover later in this article, there are some ways to make learning those verbs easier.
Don’t worry, you’ll get a grasp on them sooner than you think!
Note: For referring to a group of people in the second person, “vosotros” is typically used in Spain in informal situations, while “ustedes” is the formal way. Meanwhile, in Latin America, “vosotros” is rarely used, and “ustedes” is used in both contexts.
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Regular verbs: -ar, -er and –ir
Let’s start with the basics: regular verbs are the easiest to learn, because they always behave the same.
And luckily for you, most verbs in Spanish are regular!
The most basic form of a verb is called the infinitivo (“infinitive”). There are three groups of verbs in Spanish, divided according to their endings:
- hablar (to talk/speak)
- leer (to read)
- escribir (to write)
The verbs in each group will follow the same conjugation pattern. Sounds simple, right?
To start conjugating a verb, all you have to do is take away the ending in order to isolate the stem of the verb. Then you add the corresponding termination.
Infinitive and stem for verb conjugations
Regular verb endings: Present tense in the indicative
Now we can begin conjugating verbs. A good place to start is the present tense, the one you will be using first for basic communication, such as introducing yourself.
We will focus just on this tense for now so you can get an idea of how conjugation works. The method will be the same for most tenses in Spanish.
First, let’s see how to form the present tense or presente simple for each group of verbs.
Present tense endings
|-ar verbs||-er verbs||-ir verbs|
We can start by conjugating the examples we just mentioned above: hablar, leer and escribir.
Present tense conjugation
|Personal pronoun||-ar example||-er example||-ir example|
|Él / Ella / Usted||habla||lee||escribe|
|Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes||hablan||leen||escribís|
When verbs don’t follow a pattern for conjugation, they are called “irregulares" (irregular).
Some of these verbs will possibly look like a regular -ar, -er or -ir verb, but they actually change their stems when they are conjugated.
Take for example the verb pensar (to think), and compare it with hablar. They both belong to the -ar group, but pensar is not regular because it changes a vowel in its stem:
Present tense - pensar
|Personal pronoun||Conjugated verb|
|Él / Ella / Usted||piensa|
|Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes||piensan|
Despite being irregular, there is actually a group of verbs like pensar that also change the “e” in the stem to “ie” when being conjugated in the present tense. Other verbs in this group are querer (to want/love) and preferir (to prefer).
- ¿Quieres ir al restaurante? (Do you want to go to the restaurant?)
- ¿Cuál prefieres? (Which one do you prefer?)
And there is another group of irregular verbs that change the “o” in the stem for “ue” in the present tense: poder (to be able to), volver (to go back), dormir (to sleep), etc.
Present tense - poder
|Personal pronoun||Conjugated verb|
|Él / Ella / Usted||puede|
|Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes||pueden|
Puedo venir a pie a la oficina. (I can walk to the office)
Vuelvo a casa andando todos los días. (I go back home walking every day)
One thing to remember (and this is one of the reasons they’re irregular!) is that verbs that change “e” to “ie” and “o” to “ue” don’t change for all personal pronouns. The exceptions are the pronouns “nosotros / nosotras” and “vosotros / vosotras”.
Let’s take a closer look with a few examples.
Irregular verbs – present tense
|Personal pronoun||Simple present (Presente simple) - querer||Simple present (Presente simple) - volver|
|Él / Ella / Usted||quiere||vuelve|
|Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes||quieren||vuelven|
But this doesn’t end here. There are still some other irregular verbs that don’t belong to any of these groups.
These other verbs, like ser (to be) and ir (to go), change their stems a lot more, and sometimes completely. Finding out rules to learn these verbs is not that simple, so you will have to memorize them.
However, since they are usually common verbs for everyday use, you’ll be able to learn them quickly.
Present tense of ser and ir
|Personal pronoun||Simple present (presente simple) –ser||Simple present (presente simple) – ir|
|Él / Ella / Usted||es||va|
|Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes||son||van|
Spanish verb conjugation may appear daunting at first, but with practice and understanding of the rules, you can pick it up rather quickly.
Just remember the basics: from the infinitive, take out the ending (-ar, -er or -ir) to get the stem and then add the ending for the corresponding person and tense. Look out for irregular verbs that change a vowel in their stem, like pensar or poder. Also, remember to learn the conjugations for other irregular verbs like ser or ir
With dedication and perseverance, you will gain confidence in conjugating Spanish verbs, opening the door to effective communication and language fluency.
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