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Verbs in Spanish

verbs in Spanish

Verbs in Spanish are similar to English verbs in some aspects, but they’re very different in most aspects. As they are a core element in all languages and a very complex subject, we’ll be publishing several lessons about verbs after this one. By now, let’s just start with the basics.

A verb is an action word (run, sit, eat, sink, swim, study, etc.).The main form of a verb is called the infinitive (“infinitivo” in Spanish). In English, infinitives include the word “to”: to run, to sit, to eat, to sink, to swim, to study. The infinitive is the pure form of a verb that follows the subject of the sentence:

I speak
you speak
he/she speaks
we speak
you-all speak (referring to more than one person)
they speak

The above forms are called conjugations of the infinitive “to speak.”

Subjects

The words “I” “you” “he” “she” “we” “you-all” and “they” are called subject pronouns (“sujetos” or “personas” in Spanish).

English Español
I Yo
You (informal)
He / she / you (formal) Él / ella / usted
We Nosotros
You-all (informal) Vosotros
They / you-all (formal) Ellos / ustedes

As you see in the table, “you” can be translated into Spanish as: “tú”, “usted”, “vosotros” and “ustedes”.

“You” referring to single or plural subjects

We use “Tú” when we talk to only one person:

You are my friend. -> Tú eres mi amigo.

We use “Vosotros” when we talk to more than one person:

You (Michael and Lisa) are my friends. -> Vosotros sois mis amigos

“You” referring to formal subjects.

Spanish has a formal and an informal form of the word “you.” “Usted” is more formal and is generally used to express respect. “Tú” is more familiar and is used among friends, coworkers, relatives, or when addressing a child.

Formal -> Speaking to your boss: usted

Informal -> Speaking to your friend: tú

This same distinction with regard to degree of formality occurs in the plural form as well. When referring to “you-all,” there are two choices in Spanish:

Ustedes (you-all formal)

Vosotros (you-all familiar)

Once again, the difference lies in the degree of formality conveyed by the speaker. However, the “vosotros” form is used primarily in Spain. Throughout Latin America, “ustedes” is generally used in both formal and informal situations to refer to “you-all.”

Note: “usted” can be abbreviated Ud. or Vd. ; ustedes can be abbreviated Uds. or Vds.

Verb conjugations: present tense

Present tense (indicative) in Spanish means three things.

Yo hablo inglés:
I speak English.
I do speak English.
I am speaking English.

All Spanish verbs are either “regular” (which follow certain patterns) or “irregular” (which do not always follow those patterns). In this module will study mainly the regular ones and only a few irregular verbs).

a) Regular Verbs in Spanish

trabajar (to work)
comer (to eat)
vivir (to live)

Notice the last two letters of each verb. There are three categories of verbs:
-ar verbs (like trabajar)
-er verbs (like comer)
-ir verbs (like vivir)

All three categories are infinitives. As mentioned before, infinitives are the base form of the verb, equivalent in English to: to speak, to eat, to live, etc. In Spanish, all infinitives end in -ar, -er, or -ir.To conjugate a verb is to list out all the possible subjects of any given
verb. For example:

To work (trabajar)
I work
you work
he / she works
we work
you-all work
they work

These are the three verb models conjugated in Spanish:

Subjects Trabajar Comer Vivir
Yo trabaj-o com-o viv-o
trabaj-as com-es viv-es
Él / ella / usted trabaj -a com-e viv-e
Nosotros trabaj-amos com-emos viv-imos
Vosotros trabaj-áis com-éis viv-ís
Ellos / ellas / ustedes trabaj-an com-en viv-en

Many verbs in Spanish are regular and thus can be conjugated following strictly the above patterns.

As you can see, the verb forms are the same for él, ella and Ud. as are the verb forms for ellos, ellas and Uds.

Notice, for example, the pattern in the yo form. If the subject is I (yo), conjugate it by dropping the ending and adding -o.

yo trabajo (trabajar – ar + o = trabajo) yo como (comer – er + o = como)
yo vivo (vivir – ir + o = vivo)

Likewise, you can look for patterns for all the subjects to be able to memorize them more easily.

b) Irregular Verbs in Spanish

Unfortunately, not all verbs are regular. Irregular verbs do not follow the regular patterns; some of them follow different patterns and some are completely irregular.

In this lesson we’ll learn the following completely irregular verbs: “ser”, “estar” and “tener” (to be, and to have). These must be learned by heart, and they’re some of the most important verbs in Spanish.

Subjects Ser Estar Tener
Yo soy estoy tengo
eres estás tienes
Él / ella / usted es está tiene
Nosotros somos estamos tenemos
Vosotros sois estáis tenéis
Ellos / ellas / ustedes son están tienen
Important: In Spanish, the English verb “to be” can mean either “ser” or “estar”.
Ser” implies a permanent state of something or somebody, and “estar” a temporary state. For example, “María es española” (Maria is Spanish). María está casada (Maria is married). But this rule is not always absolute, and there are many exceptions that you’ll also need to learn by heart. Sometimes it depends on the context. For example, you may say “María es guapa” (María is beautiful), what means she was born beautiful or say “María está guapa”, what in this case means she is well groomed.

Null-subjects

In Spanish the subject pronouns are not always required. This is because the verb endings can indicate who is performing the action.

Hablo español: “Yo” is not necessary. (I speak Spanish).
Comemos carne: “Nosotros” is not necessary. (We eat meat).
Vives en México: Tú is not necessary. (You live in Mexico).

Subject pronouns are often used for clarification. For example, the verb form “habla” may be ambiguous.

Ud. Habla / él habla / ella habla

Therefore, to distinguish between “you speak,” “he speaks,” and “she speaks,” it may be necessary to use the subject pronoun.

Often, the conversation implies the subject of the verb. In such cases the subject pronoun may be omitted.

Subject pronouns are also often used for emphasis.

Ella habla español y yo hablo inglés (She speaks Spanish and I speak English).

Here there is no ambiguity with respect to hablo. The subject pronoun
is merely adding emphasis.

Exercise: Verbs in Spanish

Exercise: Verbs in Spanish

Please fill in the blank spaces with the correct answers


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