Past, Present and Future: The Simple Guide to Spanish Verb Conjugations
Do you ever feel like you just don’t have the time?
Even the word “conjugation” is complicated.
It means so much more than changing the base form of a verb.
When you conjugate a verb, you operate on a level of sophistication you might not even realize. Those small changes carry a lot of meaning!
Not only do you ask yourself who the subject is when you conjugate a verb, but you have to keep in mind the number of subjects, the tense (when an action will take place) and the mood, or purpose, of the sentence (i.e., make a statement, ask a question, propose a hypothetical situation).
Without a doubt, understanding how to conjugate a verb can be the most stressful part of learning a second language and keeps many from achieving the confidence they need to be fluent.
Remember, we’ve all been there and we have to start somewhere. So let’s just take it nice and easy and start with the most frequent verb tenses and regular verbs (you can tackle irregular verbs later). Once you get these, you’ll be constructing sentences in no time!
The Simple Guide to Spanish Verb Conjugations
Tips and Tools for Spanish Verb Conjugations
As you grow more comfortable with conjugating verbs, keep the following tips and tools in mind.
- You want to learn all the verbs you can, but focus on the most essential. This will help you communicate faster.
- Try writing and speaking (or even just thinking!) in complete sentences. Using the verbs in context is ideal, and the more information you can associate with a verb, the easier it will be for you to remember and recollect what you’ve learned. A perfect way to start is using those verbs in everyday phrases that you use around the house.
- The Spanish Verb Conjugation online tool will do all of the work for you. With this tool, you can simply type out the Spanish verb you want to see and it will lay out the verb conjugated for each subject and to every tense there is to learn. Yes, it works on the irregular verbs, too!
- For more on-the-go studying, there’s also this nifty book of Spanish verbs. It contains 501 Spanish verbs, with a complete listing of the tenses and conjugations.
How to Conjugate Verbs in Spanish
El Presente (The Present)
To be technical, there are a few varieties of the present tense. But here we’re going to learn the simple present, which will likely be the one that you’ll encounter the most.
For this tense, you need to learn quite a few new conjugations, but don’t worry, most of them follow a similar pattern and it only gets easier as you go.
How to conjugate verbs in the present tense:
1. Pay attention to the performer of the verb. There are six different ways the verb can be conjugated, depending on which of these is the performer:
- yo — I
- tú — you (informal)
- él/ella/usted — he/she/you (formal)
- nosotros/nosotras — we
- vosotros/vosotras — you all (informal)
- ellos/ellas/ustedes — them / you all (formal)
2. Focus on the last two letters of the verb you want to conjugate. All verbs end in either -ar, -er or -ir.
3. Drop those last two letters of the verb and add the appropriate ending.
You’ll see the three types of regular verbs (-ar, -er, -ir) conjugated below with the appropriate ending.
Tomar (to take)
- yo tomo
- tú tomas
- él/ella/usted toma
- nosotros/nosotras tomamos
- vosotros/vosotras tomáis
- ellos/ellas/ustedes toman
Comer (to eat)
- yo como
- tú comes
- él/ella/usted come
- nosotros/nosotras comemos
- vosotros/vosotras coméis
- ellos/ellas/ustedes comen
Escribir (to write)
- yo escribo
- tú escribes
- el/ella/usted escribe
- nosotros/nosotras escribimos
- vosotros/vosotras escribís
- ellos/ellas/ustedes escriben
- Juan toma café con el desayuno. (Juan takes/drinks coffee with breakfast.)
- Comemos helado en el verano. (We eat ice cream in the summer.)
- Yo escribo en mi diario todas las noches. (I write in my diary every night.)
- All of the present-tense conjugations have the same first-person conjugation, regardless of their endings.
- The conjugations for -er and -ir are mostly the same in this tense. The only change is in the nosotros/nosotras and vosotros/vosotras forms.
- These endings are only guaranteed to work with regular verbs. There are many irregular and stem-changing verbs in the Spanish language and they can stray from the above rules.
El Pretérito (The Preterite)
While there are different conjugations that can denote that something happened in the past, the preterite tense is the simplest one, equivalent to when we just add an -ed to the end of a word and call it done in English.
For this tense, to cover all of the regular verbs in the preterite tense, you’ll need to learn 12 new conjugations. Sounds like a lot, but thankfully they’re not too different from what you’ve already learned.
How to conjugate verbs in the preterite tense:
And conjugating verbs in the preterite tense follows the same procedure as the present tense. The only difference is that -er and -ir verbs use all of the same endings in this tense.
- For -ar verbs:
- For -er/-ir verbs:
- Anoche canté mi canción favorita. (Last night I sang my favorite song.)
- Ayer escribí a mi tía. (Yesterday I wrote to my aunt.)
- Los chicos comieron en la cafetería esta mañana. (The boys ate in the cafeteria this morning.)
- The accents are very important in the preterite tense. Without them, some of them would be exactly the same as present tense conjugations.
- The accents are used only in the first and third person.
- The endings for nosotros/nosotras in the preterite tense are the same as those used in the present tense.
El Futuro (The Future)
Luckily, we get a short break when learning the simple future tense.
Forming this future tense is a much easier process than most of the others.
For this tense, we’ll be using very similar endings to what you’ve just learned, they’re just put together differently.
How to conjugate verbs in the future tense:
1. Pay attention to the performer of the verb. Just as in the present and preterite tense, you’ll need to know which pronoun to use.
2. Do not remove the endings of the verbs. In this tense, it doesn’t matter whether the verb ends in -ar, -er or –ir, the endings will stay the same.
3. Find the ending that matches. Attach the corresponding ending to the performer of the action and attach directly onto the end of the verb.
- For all verbs:
- En enero viajaré a Alemania. (In January I will travel to Germany.)
- ¿Quién ganará el juego? (Who will win the game?)
- It can be a little confusing at first. This tense can be used in different ways than we’re used to and can also vary in usage from region to region.
- Future tense is reserved for a slightly more distant future. This tense is often not used for something that will happen in the very near future (as in hours or minutes). When something is happening relatively soon, but still somewhat in the future, you’d more often use the present tense, or the ir + a + infinitive form, to describe this.
- For asking a person if they’re willing to do something, this tense is usually not used.
- This tense can be used for expressing the probability of something and you can also use it to ask about uncertain situations: ¿Por qué será? (Why would that be?)
¡Felicidades! Has terminado. (Congrats! You’ve finished.)
Well, for now..
That last one was an example of the past perfect tense, which is a post for another day!
But first give yourself a pat on the back and enjoy what you’ve learned. Your Spanish can now travel through time!
Happy studies and ¡buena suerte! (Good luck!)