Verb Tenses in Spanish

Verb tenses are an integral part of speaking Spanish. Whereas nouns are at the center of the English language, verbs are at the heart of Spanish. Native speakers play with verbs in tense, conjugation and verb choice to ever so slightly change the meaning of sentences. Worked into verb conjugations are not only time markers but also grades of politeness and emotion toward a particular event. At first, these cultural nuances can be complicated to the Spanish learner, but once you’ve mastered some of the most common tenses, you’ll begin to see the beauty of the language intertwined into its verb usage.

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Understanding Spanish Conjugations

Before diving into the various tenses, it’s important to understand how verbs are conjugated. There are three types of verbs in Spanish. You can distinguish these verbs by their endings: -ar, -er and -ir verbs. When you see a verb that ends in -ar, -er or -ir you know that it is in its base form. Once you remove the ending, you are left with the stem. Let’s look at an example:

hablar→ base form (meaning “to talk”)
habl → stem form

To conjugate a verb you simply add the ending from the designated tense you would like to use, to the verbs stem form. The ending you use is based on the subject of the verb.

Note: And here is the tricky part - some stems do change for some verbs in some tenses. These are called irregular verbs which, at some point, you will need to memorize. For the purposes of this article, we will reference only regular verbs in examples.

Now that you have a basic understanding of how conjugating works, let's look at all of the verb tenses in Spanish.

Indicative Mood (El Indicativo)

The indicative mood is used to talk about statements, activities and events that are believed to be truth-based and factual. This includes discernable qualities and characteristics of people, things and situations.

Present Tense (el presente)

Using the present tense is something you will do everyday so it’s important to learn it first before any of the other tenses. The present tense is used to talk about habits and routines as well as things that are true all the time, such as characteristics. Sometimes, it's used to talk about the near future. (Note: There are several irregular verbs that must be memorized in the present tense.)

Conjugations:

HABLAR (to talk)

Yo

hablo

I talk

Nosotros/as

hablamos

we talk

hablas

you talk

Vosotros/as

habláis

you talk (plural, Spain)

El/Ella/Ud.

habla

he/she talks

Ellos/Ellas/Uds.

Hablan

they/you talk (plural)

COMER (to eat)

Yo

como

I eat

Nosotros/as

comemos

we eat

comes

you eat

Vosotros/as

coméis

you eat (plural, Spain)

El/Ella/Ud.

come

he/she talks

Ellos/Ellas/Uds.

comen

they/you eat (plural)

*-ir verbs are conjugated the same in the present tense

Note: -er and -ir verbs often have the same endings or are very similar.

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Present Progressive (el presente progresivo)

The present progressive is used less frequently in Spanish than it is in English and is only used when talking about something going on in that very, present moment. To form the present progressive, you simply combine the present form of the verb estar with the present participle. The present participle is simply the -ing form of the verb which is: stem form + ando or iendo

CANTAR (to sing)

Yo

estoy cantando

I am singing

Nosotros/as

estamos cantando

we are singing

estás cantando

you are singing

Vosotros/as

estáis cantando

you are singing (plural, Spain)

El/Ella/Ud.

está cantando

he/she is singing

Ellos/Ellas/Uds.

están cantando

they/you are singing (plural)

ESCRIBIR (to write)

Yo

estoy escribiendo

I am writing

Nosotros/as

estamos escribiendo

we are writing

estás escribiendo

you are writing

Vosotros/as

estáis escribiendo

you are writing (plural, Spain)

El/Ella/Ud.

está escribiendo

he/she is writing

Ellos/Ellas/Uds.

están escribiendo

they/you are writing (plural)

*-er verbs are conjugated the same in the present progressive tense

Future (el futuro)

The future tense is used to talk about things that may, might or will happen in the future. This tense is used less frequently and is often replaced with the construction, ir + a + base verb form, or going to + verb. (Note: There are 12 irregular verbs that change their stems in the future tense).

LLAMAR (to call)

Yo

llamaré

I will call

Nosotros/as

llamaremos

we will call

llamarás

you will call

Vosotros/as

llamaréis

you will call (plural, Spain)

El/Ella/Ud.

llamarás

he/she will call

Ellos/Ellas/Uds.

llamarán

they/you will call (plural)

*-ar, -er and -ir verbs are conjugated the same in the future tense

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Present Perfect (el pretérito perfecto compuesto)

The present perfect is used to explain an action that was started in the past and has continued into the present. It is often used to talk about things that you have completed or done in your life. To form the present perfect, conjugate the verb haber (has/have) in the present tense and combine it with the past participle of the verb you’re using. (Note: The past participle is formed by adding -ado, for -ar verbs, and -ido for -er/-ir verbs, to the stem form of the verb).

VIAJAR (to travel)

Yo

he viajado

I have traveled

Nosotros/as

hemos viajado

he/she has traveled

has viajado

you have traveled

Vosotros/as

habéis viajado

you have traveled (plural, Spain)

El/Ella/Ud.

ha viajado

he/she has traveled

Ellos/Ellas/Uds.

han viajado

they/you have traveled (plural)

PERDER (to lose)

Yo

he perdido

I have lost

Nosotros/as

hemos perdido

we have lost

has perdido

you have lost

Vosotros/as

habéis perdido

you have lost (plural, Spain)

El/Ella/Ud.

ha perdido

he/she has lost

Ellos/Ellas/Uds.

han perdido

they/you have lost (plural)

*-ir verbs are conjugated the same in the present perfect tense

Preterite Tense (el pretérito)

The preterite tense is utilized frequently as it is used to describe actions that have been started and completed in the past. For some Spanish learners, the preterite tense can be one of the most difficult to learn because there are several irregular verbs that you have to memorize.

BAILAR (to dance)

Yo

bailé

I danced

Nosotros/as

bailamos

we danced

bailaste

you danced

Vosotros/as

bailasteis

you danced (plural, Spain)

El/Ella/Ud.

bailó

he/she danced

Ellos/Ellas/Uds.

bailaron

they/you danced (plural)

BEBER (to drink)

Yo

bebí

I drank

Nosotros/as

bebimos

we drank

bebiste

you drank

Vosotros/as

bebisteis

you drank (plural, Spain)

El/Ella/Ud.

beb

he/she drank

Ellos/Ellas/Uds.

bebieron

they/ you drank (plural)

*-ir verbs are conjugated the same in the preterite tense

More Spanish Verb Tenses