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Conjugation sounds like a Harry Potter spell. And, many learners would describe it as a dark spell too— something they’d rather avoid! Indeed, Spanish verb conjugation is a complex topic. To tackle it you want to make sure you start from a place of clarity.
If this is the first time you’re learning a foreign language, it can be challenging to wrap your mind around Spanish verb conjugation. At LingoDeer we want to provide you with a solid foundation. To clarify the basic building blocks of the Spanish language, the *last* thing we’d want to do is throw complex grammatical concepts at you!
So, before we move on to the specifics of the Spanish verb conjugation, let’s make sure we’re on the same page with its underlying ideas.
What is conjugation in the first place?
Conjugation is the name of a grammatical concept. Don’t get scared just yet! It’s pretty simple. Conjugation is just changing the verb to add extra information to it.
Different languages can encode more or less information in the verb. In English, where we see conjugation, for example, is when we add “s” in the third person in the present tense. We say:
You eat a piece of cake.
He eats a piece of cake.
Imagine you only saw the end of this sentence “… eats a piece of cake”, and were asked to guess who is eating. You’d know that the only pronouns that could be used in this sentence are he, she, or it.
What is more, the verb “eats” tells you about the time the action takes place. It’s happening now, in the present.
This is what we mean when we say that the verb contains, or encodes, additional information. In English, not a lot information is contained in the verb. This is why in most sentences we have to use pronouns, like you, I or them—otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to tell who exactly is doing the action.
What’s hidden in Spanish verb conjugation?
Spanish verb conjugation encodes more information than the English one. At the basic level, it contains details about:
- The person. Is it you or I doing the action?
- The number. Is it one or more people doing the action?
- The tense. Is the action happening now, or in the past, or in the future?
Conjugation is a very useful system. Based on just one word you are able to tell that an action is done, for example, by many people and in the past. It definitely saves ink and space in writing! 😉
- Vivisteis en una tienda.
- You lived in a tent.
In the English translation, we have to specify the pronoun (you) and *even that* doesn’t tell us whether we’re talking about one person or many. In contrast, Spanish verb conjugation makes it clear from the verb that we’re referring to the plural you.
Deciphering the Spanish verbs you see is just one part of the learning process. The other part is learning to encode the information into the verbs yourself. In this article we’ll teach you how to pack all these grammar bits into *one* Spanish verb, like shrimps into a Spanish paella.
The good thing about conjugation is that the methods to handle Spanish verbs follow predictable patterns—there is a clear system underlying the Spanish verb conjugation. The only thing we’ll need to do is…understand the system!
The best part is, after you are clear about the principles, you can practice Spanish verb conjugation with the LingoDeer Spanish course.
What types of Spanish verb conjugation are there?
Let’s get started on our little “grammar cryptography” course. There are several things you have to consider to handle conjugation like a language pro.
Spanish verb conjugations typically follow predictable patterns. But, it depends on several factors which specific pattern you use in which case.
Here are the ingredients for your perfect Spanish verb conjugation recipe.
Three verb endings.
If this was Instagram we’d add a motivational quote here—something like “the end of the story, is the beginning of many”. Because, the verb ending is where the story begins for Spanish verbs.
There are three verb endings in Spanish:
Depending on the ending, the verb will follow different conjugation pattern.
When talking about verb groups, we often refer to them using their ending, for example:
- AR verbs are verbs like hablar, llegar, pasar
- ER verbs: poder, poner, deber
- IR verbs: vivir, decir, seguir
A quart of tenses.
The choice of the correct Spanish verb conjugation pattern will also depend on the tense.
Here we have a choice among the following:
- Past tense. Spanish has two past tenses: imperfect and perfect. If you want to be fancy, and impress your friends at parties, you can refer to them by their Spanish nicknames: el Pretérito Imperfecto and el Pretérito Indefinido—typically shortened to imperfecto and indefinido.
- Present tense, aka el Presente.
- Future tense, aka el Futuro.
There are also compound tenses. But, we’ll cover them at LingoDeer at the later stages of the Spanish course.
Three packs of verb types.
Spanish verbs come in three different flavors, which also dictate how they are conjugated.
- Regular, like hablar or quedar
- Irregular, like poder or querer
- Reflexive, like ducharse, or sentirse
We said before Spanish verb conjugation follows predictable patterns. Well…it wasn’t *entirely* true. There are many verbs that are irregular, that is, they look like they should follow a pattern, but they undergo other changes.
Thankfully, these irregular verbs are ones you’ll be using most often. And, this means you’ll almost unavoidably memorize them, especially if you learn Spanish with LingoDeer!
A spoon-full of moods.
Apart from tenses, Spanish has moods which often have specific conjugation patterns too.
But, those are concepts on an intermediate and advanced level, so for the moment you can safely ignore them. You might encounter their traces in several set phrases you’ll learn, but otherwise your mood won’t be spoiled by those moods in the near future. 😉
We admit… it’s a lot to take in in terms of new concepts.
But, you don’t have to understand it all at once. This is what learning is about. At LingoDeer we teach you little by little starting with the essentials you need to communicate. In this post we’ll start off with the essentials.
Spanish verb conjugation: Regular verbs
Now that you know all the ingredients of Spanish verb conjugations, we can zoom in on the first case. Regular verbs in the present tense, with all three verb endings.
When is the Spanish present tense used?
Well, mostly, to talk about the present! Here is a more detailed breakdown. The present tense is used to describe:
- Present habitual actions: I study Spanish. => Estudio Español.
- Ongoing actions: I’m studying Spanish. => Estudio Español.
- Actions taking place in the near future: I’m studying Spanish on Friday. => Estudio Español el viernes.
- Universal truths: Many people study Spanish. => Mucha gente estudia Español.
When you learn only the present tense, you’ll be able to talk about many different things.
Spanish verb conjugation in three easy steps
Throwing the whole conjugation table at students, can cause a lot of unnecessary anxiety. So instead we’ll go step by step, just like we do at the LingoDeer Spanish course.
First of all, we need to be familiar with the stems of the verbs. A stem is a part of the verb right before ending.
In the tables below we’ll be using some of the most commonly used verbs to illustrate how each verb type works.
Yo. The first person is the form you are likely to be using most often. It’s simple to remember, as it will always end in -o.
An example sentence you might use here to aid remembering this conjugation is:
- Yo no hablo mucho Español.
- I don’t speak a lot of Spanish.
(But you’ll change that very soon!)
Creating the third person only requires chopping of the “r” from the infinitive of the verb. In case of verbs ending with -ir you’ll also change the final “i” for an “e”.
- ¿Habla Usted Inglés?
- Do you speak English?
That’s another sentence you might be using a lot when you go to Spain!
The third-person form also serves as a base for tú (you) and ellos (them).
- To create tú, add “s” to the third person.
- To create ellos, just add “n”.
- ¿Que quieres?
- What do you want?
This is a sentence you’ll hear and use a lot, for example when going to a tapas bar with friends.
- Ellos no viven aquí.
- They don’t live here.
3. Nosotros & vosotros
For nosotros, we chop off the “r” and add “mos” behind the stem, like this:
- Vamos a la playa.
- We’re going to the beach.
- Bebemos mucha agua.
- We drink a lot of water.
- Vivimos en Nueva York.
- We live in New York.
For vosotros, we add an accent on the last letter of the stem and add “is”. But obviously, -íis makes no sense. So, it’s just ís.
10 most important irregular verbs you have to know
You mastered the regular conjugations, well done! Time to step up your game and take a look at irregular verbs.
The notion of irregular Spanish verb conjugations paralyzes many learners. But, not those who learn Spanish with LingoDeer!
People forget two important things when they think about irregular verbs.
- Most common verbs tend to be irregular. This means you’ll be hearing and using them more often. So often in fact, that you won’t need to spend a lot of time memorizing them. In a sense, they come with a built-in spaced repetition algorithm.
- There are clear regularities within the irregular verbs. Yup, you read that right. Even though irregular verbs don’t follow the standard Spanish verb conjugation pattern, there are still things you can predict their behavior.
For example, in many Spanish verbs, the last syllable of the verb stem goes through a predictable vowel change in the yo/tú/él/ellos forms. The table below illustrates that:
Here are 10 irregular verbs you’ll need to focus on when learning Spanish verb conjugation. It’s not a random guess, but what the Spanish verb frequency tables tell us!
Investigate the conjugation in the present tense and try to come up with simple sentences to memorize. This will help make the conjugation patterns stick in your head.
How to learn & practice Spanish verb conjugation: the Do’s and Don’ts
- Go slowly. Pick one thing at a time, for example, present tense first person, and construct several short sentences using it. After you feel confident with it, move on.
- Repeat often. Make language practice an integral part of your day and repeat your example sentences regularly (we covered more about efficient learning tips in our guide on how to learn a language).
Our Spanish course at LingoDeer uses both of the principles above. Our curriculum progresses at the right pace and includes frequent repetitions.
- Find an exchange partner. You learn Spanish to make connections and speak. To do that you can’t stay confined to the phone screen or pen and paper. Go into the wild, find a tutor or an exchange partner.
- Don’t memorize conjugation tables! Rather, learn short example sentences, ideally ones you are likely to use very often. There is no point in memorizing a sentence Mi tortuga come mucha lechuga. (My turtle eats a lot of lettuce.) …If you don’t have a turtle!
- Don’t learn new verbs together with conjugations. It’s hard to memorize both a new word and practice Spanish verb conjugation patterns at the same time. To focus on grammar practice, pick a verb whose meaning you already know.
- Don’t give up! Accept you will make mistakes at first. It’s an integral part of learning. If you knew everything from the outset, you wouldn’t have to learn, right?
We covered a lot of ground in this post and showed you that learning Spanish verb conjugation is not as hard as many would think. It’s time to use your learning enthusiasm and start practicing Spanish at LingDeer!