How to Speak Spanish

Regular Present Tense Verbs

Yes, this is probably one of the first topics that was introduced in your learning Spanish course of study—but if you’re a beginner, or if you’re struggling with other verb forms, you just may need to review this lesson.

 

 

Unlike English, Spanish verbs are recognizable by their endings.  Whether or not you’re a fluent speaker, whether or not you understand what you’re reading, you can pick out the verbs based on the way the ending is spelled.  Spanish verb infinitives end in –ar, –er or  –ir, and regular verbs are conjugated in a predictable pattern depending on these endings.  Unlike English, all Spanish verbs have different conjugations for first, second, third person and plural forms—but fortunately, these conjugations follow a pattern.

 

If you’re confused, take heart—it’s not as complicated as it may look.  Let’s conjugate the English verb be in the present tense.

 

be

I am (first person singular)

we are  (first person plural)

 

you are (second person singular)

you (all) are  (second person plural)

 

he is  (third person singular)

 

she is  (third person singular)

they are  (third person plural)

it is  (third person singular)

 

         

 

Is it ever correct to say “They is best friends,” or “He am my father”?  Is it grammatically correct to say, “You be a good cook”?  NoIs, am and are are all conjugated forms of the English infinitive be.  The infinitive is sometimes called the base form of the verb—it’s the verb before it’s been conjugated.  In English, present tense conjugation is very simple—for most verbs, the only change is adding an s to the infinitive in the third person singular (talk:  I talk, you talk, he talks…).  Very few verbs have additional conjugated forms, and English speakers usually struggle with the idea of Spanish verbs having “so many” conjugations.

 

In truth, the pattern for conjugating regular verbs is so simple and predictable that Spanish speakers often omit the pronoun—instead of saying “Nosotros hablamos español,” most speakers will simply say, “Hablamos español.”  They will not be misunderstood, because hablamos can only mean “we speak”—it cannot be used to mean any other person!
Let’s conjugate a regular verb in English and in Spanish:  talk and hablar:

 

talk

I talk (first person singular)

we talk  (first person plural)

 

you talk (second person singular)

you (all) talk (second person plural)

 

he talks  (third person singular)

 

she talks  (third person singular)

they talk  (third person plural)

it talks  (third person singular)

 

 

 

hablar

yo hablo (first person singular)

nosotros hablamos  (first person plural)

 

hablas (second person singular; informal

                         “you” form)

(second person plural: in Latin American Spanish, use the “ustedes” form)

él habla  (third person singular; “he talks”)

ellos hablan  (third person plural)

ella habla  (third person singular; “she talks”)

ellas hablan  (third person plural, all female)

usted habla  (formal “you” form)

ustedes hablan (formal “you” plural form)

 

 

English-speaking beginners often assume that Spanish verbs work more or less the same as their English counterparts.  In English, the same verb form is used in all of these sentences:

 

I always talk to my friends.

We talk on the phone.

They talk a lot.

Do you talk to your friends?

 

Without understanding the need to conjugate every person, singular or plural, many English speakers would translate the above sentences like this:

 

Yo siempre hablar con mis amigos.      (“I always to talk to my friends.”)

Nosotros hablar por teléfono.              (“We to talk on the phone.”)

Ellos hablo mucho.                               (“They I talk a lot.”)

¿Hablan con tus amigos?                     (“Do they talk to your friends?”)

 

Yikes!  Three sentences make no sense at all, and one of them changes the meaning of the original sentence completely!

 

It is necessary, therefore, to shift your thinking if you’re making this type of mistake.  Spanish does not parallel English; it is a whole different system.

With that in mind, here is the system for conjugating regular present-tense verbs in Spanish:

 

1)      Start with the infinitive (in Spanish, it is the form ending in –ar, -er, or –ir.)

2)      Drop the –ar, -er or –ir ending.

3)      Add a conjugated ending to the stem (also called the root) of the verb.  The conjugated ending you choose will indicate who is doing the action.  The verb ending must match the subject of the sentence!

 

 

Notice the way the verb hablar follows the rules listed above:

 

hablar

          yo hablo (I speak)                      nostros hablamos (we speak)

          tú hablas (you speak)                

          él habla (he speaks)                    ellos hablan (they speak)

 

As you can see, the conjugated endings for regular –ar verbs are:

 

                                                            -ar

                                                            -o        

                                                            -as

                                                            -a

                                                            -amos

                                                            -an

 

Regular –er and –ir verbs work the same way:

 

                                    -er                                          -ir

                                    -o                                             -o

                                    -es                                           -es

                                    -e                                             -e

                                    -emos                                       -imos

                                    -en                                           -en

 

 

Let’s practice.  Conjugate the verbs in parentheses following the rules you’ve just learned, then translate these sentences to English.

 

1)      Yo ___________________ con mis padres.  (vivir)

2)      Ellos _____________________ mucho.  (hablar)

3)      Mi mamá_______________________ en una oficina.  (trabajar)

4)      Mi papá_____________________ libros.  (escribir)

5)      ¿Tú _______________________ visitarnos pronto?  (prometer)

 

 

 

Answers:
1) vivo. I live with my parents.
2) hablan. They talk a lot.
3) trabaja. My mom works in an office.
4) escribe. My dad writes books.
5) prometes. Do you promise to visit us soon?


 
 
 

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