Spanish verbs

Spanish verbs

Spanish verbs are one of the most complex areas of Spanish grammar. Spanish is a synthetic language with a moderate-to-high degree of inflection which shows up mostly in the verb conjugation.

The Spanish verb system is separated into 14 distinct "tenses" (tense in this case is a generalized term referring to both time and mood), which are also subdivided into seven "simple tenses" and seven "compound tenses" (also known as the perfect tenses). The seven "compound tenses" must have the auxiliary verb "haber" along with the past participle. Verbs can be used in other forms such as the present progressive tense but this is not considered an official conjugation of the verb.

Spanish verbs are conjugated in four categories known as moods: indicative, subjunctive, imperative and the traditionally so called "infinitive mood" (new grammars call it "formas no personales", "non-personal forms") which contains the three non-finite forms that every verb has: an infinitive, a gerund, and a past participle (more exactly a passive perfect participle). This participle can agree for number and gender, giving it four possible forms. There is also a form traditionally known as the present participle, but this is generally considered to be an adjective derived from the verb rather than a form of the verb itself.

A large number of everyday use verbs are irregular. The rest fall into one of three regular conjugations, which have infinitives ending in "-ar", "-er", or "-ir". (The vowel in the ending — "a", "e", or "i" — is called the "thematic vowel".) The "-ar" verbs are the most common and the most regular; moreover, new verbs usually adapt the "-ar" form. The "-er" and "-ir" verbs have far fewer verbs, and tend to be more irregular. There are also subclasses of semi-regular verbs which show vowel alternation conditioned by stress.

See Spanish verb paradigm for conjugation tables of regular verbs and some irregular verbs.

Mood, tense and aspect — forms of the verb

:"See Spanish verb paradigm for a set of conjugation tables."

The typical "-ar" verb: "hablar", "to talk, to speak" illustrates verb conjugation. (English equivalents given are only approximate.)

Non-finite forms

'Non-finite' forms "(formas no personales)" do not conjugate:
* Infinitive: "hablar" = "to speak"
* Gerund, or present participle: "hablando" = "speaking"
* Past participle: "hablado" ("hablado, hablada, hablados, habladas") = "spoken" (used with helper verb "haber" conjugated: he, has, ha, hemos, habéis, han)
* Personalized, adjective form: "hablante" = "speaker"

The indicative

The indicative mood has four simple tenses. Each one of these has a perfect form, a continuous form and a perfect continuous form, as in English. This makes for a total of fifteen simple and compound tenses (one is not commonly used, and another does not exist at all). However, in traditional descriptions of the Spanish verb, continuous forms are ignored, and only the simple tenses and their perfect versions are counted as "tenses". Note that modern grammatical studies would count only the simple forms as "tenses", and the other forms as products of a tenses and aspects.

;Simple tenses: (i. e. each of the four basic tenses plus simple aspect)
* "presente" (present) – "Hablo" = "I speak"
* "pretérito imperfecto" (imperfect) or "copretérito" – "Hablaba" = "I used to speak, I was speaking"
* "pretérito perfecto simple" or "indefinido" (preterite/simple past) – "Hablé" = "I spoke"
* "futuro simple" or "imperfecto" (future) – "Hablaré" = "I shall/will speak" or voy a hablar = "I will speak"
* "condicional simple, imperfecto" or "pospretérito" (simple conditional or 'post-past' tense) – "Hablaría" = "I'm supposed to speak" or "I would speak [if...] "

;Perfect tenses: (i. e. each of the four basic tenses plus perfect aspect)
* "pretérito perfecto" (present perfect) – "He hablado" = "I have spoken"
* "pretérito pluscuamperfecto" (pluperfect) – "Había hablado" = "I had been speaking"
* "pretérito anterior" (past anterior) – "Hube hablado" = "I had spoken" (it is no longer used in the modern standard language)
* "futuro compuesto" (future perfect) – "Habré hablado" = "I shall/will have spoken"
* "condicional compuesto, perfecto" or "antepospretérito" – "Habría hablado" = "I was supposed to speak" or "I should/would have spoken [if...] "

In Spanish, there do not exist the so-called "continuous tenses" as in English. Though the "imperfecto" and "pluscuamperfecto" tenses express a relative continuity compared to the perfect tenses (for example "te esperaba" = "I was waiting for you" or "I have been waiting for you"), the continuity of an action is usually expressed by a so called verbal periphrase "(perífrasis verbal)". For example: "estoy leyendo" = I am reading. However, you can also say "sigo leyendo" = I am 'still' reading, "voy leyendo" or "ando leyendo", also "llevo leyendo" = I am reading 'for a long', etc.

The subjunctive

The subjunctive mood has a separate conjugation table with fewer tenses. It is used to express the speaker's opinion or judgement, such as doubts, possibilities, emotions, and events which may or may not occur.

;Simple tenses:
* "presente de subjuntivo" (present subjunctive) – "Hable" = "I speak, I am speaking, I will speak"
* "imperfecto de subjuntivo" (imperfect subjunctive) – "Hablara" or "Hablase" = "If/Whether I spoke" or "I spoke"
* "futuro (simple) de subjuntivo" (future subjunctive) – "Hablare" = "I speak, I will speak" (it is no longer used in modern language, just some expressions and laws)

;Perfect tenses:
* "pretérito perfecto de subjuntivo" (present perfect subjunctive) – "Haya hablado" = "I have spoken, I spoke"
* "pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo" (pluperfect subjunctive) – "Hubiera hablado" or "Hubiese hablado" = "If/Whether I had spoken, I spoke"
* "futuro compuesto del subjuntivo" (future perfect subjunctive) – "Hubiere hablado" = "I shall/will have spoken"

The present subjunctive is formed from the stem of the first person present indicative of a verb. Therefore, for an irregular verb like "salir" with the first person "salgo", the present subjunctive would be "salga", not "sala". The use of the imperfect subjunctive is determined by tense of the main verb of a sentence, not necessarily the tense of the subjunctive verb itself. The "-ra" and "-se" form are always correct, with any changes in meaning, they are interchangeable. The future subjunctive is rarely used in modern Spanish and mostly appears in old texts, legal documents, and certain expressions such as "venga lo que viniere" ("come what may").

The imperative

The imperative mood has five forms: the second person singular and plural, the third person singular and plural and the first person plural, these are only used in the positive. The subjunctive supplements the imperative in all other cases. For example:

* "¡No comas! (tú)" – Do not eat!

;For "comer", to eatThe singular imperative coincides with the third-person singular of the indicative for all but a few irregular verbs. The plural is always the same as the infinitive but with a -d instead of an -r in the formal, written form. These actual imperative forms are in bold to distinguish them from those that are really just subjunctive forms. "Beginner's rule": To conjugate something that is positive in the imperative mood for the tú form (which is used most often), conjugate for your tú form and drop the 's'. To conjugate something that is negative in the imperative mood for the tú form (which also is used most often), conjugate in the yo form, drop the 'o', add the opposite tú ending (if it is an -ar verb add 'es'; for an -er or -ir verb add as), and then put 'no' in front.
* "¡come! (tú)" – Eat! (informal singular)
* "¡comé! (vos)" – Eat!
* "¡coma! (usted)" – Eat! (formal singular)
* "¡comamos! (nosotros)" – Let us eat!
* "¡comed! (vosotros)" – Eat! (normative plural for informal address, becoming rare)
* "¡comer! (vosotros)" – Eat! (common plural for informal address, not admitted by the Real Academia Española)
* "¡coman! (ustedes)" – Eat! (formal plural)

* "¡no comas! (tú)" – Do not eat! (informal singular)
* "¡no comás! (vos)" – Do not eat! (in Rioplatense, "¡no comas!" is more usual)
* "¡no coma! (usted)" – Do not eat! (formal singular)
* "¡no comamos! (nosotros)" – "Let us not eat!"
* "¡no comáis! (vosotros)" – Do not eat! (informal plural)
* "¡no coman! (ustedes)" – Do not eat! (formal plural)

The first person plural imperative, i.e. "Let us..." can also be expressed in two other ways:
* The present indicative: "¡comemos!" (for action verbs only)
* "Vamos a" + infinitive: "¡vamos a comer!"

As for the pronominal verb "comerse", the conjugation is :

* "¡cómete... ! (tú)" – Eat... ! (informal singular)
* "¡comete... ! (vos)" – Eat... !
* "¡cómase... ! (usted)" – Eat... ! (formal singular)
* "¡comamonos... ! (nosotros)" – Let us eat... !
* "¡comeos... ! (vosotros)" – Eat... ! (formal plural for informal address, sometimes used in the spoken language)
* "¡comeros... ! (vosotros)" – Eat... ! (informal plural, not admitted by the Real Academia Española)
* "¡comanse... ! (ustedes)" – Eat... ! (formal plural)

The verb "ir" ("to go") uses "¡vamos!" as first person plural imperative ("¡vayamos!" of "¡vamos a ir!" are less common).

The pronominal verb "irse" is conflictive in the second person plural :
* "¡idos! (vosotros)" – Go away! (plural for informal address, recommended by the Real Academia Española but extremely uncommon)
* "¡iros! (vosotros)" – Go away! (common, not admitted by the Real Academia Española)

Irregular verbs

A considerable number of verbs change the vowel "e" in the root to the diphthong "ie", and the vowel "o" to "ue". This happens when the root vowel receives the stress.

A number of verbs in the second and third conjugations show a slightly different irregularity, whereby "e" also changes to "i", and "o" also changes to "u", in some persons and tenses.

The so-called "I-Go" verbs add a medial "-g-" in the first person singular, present tense (making the Yo [or I] form end in go) These verbs are often irregular in other forms also. (tener-to have, venir-to come)

Use of verbs

Contrasting simple and continuous forms

There is no strict distinction between simple and continuous forms in Spanish as there is in English. In English, "I do" is one thing (a habit) and "I am doing" is another (current activity). In Spanish, "hago" can be either of the two, and "estoy haciendo" stresses the latter.

Though not as strict as English, Spanish is more strict than French or German, which have no systematic distinction between the two concepts at all.

This optionally continuous meaning that can be underlined by using the continuous form is a feature of the present and imperfect tenses. The preterite never has this meaning even in the continuous form, and the future has it only when it is in the continuous form.

*"¿Qué haces?" could be either "what do you do?" or "what are you doing?"
*"¿Qué estás haciendo?" is definitely only "what are you doing?"

*"¿Qué hacías?" could be either "what did you use to do?" or "what were you doing?"
*"¿Qué estabas haciendo?" is definitely only "what were you doing?"

*"¿Qué hiciste?" is "what did you do?"
*"¿Qué estuviste haciendo?" is "what did you do all of that time?"

Note that since the preterite by nature refers to an event seen as having a beginning and an end, and not as a context, the use of the continuous form of the verb only adds a feeling for the length of time spent on the action. The future has two main forms in Spanish, the imperfect (compound) future and the simple one. The difference between them is aspect. The compound future is done with the conjugated "ir" (means "to go", but i also means "will" in this case) plus the infinitive and, sometimes, with a present progressive verb added as well.

* "¿Qué vas a hacer?": is "What will you do?" (implies that it will be done again, as in a routine)
* "¿Qué vas a estar haciendo?": "what will you be doing" (does not necessarily imply that it shall be done)
*"¿Qué harás?" is "what will you do?" (will be completed immediately, or done just once)
*"¿Qué estarás haciendo?" is "what will you be doing?"

Contrasting the present and the future

Both the present and the future can express future actions, the latter more explicitly so. There are also expressions that convey the future.
*"Mi padre llega mañana" = "My father arrives tomorrow" (out of context, "llega" could mean he is arriving now or usually arrives)
*"Mi padre estará llegando mañana" = "My father will be arriving tomorrow"
*"Mi padre va a llegar mañana" = "My father is going to arrive tomorrow" (future with "ir")
*"Mi padre llegará mañana" = "My father will arrive tomorrow" (future tense)
*"Mi padre está a punto de llegar" = "My father is about to arrive" (immediate future with "estar a punto")
*"Mi padre ya llega" = "My father arrives soon" (future with "ya")

The future tense can also simply express guesses about the present and immediate future:
*"¿Qué hora es?" "Serán las tres" = "What time is it?" "It is about three (but I have not checked)."
*"¿Quién llama a la puerta? Será José" = "Who is at the door? It must be José"

The same is applied to imperfect and conditional:
*"¿Qué hora era?" "Serían las tres" = "What time was it?" "It was about three (but I had not checked)."
*"¿Quién llamaba a la puerta? Sería José" = "Who was at the door? It must have been José"

Studies have shown that Spanish-speaking children learn this use of the future tense before they learn to use it to express future events (the English future with "will" can also sometimes be used with this meaning). The other constructions detailed above are used instead. Indeed, many adult dialect speakers hardly use the future tense to refer to the future.

The future tense of the subjunctive mood is also obsolete in practice. As of today, it is only found in legal documents and the like. In other contexts, the indicative form always replaces it.

Contrasting the preterite and the imperfect

Fundamental meaning of the preterite and imperfect

Spanish has two fundamental past tenses. Strictly speaking, the difference between them is not tense but aspect in a manner that is similar to the Slavic languages, including Russian. However, within Spanish grammar, they are considered tenses, with aspect controlled by auxiliary verbs.

The difference between the preterite (and in certain cases, the perfect) on one hand and the imperfect on the other is often hard to grasp for English speakers. English has just one past tense form, which can have aspect added to it by auxiliary verbs, but not in ways that reliably correspond to what occurs in Spanish.

The distinction between them does, however, correspond rather well to the distinctions in other Romance languages, between for example the French "imparfait" and "passé simple" / "passé composé", or between the Italian "imperfetto" and "passato remoto" / "passato prossimo".

The imperfect fundamentally presents an action or state as being a context, and is thus essentially descriptive. It does not present actions or states as having ends, and often does not present their beginnings either. Like the Slavic imperfective past, they tend to show actions that used to be done at some point as in a routine or sequential action. In this case, one would say "Yo jugaba" (I used to play) or 'Yo leía' (I used to read), Yo escribía (I used to Write). Infinitive -ar verbs usually have the -aba suffix stem, while the -er and -ir verbs usually end with -ía (the conjugation is the same in the first and third singular pronouns, but is understood through context).

The preterite (and perfect, when applicable) fundamentally presents an action or state as being an event, and is thus essentially narrative. It presents actions or states as having beginnings and ends. This also bears resembles to the Slavic perfective past, as these actions are usually done in one stroke. The perfective equivalents would be "Yo jugué" (I played), Yo leí (I read) or Yo escribí (I wrote).

Comparison with English usage

The English simple past can express either of these concepts. However, there are devices that allow us to be more specific. Consider, for example, the phrase "the sun shone" in the following contexts:
#"The sun shone through his window. John knew that it was going to be a fine day."
#"The sun was shining through his window. John knew that it was going to be a fine day."
#"The sun shone through his window back in those days."
#"The sun used to shine through his window back in those days."
#"The sun shone through his window the moment that John pulled back the curtain."

In the first two, it is clear that the shining refers to the background to the events that are about to unfold in the story. It is talking about "what was happening". We have a choice between making this explicit with the past continuous as in (2), or just using the simple past as in (1) and allowing the context to make it clear what we mean. In Spanish, these would be in the imperfect, optionally in the imperfect continuous.

In the third and fourth examples, it is clear that the shining refers to a regular, general, habitual type of event. It is talking about "what used to happen". We have a choice between making this explicit with the expression "used to" as in (4), or just using the simple past as in (3) and allowing the context to make it clear what we mean. In Spanish, these would be in the imperfect, optionally with the auxiliary verb "soler".

In the fifth example, only the simple past is possible. It is talking about a single event presented as occurring at a specific point in time (the moment John pulled back the curtain). The action starts and ends with this sentence. In Spanish, this would be in the preterite (or alternatively in the perfect, if the event has only just happened).

Further examples

*"Cuando tenía quince años, me atropelló un coche" = "When I was fifteen, I got run over by a car"Imperfect used for "was" in Spanish because it is the background to the specific event expressed by "got run over", in the preterite.
*"Mientras cruzaba / estaba cruzando la calle, me atropelló un coche" = "While I crossed / was crossing the road, I got run over by a car"In both languages, the continuous form for action in progress is optional, but Spanish requires the verb in either case to be in the imperfect, because it is the background to the specific event expressed by "got run over", in the preterite.
*"Siempre tenía cuidado cuando cruzaba la calle" = "I was always / always used to be careful when I crossed / used to cross the road"Imperfect used for both verbs since they refer to habits in the past. Either verb could optionally use the expression "used to" in English.
*"Me bañé" = "I had a bath"Preterite used if this refers to a single action or event, i.e. the person had or took a bath last night.
*"Me bañaba" = "I had a bath"Imperfect used if this refers to any sort of habitual action, i.e. the person had or took a bath every morning. Optionally, "solía bañarme" can specifically express "I used to have a bath".
*"Tuvo una hija" = "she had a daughter"Preterite used if this refers to an event, i.e. a birth.
*"Tenía una hija" = "she had a/one daughter"Imperfect if this refers to the number of children by a certain point, i.e. in "She had one daughter when I met her ten years ago; she may have more now". A description.

Note that when describing the life of someone who is now dead, the distinction between the two tenses blurs. One might describe the person's life saying "tenía una hija", but "tuvo una hija" is very common because the person's whole life is viewed as a whole, with a beginning and an end. The same goes for "vivía/vivió en..." "he lived in...".

Perhaps the verb that English speakers find most difficult to translate properly is "to be" in the past tense: "was". Apart from the choice between the verbs "ser" and "estar" (see below), it is often very hard for English speakers to distinguish between contextual and narrative uses.
*"Alguien cogió mis CDs. ¿Quién fue?" = "Someone took my CDs. Who was it?"Here the preterite is used because it is an event. A good clue is the tense "cogió" is in.
*"Había una persona que estaba mirando los CDs. ¿Quién era?" = "There was a person who was looking at the CDs. Who was it?"Here the imperfect is used because it is a description (the start and end of the action is not presented; it is just something that was in progress at a certain time). A good clue is the tense of the other verbs.

Contrasting the preterite and the perfect

The preterite and the perfect are distinguished in a similar way as the equivalent English tenses. Generally, whenever the present perfect ("I have done") is used in English, the perfect is also used in Spanish. In addition, there are cases in which English uses a simple past ("I did") but Spanish requires a perfect. In the remaining cases, both languages use a simple past.

As in English, the perfect expresses past actions that have some link to the present. The preterite expresses past actions as being past, complete and done with. In both languages, there are dialectal variations.

Frame of reference includes the present: perfect tense

If it is implicitly or explicitly communicated that the frame of reference for the event includes the present and the event or events may therefore continue occurring, then both languages strongly prefer the perfect.;With references including "this" including the present:
*"Este año me he ido de vacaciones dos veces" = "I have been on holiday twice this year"
*"Esta semana ha sido muy interesante" = "This week has been very interesting";With other references to recent periods including the present:
*"He hecho muy poco hoy" = "I have not done much at all today"
*"No ha pasado nada hasta la fecha" = "Nothing has happened to date"
*"Hasta ahora no se me ha ocurrido" = "It has not occurred to me until now";With reference to someone's life experience (their life not being over):
*"¿Alguna vez has estado en África?" = "Have you ever been to Africa?"
*"Mi vida no ha sido muy interesante" = "My life has not been very interesting"
*"Jamás he robado nada" = "I have never stolen anything"

Frame of reference superficially includes the present: perfect tense

Sometimes, we say "today", "this year", but we mean to express these periods as finished. This requires the simple past in English. For example, in December we might speak of the year in the simple past because we are assuming that all that year's important events have occurred and we can talk as though it were all over. Other expressions — such as "this weekend" if today is Monday — refer to a period which is definitely over; the word "this" just distinguishes it from other weekends. There is a certain tendency in Spanish to use the perfect tense even for this type of time reference, even though the preterite is possible and seems more logical.
*"Este fin de semana hemos ido al zoo" = "We went to the zoo this weekend"
*"Hoy he tenido una jornada muy aburrida" = "I had a boring day's work today"

Consequences continue into the present: perfect tense

As in English, the perfect is used when the consequences of which an event are referred.
*"Alguien ha roto esta ventana" = "Someone has broken this window" (the window is currently in a broken state)
*"Nadie me ha dicho qué pasó aquel día" = "Nobody has told me what happened that day" (therefore, I still do not know)These same sentences in the preterite would purely refer to the past actions, without any implication that they have repercussions now.

In English, this type of perfect is not possible if a precise time frame is added or even implied; i.e. one cannot say "I have been born in 1978" because the date requires "I was born", despite the fact there is arguably a present consequence in the fact that the person is still alive. Spanish sporadically uses the perfect in these cases.
*"He nacido en 1978" (usually "Nací en 1978") = "I was born in 1978"
*"Me he criado en Madrid" (usually "Me crié en Madrid") = "I grew up in Madrid"

The event itself continues into the present: perfect or present tense

If the event itself has been happening recently and is also happening right now or expected to continue happening soon, then the preterite is impossible in both languages. English requires the perfect tense, or better still the prefect continuous. Spanish requires the perfect tense, or better still the present simple:
*"Últimamente ha llovido mucho" / "Últimamente llueve mucho" = "It has rained / It has been raining a lot recently"This is the only use of the perfect that is common in colloquial speech across Latin America.

Dialectal variation

In the dialectal variation in Madrid and northern Castile, there is a tendency to overuse the perfect Fact|date=February 2008, applying it to any event with any vague connection with the present, or which occurred not very long ago. This is stigmatised.
*† "La semana pasada he vuelto a la ciudad" = "I went back to the city last week"

In the Canary Islands and across Latin America, there is a colloquial tendency to replace most uses of the perfect with the preterite. There are variations in this according to region, register and education.
*† "¿Y vos alguna vez estuviste allá?" = "¿Y tú alguna vez has estado allí?" = "And have you ever been there?"

The one use for the perfect that does seem to be normal in Latin America is the perfect for actions that continue into the present (not just the time frame, but the action itself). Therefore, "I have read a lot in my life" and "I read a lot this morning" would both be expressed with "leí" instead of "he leído", but "I have been reading" is expressed by "he leído".

A less standard use of the perfect is found in Ecuador and Colombia. It is used with present or occasionally even future meaning. For example, Shakira Mebarak in her song "Ciega, Sordomuda", sings
*"Bruta, ciega, sordomuda, / torpe, traste, testaruda; / es todo lo que he sido" = "Clumsy, blind, dumb, / blundering, useless, pig-headed; / that is all that I had been"

Contrasting the subjunctive and the imperative

The subjunctive mood expresses wishes and hypothetical events. It is often employed together with a conditional verb:

*"Desearía que estuvieses aquí." = "I wish you were here."
*"Me alegraría mucho si volvieras mañana." = "I would be very glad if you came back tomorrow."

The imperative mood shows commands given to the hearer (the second person). There is no imperative form in the third person, so the subjunctive is used. The expression takes the form of a command or wish directed at the hearer, but referring to the third person. The difference between a command and a wish is subtle, mostly conveyed by the absence of a wishing verb:

*"Que venga el gerente." = "Let the manager come.", "Have the manager come."
*"Que se cierren las puertas." = "Let the doors be closed.", "Have the doors closed."

With a verb that expresses wishing, the above sentences become plain subjunctive instead of direct commands:

*"Deseo que venga el gerente." = "I wish that the manager comes."
*"Quiero que se cierren las puertas." = "I want the doors (to be) closed."

Contrasting the present and the future subjunctive

The future tense of the subjunctive is found mostly in old literature or legalese and is even misused in conversation by confusing it with the past tense (often due to the similarity of its characteristic suffix, "-ere", as opposed to the suffixes of the past tense, "-era" and "-ese"). Many Spanish speakers live their lives without ever knowing about or realizing the existence of the future subjunctive.

It survives in the common expression "sea lo que fuere" and the proverb "allá donde fueres, haz lo que vieres" ("allá donde" can be replaced by "a la tierra donde" or "si a Roma").

The proverb illustrates how it used to be used:
*With "si" referring to the future, as in "si a Roma fueres...". This is now expressed with the present indicative: "si vas a Roma...".
*With "cuando", "donde" etc, referring to the future, as in "allá donde fueres...". This is now expressed with the present subjunctive: "vayas adonde vayas..."

Contrasting the preterite and the past anterior

The past anterior is rare nowadays and restricted to formal use.

It expresses a very fine nuance: the fact that an action occurs just after another [had] occurred, with words such as "cuando", "nada más" and "en cuanto" ("when", "no sooner", "as soon as"). In English, we are forced to use either the simple past or the past perfect; Spanish has something specific between the two.
*"En cuanto el delincuente hubo salido del cuarto, la víctima se echó a llorar" = "As soon as the criminal [had] left the room, the victim burst into tears"

The use of "hubo salido" shows that the second action happened immediately after. "Salió" might imply it happened at the same time, and "había salido" might imply it happened some time after.

However, colloquial Spanish has lost this tense and this nuance, and the preterite must be used instead in all but the most formal of writing.

Contrasting "ser" and "estar"

The differences between "ser" and "estar" are considered one of the most difficult concepts to nonnative speakers. Both "ser" and "estar" translate into English as "to be" but they both express different ideas. These differences may be generalized so that "ser" expresses nature and "estar" expresses state. One easy way to remember it is: "ser" is generally for permanent things; "estar" is generally for things that are temporary.

"Ser" generally focuses on the essence of the subject but more specifically may be thought of in several ways including:
# Nationality
# Time and date
# Possession
# Occupation
# Physical and personality traits
# Events

"Estar" generally focuses on the condition of the subject but more specifically may be thought of in several ways including:
# Physical condition
# Feelings and emotions
# Location
# Appearance

In English the sentence "The boy is bored" uses a different adjective than "The boy is boring". In Spanish the difference is made by the choice of "ser" vs. "estar".
*"El chico es aburrido" uses "ser" to mean a permanent trait or "The boy is boring"
*"El chico está aburrido" uses "estar" to mean a conditional trait or "The boy is bored"The same strategy is used to mean permanent or conditional trait of any adjective, vg.:
*"María es guapa" uses "ser" to mean a permanent trait or "María is beautiful" (she was beautiful yesterday, and will be tomorrow)"
*"María está guapa" uses "estar" to mean a conditional trait or "María looks beautiful" (today, but it does not mean that she is beautiful)".

It is important to remember that there are exceptions to the generalization; for example, the sentence "Tu mamá está loca" ("Your mother is crazy") denotes a permanent state of craziness.

Contrasting "haber" and "tener"

The verbs "haber" and "tener" are easily distinguished, but they may pose a problem for learners of Spanish that are speakers of other Romance languages (where the cognates of "haber" and "tener" are used differently), for English speakers (where "have" is used as a verb and as an auxiliary), and others.

"Haber" derives from the Latin "habeō", "habēre", "habuī", "habitum"; with the basic meaning of "to have".

"Tener" derives from the Latin "teneō", "tenēre", "tenuī", "tentum"; with the basic meaning of "to hold", "to keep".

As "habeo" began to degrade and become reduced to just ambiguous monosyllables in the present tense, the Iberian Romance languages (Spanish, Gallician-Portuguese and Catalan) restricted its use and started to use "teneo" as the ordinary verb expressing having and possession. French instead reinforced "habeo" with obligatory subject pronouns.

"Haber:" Expressing existence

"Haber" is used as an impersonal verb to show existence of an object or objects, which is generally expressed as an indefinite noun phrase. In English, this corresponds to the use of "there" + the corresponding inflected form of "to be". When used in this sense, "haber" has a special present-tense form: "hay" instead of "ha". The "y" is a fossilised form of the mediaeval Castilian pronoun "y" or "i", meaning "there", which is cognate with French "y" and Catalan "hi", and comes from the Latin "ibi".

Unlike in English, the thing which "is there" is not the subject of the sentence and therefore there is no agreement between that and the verb. This echoes the constructions seen in languages such as French ("il y a" = "it there has"), Catalan ("hi ha" = " [it] there has"), and even Chinese (有 "yǒu" = " [it] has").

*"Hay un gato en el jardín." = "There is a cat in the garden."
*"En el baúl hay fotos viejas." = "There are old photos in the trunk."

It is possible, in cases of certain emphasis, to put the verb after the object:

*"¿Revistas hay?" = "Are there any magazines?"

There is a certain tendency to make "haber" agree with what follows, as though it were the subject, particularly in tenses other than the present indicative. This is common in CataloniaFact|a reference would be nice|date=August 2008 and Latin America. There is heavier stigma on inventing plural forms for "hay"; but "hain", "han", "hubieron", and "habemos" (common in Mexico) and suchlike are sometimes encountered in uneducated speech.

*"Había un hombre en la casa." = "There was a man in the house."
*"Había unos hombres en la casa." = "There were some men in the house." (standard)
*"Habían unos hombres en la casa." = "There were some men in the house." (non-standard)

"Haber" as an existence verb is never used in other than the third person. To express existence of a first or second person, the verb "estar" ("to be [located/present] ") or "existir" ("to exist") is used, and there is subject–verb agreement.

"Haber:" obligation

The phrase "haber que" (followed by a subordinated construction with the verb in the infinitive) carries the meaning of necessity or obligation without specifying an agent. It is translatable as "it is necessary", but a paraphrase is generally preferable in translation.

Note that the present-tense form is "hay".

*"Hay que abrir esa puerta." = "That door needs opening", "We have to open that door".
*"Habrá que abrir esa puerta." = "That door will need opening", "We're going to have to open that door".
*"Aunque haya que abrir esa puerta." = "Even if that door needs to be opened".

It is comparable to the French "il faut" and the Catalan "cal", although it should be noted that a personal construction with the subjunctive is not possible. "Hay que" always goes with the infinitive.


A separate construction is "haber de" + infinitive. It is not impersonal. It tends to express a certain nuance of obligation and a certain nuance of future tense, much like the expression "to be to". It is also often used similarly to "deber" ("must", "ought to").

Note that the third personal singular of the present tense is "ha".

*"Mañana he de dar una charla ante la Universidad" = "Tomorrow I am to give a speech before the University".
*"Ha de comer más verduras" = "She ought to eat more vegetables".

"Haber:" Forming perfect tenses

"Haber" is also used as an auxiliary to form the perfect tenses, as shown elsewhere. Spanish uses only "haber" for this, unlike French and Italian, which use the corresponding cognates of "haber" for most verbs, but cognates of "ser" ("to be") for certain others.

*"Ella se ha ido al mercado." = "She has gone to the market."
*"Ellas se han ido de paseo." = "They have gone on a walk."
*"¿Habéis fregado los platos?" = "Have you (ye) done the washing-up?"


"Tener" is a verb with the basic meaning of "to have", in its essential sense of "to possess", "to hold", "to own". As in English, it can also express obligation ("tener que" + infinitive). It also appears in a number of phrases that show emotion or physical states, expressed by nouns, which in English tend to be expressed by "to be" and an adjective.

*"Mi hijo tiene una casa nueva." = "My son has a new house."
*"Tenemos que hablar." = "We have to talk."
*"Tengo hambre." = "I am hungry", literally: "I have hunger."

There are numerous phrases like "tener hambre" that is not literally translated in English, such as: [ Spanish Idioms of the Form 'Tener' + Noun - Learn Spanish Language ] ]
*tener hambre - to be hungry; to have hunger
*tener sed - to be thirsty; to have thirst
*tener cuidado - to be careful; to have caution
*tener __ años - to be __ years old; to have __ years
*tener celos - to be jealous; to have jealousy
*tener éxito - to be successful; to have success
*tener vergüenza - to be ashamed; to have shame

Note: "Estar hambriento" is a literal translation of "To be hungry", but is rarely spoken and used in Spanish nowadays.


Verbs are negated by putting "no" before the verb.Other negative words can either replace this "no" or occur after the verb:
*"Hablo español" = "I speak Spanish"
*"No hablo español" = "I do not speak Spanish"
*"Nunca hablo español" = "I never speak Spanish"
*"No hablo nunca español" = "I do not ever speak Spanish"

Expressing movement

Spanish verbs describing motion tend to emphasize direction instead of manner of motion. According to the pertinent classification, this makes Spanish a verb-framed language. This contrasts with English, where verbs tend to emphasize manner, and leave the direction of motion to helper particles, prepositions, or adverbs.

*"We drove away" = "Nos fuimos en coche" (literally, "We left by car").
*"He swam to Ibiza" = "Fue a Ibiza nadando" (literally, "He went to Ibiza swimming").
*"They ran off" = "Huyeron corriendo" (literally, "They fled running").
*"She crawled in" = "Entró a gatas" (literally, "She entered on all fours").

Quite often, the important thing is the direction, not the manner. Therefore, although "we drove away" translates into Spanish as "nos fuimos en coche", it is often better to translate it as just "nos fuimos". For example:

*"I drove her to the airport, but she had forgotten her ticket, so we drove home to get it, then drove back towards the airport, but then had to drive back home for her passport, by which time there was zero chance of checking in..."
*"La llevé al aeropuerto en coche, pero se le había olvidado el tiquete, así que fuimos a casa [en coche] por él, luego volvimos [en coche] hacia el aeropuerto, pero luego tuvimos que volver [en coche] por el pasaporte, y ya era imposible que consiguiésemos facturar el equipaje..."

ee also

*Spanish conjugation
*List of Spanish irregular participles


External links

* [ WebWorkbooks: Grammar - Spanish Verbs ]
* [ Spanish audio phrases for each verb conjugation]
* [ ¡Es fácil! - Spanish Verb conjugation with online practise]

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