Need Help with Beginner Spanish Grammar? Relax, Here Are 5 Lessons to Start
Let’s all just take a deep breath.
Get all that dread you feel about learning Spanish grammar out of the way.
In this post, I’ll share five basic lessons for beginners that’ll help you conquer Spanish grammar like a pro.
- But Why Is It Even Important to Learn Spanish Grammar from the Start?
- 5 Easy Spanish Grammar Lessons for Beginners
- 1. How to Discuss People, Places and Things
- 2. How to Ask Questions
- 3. How to Describe Things
- 4. How to Learn Basic Conjugation
- 5. How to Take In a Brief, Relaxed Overview of the Spanish Tenses
- The Main Takeaway: Learning Spanish Grammar Doesn’t Have to Be Stressful
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)
But Why Is It Even Important to Learn Spanish Grammar from the Start?
Many people will tell you to simply “immerse” yourself in the language, without learning grammar. However, while putting more of a focus on immersion isn’t a bad idea, some basic grammar principles will help you immerse yourself in Spanish more effectively.
Telling a brand-new learner to not worry about grammar at all and just go with the flow is like telling a little child to try to run before they even know how to walk, and it’ll actually make the process more stressful. Spanish grammar is a fundamental, a building block you need so that you can immerse yourself in the language in the future.
Basic grammar also helps build basic conversation skills. If you want to be able to discuss people, places, ask questions, describe your surroundings or more, Spanish grammar gives you a handy framework to build on.
The good news is that learning even a little bit of basic Spanish grammar as a beginner can go a long way, and you can have fun with it while also building your confidence in the language. Below, we’ll look at five practical areas you can focus your initial studies on, and give you a super simple explanation of each.
For more examples and in-depth explanation of the concepts below, as well as a general overview of Spanish grammar, check out the Spanish Language Tutorial from ielanguages. It’s an e-book you can download as a PDF that includes native audio so that you can learn grammatical concepts along with authentic speech.
Once you have a base in Spanish grammar, the entire concept of grammar won’t feel as stressful, and you’ll be able to move forward at your own leisurely pace.
5 Easy Spanish Grammar Lessons for Beginners
We explain everything in detail below, but the best way to learn these grammar concepts is through context. And you can get plenty of context with FluentU’s immersive learning program.
FluentU takes real-world videos, like music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks, and turns them into Spanish learning experiences.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the Spanish language and culture over time. You’ll learn Spanish as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Click here to check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.
1. How to Discuss People, Places and Things
Articles and Nouns
Picture this: You’re taking your dream vacation in Spain. You’ve glimpsed a celebrity in front of a museum and want to tell your Spanish roommate about your experience. How do you do it?
You use nouns and articles:
- Your noun is your person, place or thing.
- However, in Spanish nouns are preceded by an article and the endings are changed based on if the noun is feminine or masculine. Spanish nouns are all assigned a gender.
When you’re learning new vocabulary words and nouns, it’s important to always learn the article that goes before the noun. This is essential in Spanish grammar because it’s impossible to predict what gender a Spanish noun is.
For example, what gender do you think the word “dress” is? Most people would guess female because it’s female people who typically wear dresses. However, “dress” in Spanish is el vestido, a masculine noun.
Don’t worry about predicting the gender of a noun. Instead, simply get into the habit of memorizing articles with the noun.
That said, in most cases, feminine nouns end in a and masculine nouns end in o.
Here are your articles (this is the word that goes before the noun, like “a/an” or “the” in English):
El (masculine singular)
La (feminine singular)
Los (masculine plural)
Las (feminine plural)
When a noun is a living creature, the article can change for reasons that’ll seem obvious in just a second.
For example, “the dress” in Spanish will always be el vestido. The article el will never change, because a dress is not a living creature.
However, “the cat” is a living creature. Therefore, “the cat,” or el gato in Spanish, will change depending on the gender of the cat.
El gato (The male cat)
La gata (The female cat)
Plurals in Spanish are similar to plurals in English. You change the noun to plural by adding an s to the end (or an es). The tricky part of plural nouns is remembering to also change the article to plural.
If a noun in Spanish ends in a vowel, add an s to make it plural while changing its article.
La cama → Las camas
(The bed → The beds)
If a noun in Spanish ends in a consonant, add an es to make it plural while changing its article.
El profesor → Los profesores
(The professor → The professors)
After mastering nouns, gender, articles and plurals, you’ll be able to tell your roommate all about running into Pitbull in front of the museum. Understanding nouns, gender, articles and plurals will help you be able to converse like a native.
It also will help you be clear when you’re speaking. For example, you’ll be able to effectively communicate whether you saw one or two celebrities and their gender(s). Those details matter.
Take the challenge: Any time you learn a new vocabulary word, quiz yourself on the definition and on all the articles and gender alterations of the word. This will help you get in the habit of changing your words based on gender and plurals.
2. How to Ask Questions
Questions are your best friend when learning a new language.
Don’t know where to go? Can’t understand a phrase? Want to try a local restaurant? You need to know how to ask.
Questions are essential to any sort of conversation, especially in a foreign language. Questions can help you navigate around a new city, try a new food or even learn new words.
Your voice inflection is the easiest way to ask a question in Spanish. If you’re speaking, you simply raise your voice upward at the end of a statement and that turns it into a question.
In written Spanish, double question marks are the equivalent of raising the pitch of your voice when asking a question verbally. It signifies to the reader that it’s a question, not a statement. The written way to ask a question is by including an upside down question mark at the beginning of the sentence and a question mark at the end.
¿Qué significa esta palabra? (What does this word mean?)
Interrogatives are Spanish question words. They have accents that let the reader know they’re being used as a question word rather than a normal statement word. It’s important to use these because they help differentiate from their normal statement use.
Use this great online Spanish question game to familiarize yourself with common question words.
Then, find a Spanish learning partner and try to use the following three questions throughout your day to help you practice.
¿Qué significa ____? (What does ____ mean?)
¿Dónde está ____? (Where is ____?)
¿Quién es ____? (Who is ____?)
3. How to Describe Things
Learning a different language is all about expressing yourself and your surroundings in new ways. Learning description words in Spanish and how to describe things is essential to communicating effectively, learning more about Spanish-language culture and learning more about yourself.
As you learn about a new culture, you want to be able to not only experience it but tell others about it. How do you tell your host family about the differences in cultures? How do you tell a new friend about the local restaurant you just tried and loved? You use descriptions. More specifically, descriptive adjectives.
Descriptive sentences in Spanish follow the same basic grammar principles as English with one main exception. In Spanish, the adjective follows the noun rather than preceding it.
This just means you’ll need to train your brain to think backward for sentence formations:
If Carlos has big hands, you would say he has manos grandes (hands big).
If Alexis has long hair, you would say pelo largo (hair long).
If you’ve just begun learning Spanish, you can start with this starter list of common adjectives for beginners. When you’re ready, you can move on to this guide to using descriptive adjectives.
Once you’re a little further along and ready to get in even more practice with Spanish descriptions, try reading a book you know and love in English, like Harry Potter, but in Spanish. Your familiarity with the text will help you recognize useful description phrases in Spanish and help you learn new vocabulary words.
4. How to Learn Basic Conjugation
By this point, you’ve familiarized yourself (at least a little!) with nouns, description words and questions. Separately, the above concepts will help you get by, but used together, they’ll help you speak like a native. In order to put those concepts together, you need verbs, and to use verbs, you need to know basic conjugation.
Why? Because conjugating verbs will help you sound much more fluent in your speaking. An incorrect conjugation can completely change the meaning of a sentence.
For example, Yo soy de Tejas means “I am from Texas.” However, if you change the conjugation it changes the sentence completely:
Eres de Tejas. (You are from Texas.)
Don’t stress, though. Conjugating verbs takes some dedicated study and memorization, but you can move slowly. If you’re a beginning Spanish speaker, don’t worry about mastering all conjugations at the beginning. Start with some basic verbs to help you get by as you gain more experience.
Memorize Basic Present Tense Conjugations
Speaking in the present tense is the easiest and most basic place to start when conjugating. For the most part, you can get by only speaking in the present tense. Think of your normal conversations in English. Most English conversations are conducted in the present tense, and the same is true for Spanish speakers.
Here’s an excerpt of a conversation held just minutes ago:
“Hi Lauren, how are you doing today?”
“I am doing well.”
“Glad to hear it. Do you have any fun plans tonight?”
“No, I am staying home tonight.”
The above conversation is all conducted in the present tense. Take a couple of minutes to memorize the below present tense conjugation endings so that you can feel confident when speaking in any situation.
Speaking of yourself: o
Speaking informally of someone else: as
Speaking formally of someone else: a
Speaking of a group including yourself: amos, emos, imos
Speaking of a group not including yourself: an
Learn Stem-changing Verbs, or “Shoe Verbs”
This group of verbs consists of a handful of -ar, -er and -ir verbs. When you conjugate a stem-changing verb, the conjugations that fit inside a “shoe” shape have their vowels changed from a single vowel to a double vowel.
The groups that fit into the “shoe” or stem-changing category are speaking of yourself, speaking informally of someone else, speaking formally of someone else and speaking of a group, not including yourself.
Check out this list of commonly used stem-changing verbs.
Stem-changing verbs consist of many commonly used Spanish verbs. By familiarizing yourself with these verbs you’ll better prepare yourself for learning past tense and future tense conjugations. Practice makes perfect. Take a couple minutes to practice conjugating stem-changing verbs and implementing the shoe trick to know what to change. Use these downloadable worksheets for practice!
5. How to Take In a Brief, Relaxed Overview of the Spanish Tenses
Learning Spanish grammar and learning Spanish tenses can be overwhelming. Luckily, not all of these tenses can or even should be learned right away.
However, having a general idea of them early on will make learning them less intimidating later. So for now, just relax and focus on becoming familiar with what each tense is and when it’s used.
Present tense is exactly what you think. It’s speaking in the present.
¿Cómo estás? Yo estoy bien.
(How are you doing? I am well.)
¿Qué estás haciendo? Yo estoy leyendo.
(What are you doing? I am reading.)
The Past Imperfect
The imperfect tense is the tense you use when speaking about the past and actions that occurred repeatedly in the past. In addition, it’s used when referencing an action that happened over an extended period of time, or habitually. It’s also used when discussing actions that are not physical, but rather emotional, or mental.
Comía pan tostado todos los días.
(I ate toast every day.)
The Past Preterite
The preterite tense is used when speaking about specific actions in the past. Mostly, these actions will have been a one-time occurrence, or are actions with a specific start time and end time.
The preterite also is used when discussing a completed action and is always used when listing a series of consecutive actions, like so:
“I washed my face, brushed my teeth and went to sleep.”
The easiest way to remember the preterite tense is to remember that the preterite tense answers the question of what happened.
Comí pan tostado ayer.
(I ate toast yesterday.)
The future tense is used when discussing what will happen or what might happen in the future. The future tense is also used when discussing or expressing probability in the present. When discussing the near future, use the present tense. The future tense is used for the far-away future.
Yo ganaré la medalla de oro.
(I will win the gold medal.)
Yo compraré ese suéter la próxima semana.
(I will buy that sweater next week.)
The subjunctive is one of the most daunting features of the Spanish language for English speakers because it’s not commonly used in the English language. The subjunctive is used when discussing uncertainty and can be used in the past, present or the future tenses.
The subjunctive reflects how the speaker feels about a certain action (as opposed to the speaker merely discussing the action that will happen, is happening or has happened).
There are certain phrases that indicate use of the subjunctive. These phrases typically reflect the speaker’s will or desire. The subjunctive conjugation is then used following the indicative phrase.
Check out this example using the indicative phrase esperar que (to hope that):
Espero que Maria se vuelva profesora.
(I hope that Maria becomes a teacher.)
In the above example, espero que (I hope that) is the indicative phrase that lets us know to use the subjunctive. Se vuelva (becomes) is the use of the subjunctive tense.
The above example indicates the mood of the speaker about something uncertain. In the above example, it’s never certain that Maria will become a teacher.
As your knowledge of Spanish verb tenses develops, practice identifying the different verb tenses by watching movies in Spanish. Pay particular attention to when a character is telling a story or talking about an experience and try to identify what tense they’re speaking in. Watching movies in Spanish is an all-around great way to become more familiar with Spanish grammar. Knock out your Friday night plans and your Spanish grammar lessons all with one activity!
The Main Takeaway: Learning Spanish Grammar Doesn’t Have to Be Stressful
Learning Spanish grammar takes time. However, familiarizing yourself with the basics will help you as you continue to learn. Learning the basics of Spanish grammar is the equivalent of building a foundation before building a house. It’s necessary and essential to further functionality.
There are great, unique learning resources out there like Spanish podcasts, fun vocabulary word lists and Spanish movies. Language learning apps, like FluentU, are also a convenient option that have unique takes on how to make Spanish approachable. In the case of FluentU, the program embeds authentic videos with learner tools like interactive captions and personalized quizzes to teach Spanish words and grammar in context.
All these will help you learn Spanish grammar in non-traditional, non-stressful ways. Soon enough, grammar will be nothing to fear.
Remember to be patient with yourself and to have fun!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)