spanish verb conjugation

How to Conjugate Any Spanish Verb in 12 Straightforward Steps

Spanish verb conjugations are like puzzles.

They give us a whole lot of information about the person, the time and the mood of the verb.

We just have to figure out which piece goes where.

For the uninitiated: Conjugation is changing a verb form to provide information about the action being performed.

Spanish verbs take on different endings based on who is performing the action.

The conjugated verb also lets us know when the action was performed and the relation of the verb to the other words in the sentence.

Are you drinking coffee as you read this, or did you drink some yesterday? Is your friend drinking it with you? Were you drinking but then you stopped mid-sip to read this post? Each of these statements requires a different conjugation in Spanish!

So, how do you know which puzzle piece you need in order to form the correct verb? There are some concrete rules you can follow.

In this post, I’ll walk you through Spanish verb conjugation, starting with the most basic rules and then working through irregularities and other wrinkles.

Note that I won’t cover every possible tense and conjugation rule—we’ll be hitting the fundamentals that should prepare you to then move on to more advanced verb use.

And since the secret to mastering verb conjugation is practice, I’ve included some great resources to get hands-on practice with these rules yourself.

This post was updated on 9/14/2021 by Francisco J. Vare

1. Get to Know the Basics of Spanish Conjugation

In a nutshell, verb conjugation consists of these two steps:

  1. Look for the person performing the action.
  2. Add the appropriate ending.

When conjugating Spanish verbs in the present tense, first identify who’s performing the action. This is your “subject.” There are eight possible subjects:

  • Yo — I
  • — you (singular informal)
  • Usted — you (singular formal)
  • Él/ella — he, she
  • Nosotros/nosotras — we
  • Vosotros/vosotras — you (plural informal)
  • Ustedes — you (plural formal)
  • Ellos/ellas — them

Note that although there are eight subjects, there are only six forms of verb conjugation. Él, ella and usted (he, she, you) are conjugated the same, as are ellos, ellas and ustedes (them, plural you). 

Now that we know who’s performing the action, we can do the actual verb conjugation. We’ll need to pick the correct verb ending depending on who the subject is.

Spanish verb infinitives (a.k.a. the dictionary version of the verb) end in the letters -ar, -er or -ir.

To conjugate an infinitive, remove the final two letters and add the appropriate ending.

The appropriate ending depends on:

  • which tense you’re using (i.e. do you want to talk about the past, present or future?)
  • which mood you’re using (i.e. are you asking a question, stating a desire or making a command?)
  • whether the verb is regular or irregular

Let’s start with one of the most common tenses: the present tense.

2. Learn How to Conjugate Regular Verbs in the Present Tense

The Spanish present tense tells facts that are true in the current moment:

Yo quiero un gato. (I want a cat.)

It’s also used for general statements

Yo hablo español. (I speak Spanish.)

It’s the most basic and common Spanish tense, so it’s the ideal place for beginner conjugators to get started.

The following tables will demonstrate how to conjugate all regular verbs based on their endings.

-ar verbs

Here’s how you’d conjugate hablar (to speak). You use the same verb endings to conjugate other regular -ar verbs.

 -ar Verbs in the Present Tense
yo-ohabloyo hablo
-ashablastú hablas
usted
él
ella
-ahablausted/él/ella habla
nosotros/as-amoshablamosnosotros/as hablamos
vosotros/as-áishabláisvosotros/as habláis
ustedes
ellos
ellas
-anhablanustedes/ellos/ellas hablan

-er verbs

For regular -er verbs, such as comer (to eat):

 -er Verbs in the Present Tense
yo-ocomoyo como
-escomestú comes
usted
él
ella
-ecomeusted/él/ella come
nosotros/as-emoscomemosnosotros/as comemos
vosotros/as-éiscoméisvosotros/as coméis
ustedes
ellos
ellas
-encomenustedes/ellos/ellas comen

-ir verbs

For regular -ir verbs, such as vivir (to live):

 -ir Verbs in the Present Tense
yo-ovivoyo vivo
-esvivestú vives
usted
él
ella
-eviveusted/él/ella vive
nosotros/as-imosvivimosnosotros/as vivimos
vosotros/as-ísvivísvosotros/as vivís
ustedes
ellos
ellas
-envivenustedes/ellos/ellas viven

You’ll notice that all present tense conjugations have the same first-person conjugation, regardless of the verb ending.

Seems easy enough, right?

Here are a few examples of this tense in action:

Antonio canta por las mañanas. (Antonio sings in the mornings.)

Mi sobrino come mucho. (My nephew eats a lot.)

Patricia vive en Madrid. (Patricia lives in Madrid.)

3. Learn How to Conjugate Reflexive Verbs in the Present Tense

Reflexive verbs perform an action on themselves. That is, they have a subject that’s the same as the object, such as in the sentence “I weigh myself.”

As mentioned earlier, you can spot them in Spanish because their infinitive verb form often includes a pronoun, for example:

  • lavarse (to wash oneself)
  • bañarse (to bathe oneself)
  • despertarse (to wake oneself up)

To conjugate reflexive verbs, you’ll also need to choose the appropriate reflexive pronoun, to indicate the subject/object relationship.

The pronoun se relates to the self, like “himself” or “herself.”

The following reflexive pronouns can be used for reflexive verbs in any tense:

  • Yo → me (myself)
  • Tú → te (yourself, informal)
  • Usted → se (yourself, formal)
  • Él/ella → se (himself/herself)
  • Nosotros/nosotras → nos (ourselves)
  • Vosotros/nosotras → os (yourselves, informal)
  • Ustedes → se (yourselves, formal)
  • Ellos/ellas → se (themselves)

You’ll typically place the reflexive pronoun right before the conjugated verb.

So for example, to say the sentence “I wash myself” in Spanish, you’ll be using the verb lavarse.

When conjugated, the sentence becomes Yo me lavo.

Here are a few more examples:

Pedro se ducha todos los días. (Pedro showers [himself] every day.)

Siempre me acuesto a las 10. (I always go to bed at 10 p.m.)

¿Por qué no te afeitas(Why don’t you shave [yourself]?)

4. Learn How to Conjugate in the Present Progressive

The present progressive tense is used to refer to actions happening right now. In the English language, this would refer to verbs ending in -ing.

To form sentences in the present progressive, you must first know how to conjugate the verb estar (to be):

 Estar in the Present Tense 
yo-oyestoyyo estoy
-ásestástú estás
usted
él
ella
estáusted/él/ella está
nosotros/as-amosestamosnosotros/as estamos
vosotros/as-áisestáisvosotros/as estáis
ustedes
ellos
ellas
-ánestánustedes/ellos/ellas están

Then, change the ending of the action verb as follows:

  • -ar to -ando
  • -er/ir to -iendo

Let’s take use the verb escribir (to write) as an example. How should we form the sentence “I am writing” in Spanish?

  • First, conjugate estar in the yo form, estoy.
  • Then, change the verb escribir to escribiendo.
  • Then, combine the two to get Estoy escribiendo (I am writing).

To make things easier for you, here’s the full list of the present progressive endings:

 Estar-ar-er-ir
yoestoyyo estoy hablandoyo estoy comiendoyo estoy viviendo
estásestás
hablando
estás comiendoestás viviendo
usted
él
ella
estáusted/él/ella
está hablando
usted/él/ella
está comiendo
usted/él/ella
está viviendo
nosotros/as estamosnosotros/as estamos hablandonosotros/as estamos comiendonosotros/as estamos
viviendo
vosotros/as estáisvosotros/as
estáis hablando
vosotros/as
estáis comiendo
vosotros/as
estáis viviendo
ustedes
ellos
ellas
estánustedes/ellos/
ellas están hablando
ustedes/ellos/
ellas están comiendo
ustedes/ellos/
ellas están viviendo

And here are a few examples:

Mi vecino está llorando(My neighbor is crying.)

Estamos bebiendo café. (We’re drinking coffee.)

Estoy escribiendo un correo electrónico. (I’m writing an email.)

5. Learn How to Conjugate in the Past Tense

The past tense, or the preterite, refers to the simplest form of the Spanish past tense. In English, conjugating to the past tense would typically involve adding the suffix -ed to a verb.

Basically, use this tense to talk about things that have already happened.

-ar verbs

The following table will show you how to conjugate -ar verbs in the past tense:

 -ar Verbs in the Past Tense
yohabléyo hablé
-astehablastetú hablaste
usted
él
ella
hablóusted/él/ella habló
nosotros/as-amoshablamosnosotros/as hablamos
vosotros/as-asteishablasteisvosotros/as hablasteis
ustedes
ellos
ellas
-aronhablaronustedes/ellos/ellas hablaron

-er / -ir verbs

In this verb tense, the -er and -ir forms have the same ending:

 -er and -ir Verbs in the Past Tense
yocomí
viví
yo comí
yo viví
-istecomiste
viviste
tú comiste
tú viviste
usted
él
ella
-iócom
viv
usted/él/ella comió
usted/él/ella vivió
nosotros/as-imoscomimos
vivimos
nosotros/as comimos
nosotros/as vivimos
vosotros/as-isteiscomisteis
vivisteis
vosotros/as comisteis
vosotros/as vivisteis
ustedes
ellos
ellas
-ieroncomieron
vivieron
ustedes/ellos/ellas comieron
ustedes/ellos/ellas vivieron

Note the placement of accents in this verb tense: They’re important but are only used for the first and third person.

Here are a few examples:

Ayer llamamos a nuestra abuela. (We called our grandma yesterday.)

Anabel com pizza anoche. (Anabel ate pizza last night.)

Vivieron 10 años en Buenos Aires. (They lived in Buenos Aires for 10 years.)

6. Learn How to Conjugate in the Future Tense

Many consider the future tense to be one of the easiest to conjugate in Spanish.

When you conjugate Spanish verbs to the future tense, all ending suffixes stay the same, regardless of whether the verb ends in -ar, -er or -ir.

Additionally, you don’t have to drop any letters from the infinitive before conjugating.

-ar / -er / -ir verbs

Here are the verb endings for the future tense:

 Future Tense (Infinitive + Ending)
yohablaré
comeré
viviré
yo hablaré
yo comeré
yo viviré
-áshablarás
comerás
vivirás
tú hablarás
tú comerás
tú vivirás
usted
él
ella
hablará
comerá
vivirá
usted/él/ella hablará
usted/él/ella comerá
usted/él/ella vivirá
nosotros/as -emoshablaremos
comeremos
viviremos
nosotros/as hablaremos
nosotros/as comeremos
nosotros/as viviremos
vosotros/as -éishablaréis
comeréis
viviréis
vosotros/as hablaréis
vosotros/as comeréis
vosotros/as viviréis
ustedes
ellos
ellas
-ánhablarán
comerán
vivirán
ustedes/ellos/ellas hablarán
ustedes/ellos/ellas comerán
ustedes/ellos/ellas vivirán

Check out a few more examples of the future tense at work:

Mañana lloverá(It’ll rain tomorrow.)

Serás muy feliz aquí. (You’ll be very happy here.)

Iremos a dormir muy pronto. (We’ll go to sleep very soon.)

The future tense is simple enough, right?

Note that the future tense is reserved for a slightly more distant future. This tense is often not used for something that will happen in the very near future (as in hours or minutes). When something is happening relatively soon, but still somewhat in the future, you’d more often use the present tense, or the ir + a + infinitive form, to describe this.

Now that we’ve gone through the main conjugations in Spanish, don’t forget to practice all the basic tenses so that you can distinguish between them.

If you ever struggle to switch between tenses, FluentU has a helpful video titled “Breakfast Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” that makes use of reflexive verbs, as well as verbs in the simple past, present and future tenses!

spanish verb conjugations

Additionally, you’ll learn a few adverbs of time (like today, yesterday and tomorrow) in Spanish, which will prompt you on the appropriate tense to use.

7. Stop Being Afraid of Irregular Verbs

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. And in Spanish, many verbs simply don’t follow the rules of conjugation that I mentioned in the previous steps. These are called irregular verbs.

As you study Spanish, you’ll come across irregular verbs pretty often. In fact, many of the most common verbs are irregular!

In most cases, you’ll just have to memorize the special conjugations for irregular verbs.

Many students are a bit intimidated by irregular verbs, but the truth is that you’ll get to know these irregularities through use and practice.

In addition, many irregular verbs follow their own rules and patterns. Below, I’ll show you how to conjugate some of the most common types of irregular verbs.

8. Get to Know Stem-changing Verbs

Stem-changing verbs have the same conjugations as regular verbs. Their irregularity is seen in their stem—the part that remains when you drop the -ar / -er / -ir ending.

When you conjugate a stem-changing verb in the present simple, past simple or present continuous tenses, their stem changes.

The stem change applies to all forms of the verb except the nosotros and vosotros forms, as you can see in the table below.

Querer (to want) is an example of a stem-changing verb, which would be conjugated as such:

 Querer in the Present Tense
yo-oquieroyo quiero
-esquierestú quieres
usted
él
ella
-equiereusted/él/ella quiere
nosotros/as-emosqueremosnosotros/as queremos
vosotros/as-éisqueréisvosotros/as queréis
ustedes
ellos
ellas
-enquierenustedes/ellos/ellas quieren

Stem-changing verbs can be a bit tricky at first, so it’s always helpful to spend a little more time with them so that you can express yourself better with native speakers.

To learn more about these verbs in Spanish, FluentU has a dedicated playlist of videos that feature the most common stem-changing verbs you’ll need on a day-to-day basis.

spanish verb conjugations

Each video is about a minute-long dialogue that focuses on a couple of stem-changing verbs, which allows you to listen to and practice a smaller set before moving onto the next few verbs.

If the dialogue is moving too fast, feel free to hover over the subtitles to automatically pause the audio. Hovering over each word will display its definition.

To learn more about the terms, click on the words to see and listen to example sentences. From there, you can also add the words to your in-app custom flashcard set or vocabulary list to return to the terms whenever you need to.

And if you need to see the words in a different context, you’ll also get to see a list of other videos that feature the same word.

If you want to see the dialogue in full, you also have the option to download the transcript. You can then print it out to highlight terms and add your own written notes.

Once you’re done with each video, don’t forget to test yourself on this irregular form with the respective quizzes.

You can try the FlunetU free trial to gain access to the full program.

9. Learn to Recognize Irregular Yo Forms

Some verbs are only irregular when you conjugate them to their yo form. These are often easy to spot: Verbs with irregular yo forms usually end in -guir, -ger or -gir.

For verbs that end in -guir, the conjugated yo form ends in –go.

For example:

  • extinguir (to extinguish) → extingo (I extinguish)

For the verbs that end in -ger or -gir, the g in the yo form turns into a j.

For example: 

  • dirigir (to direct) → dirijo (I direct)
  • escoger (to choose) → escojo (I choose)

The aforementioned Spanish verb conjugation rules don’t apply here in a helpful way, so Spanish verbs with irregular yo forms must be memorized.

10. Learn to Spot Spelling-changing Verbs

Some verbs change their spelling when they’re conjugated a certain way.

You can see an example of this with -uir words. They’re conjugated normally for the most part, but the i becomes y in all forms except for nosotros and vosotros.

Here are some examples: 

  • incluir (to include) → ella incluye (she includes)
  • huir (to run away) → ellos huyen (they run away)
  • destruir (to destroy) → yo destruyo (I destroy)

Another example is verbs ending in -cer and -cir. To keep the “th” sound, the letter z is used in the first person conjugation (I).

If there’s a consonant before -cer / -cir, the c changes into a z:

  • vencer (to defeat) → yo venz(I defeat)

If there’s a vowel before -cer / -cir, the z is added before the c:

  • producir (to produce) → yo produzco (I produce)

11. Memorize the Most Common Irregular Verbs

There are some special irregular verbs that just completely drop all rules and do their own thing. It’s best to just memorize these verbs and forms.

Two of the most common verbs with special irregular forms that you need to remember are ser (to be) and ir (to go).

Here’s how you conjugate ser in the present tense:

 Ser in the Present Tense
yosoyyo soy
erestú eres
usted
él
ella
esusted/él/ella es
nosotros/assomosnosotros/as somos
vosotros/assoisvosotros/as sois
ustedes
ellos
ellas
sonustedes/ellos/ellas son

And here’s how you conjugate ir in the present tense:

 Ir in the Present Tense
yovoyyo voy
vastú vas
usted
él
ella
vausted/él/ella va
nosotros/asvamosnosotros/as vamos
vosotros/asvaisvosotros/as vais
ustedes
ellos
ellas
vanustedes/ellos/ellas van

There are many more irregular verbs that you’ll need to remember as you encounter them. For some additional irregular Spanish verb practice, you can find more irregular forms here.

12. Practice Conjugating Spanish Verbs with Online Resources

If you’re just getting started, learning how to conjugate Spanish verbs can be a bit overwhelming.

If it’s not instant recall yet (and it won’t be for a while), the following techniques and tools can help you to bridge the gap.

For starters, you can create three sets of flashcards for super-efficient practice:

  • Pronouns
  • Verb tenses
  • Infinitives

Choose a card from each set at random and test your ability to conjugate Spanish verbs on the go. This will help you to develop conversational fluency with quick recall.

For a high-tech version of this, Spanish411 offers an online tool for practicing verb conjugations.

Looking for more digital conjugation practice? Check these out:

Spanish Verb Conjugation FAQ

How do you know if a Spanish word is a verb or not?

If you’re wondering whether a Spanish word is a verb or not, I assume you’re a beginner learner, so I’ll try to keep this as simple as possible.

Look at the ending of the word. As I’ve just mentioned, unconjugated Spanish verbs end in -ar, -er or -ir.

If a verb is reflexive—that is, it’s an action that’s performed by someone on themselves—then it’ll end in -se. This means the infinitive will actually end in -arse, -erse or -irse. Easy.

To recap: If a Spanish word ends in -ar / -er / -ir or -arse / -erse / -irse, then it’s an unconjugated verb.

But what if the verb is conjugated? Those are a little tougher to spot.

To recognize a verb that’s already been conjugated, you’ll have to learn the different tense endings.

One more method for recognizing if a word is a verb or not is to learn a bit about Spanish sentence structure and word order.

Spanish is a pretty flexible language, but there are some rules that have very few exceptions. 

For instance, verbs follow the subject (who is doing the action) but precede the object (what the action is being done on). For example:

El perro come salchichas. (The dog eats sausages.)
El perro (subject), come (verb), salchichas (direct object)

Another sentence structure rule is that the adverb (how the action is being performed) normally follows the verb:

El perro come lentamente. (The dog eats slowly.)
El perro (subject), come (verb), lentamente (adverb)

By learning some basic sentence structure rules and being able to recognize other parts of speech, you should be able to pick out the verb in a sentence.

How many types of verbs are there in Spanish?

The answer to this question depends on how you classify a verb. There’s no one correct answer here, as there are many different ways to group verbs.

Some common categorizations are:

  • The three Spanish verb endings: -ar, -er or -ir
  • Whether a verb is regular or irregular
  • Whether a verb is reflexive or not
  • What tense it’s in (i.e. past, present, future)
  • What mood it’s in (i.e. indicative, subjunctive, imperative—more on this in a moment)
  • …and many more!

As you can see, there are a lot of ways in which we can divide Spanish verbs, some more useful than others. 

For now, these are the most important things you should remember about the different types of Spanish verbs:

  • They can be regular or irregular
  • They belong to one of three conjugations: -ar, -er, -ir
  • They have different endings depending on their grammatical person (in other words, subject)
  • They also have different endings depending on their tense and mood

I’ll take a brief look at the definition of tense and mood in the last question of this FAQ.

How can you tell if a Spanish verb is regular or irregular?

You’re not going to like this answer, but I won’t sugarcoat it: There’s no way to know if a verb is regular or irregular unless you know that verb.

It’s the same in English. Take the infinitive “to drink,” for example. When I started learning irregular English verbs, I had to memorize the irregular past simple (drank) and the irregular past participle (drunk).

When learning Spanish, you’ll have to do pretty much the same. When you find out a verb is irregular, you’ll have to learn its irregularity and practice a lot until it gets ingrained in your brain. (Don’t worry, many students have done it, so you will, too!)

If you allow me to give you one tip, this is it: Do not try to memorize lists of irregular verbs if you can avoid it. 

Learning irregular Spanish verbs is easier when you learn each verb and its irregularities in isolation.

You can create lists of verbs that have the same irregularities but don’t learn an endless list of verb infinitives that are irregular when fully conjugated. You’ll want to give up after 10 minutes.

How many Spanish verb conjugations are there?

In order to better answer this question, there are three terms you should know the meaning of first:

  • Tense: A tense indicates the time the action of a verb takes place. It tells you if the action takes place in the past, the present or the future.
  • Mood: In grammar, a mood indicates the attitude of the speaker toward what’s being said. In other words, the mood tells us if a sentence is a fact, a wish, a command, a condition, a question, etc.

    The three main moods are:

    • indicative: statements and questions
    • subjunctive: wishes and desires
    • imperative: commands
  • Aspect: The aspect of a verb tells us how the action of said verb extends over time. Simply put, it refers to whether an action is continuous (ongoing) or not.

By joining tense, mood and aspect, we get so-called complete conjugations.

We normally don’t count the continuous conjugations in Spanish because they always use a tense plus a present participle.

Also note that although the conditional (“if… then…”) is, by definition, also a mood, I’ve included conditional tenses with the indicative.

Bearing this in mind, the total number of different conjugations you’ll have to learn in Spanish is:

  • Indicative: 10 different conjugations (one is obsolete and almost never used)
  • Subjunctive: 6 different conjugations (two are obsolete and almost never used)
  • Imperative: 2 different conjugations (affirmative and negative commands, but negative commands look like the present subjunctive)

In short, you’ll need to learn 14 distinct Spanish conjugations.

But don’t be intimidated by that number! If you just take it one step at a time, you’ll master them all in no time.

And there’s no better place to start than the present.

 

Learning Spanish verb conjugations is part practice and part memorization when you’re just getting started with the Spanish language.

There are a lot of rules to commit to memory, and you’ll conjugate hundreds of verbs before finally feeling like you’re getting the hang of things.

Don’t give up—it’s hard work to become a master!

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