Don’t let Spanish verb conjugations ruin your day.
A little bit of practice is all it takes to master the conjugation process!
Anyone who’s ever taken a beginner Spanish course will probably groan at the mere mention of verb conjugation. For the uninitiated, conjugation involves changing a verb form to provide information about the action being performed.
These verbs take on different endings based on who is performing the action. The conjugated verb form also gives an idea as to when the action was performed, and the relation of the verb to the other words in the sentence.
Fortunately, there are concrete rules to help you convey all of this information.
In this post, we’ll walk you through Spanish verb conjugation, starting with the most basic rules and then working through irregularities and other wrinkles. Note that we 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, we’ll also give you some great resources to try these rules out yourself.
How to Conjugate Spanish Verbs: Essential Rules and Practice Resources
1. How to Conjugate Regular Verbs in the Present Tense
Before graduating to different tenses, it’s useful to start by learning the rules for how to conjugate Spanish verbs in the present tense.
First, Look for the Person Performing the Action
When conjugating Spanish verbs in the present tense, first identify who’s performing the action. There are eight possible performers/subjects:
- Yo — I
- Tú — you (singular familiar)
- Usted — you (singular formal)
- Él, ella — he, she
- Nosotros/as — we
- Vosotros/as — you (plural familiar)
- Ustedes — you (plural formal)
- Ellos/as — 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, just like ellos, ellas and ustedes (them, plural you) are.
Then Add the Appropriate Ending
Now that we know who’s performing the action, we can get to the meat of 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 following examples demonstrate how to conjugate all regular verbs, respective of their endings.
For example, here’s how you’d conjugate hablar (to speak). You would use the same verb endings to conjugate other regular -ar verbs.
For regular -er verbs, such as comer (to eat):
For regular -ir verbs, such as vivir (to live):
You’ll notice that all present tense conjugations have the same first-person conjugation, regardless of the verb ending.
There are also several stem-changing verbs and irregular verb forms that can differ from these rules, as we’ll discuss below.
Conjugating Reflexive Verbs
Reflexive verbs have a subject that’s the same as the object, such as in the sentence “I weigh myself.”
To conjugate reflexive verbs, you’ll also need 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 any tense:
- Yo → me (myself)
- Tú → te (yourself, informal)
- Usted → se (yourself, formal)
- Él, ella → se (himself/herself)
- Nosotros/as → nos (ourselves)
- Vosotros/as → os (yourselves, informal)
- Ustedes → se (yourselves, formal)
- Ellos/as → se (themselves)
Next, place the reflexive pronoun before the verb.
So for example, with the sentence “I wash myself,” you would need the verb lavarse (to wash oneself; the reflexive version of the verb lavar — to wash). When conjugated, the sentence becomes Yo me lavo.
2. How to Handle Irregularities in the Present Tense
Conjugating Stem-changing Verbs
Verb stem changes only affect verbs in the present simple, past simple and present continuous tenses. For stem-changing verbs, you still have to change the suffix, but there’s an additional step to complete the conjugation: changing the stem.
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:
Rules for Irregular Yo Forms
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) becomes extingo.
For the verbs that end in -ger or -gir, the g in the yo form turns into a j.
For example: dirigir (to direct) becomes dirijo, and escoger (to choose) becomes escojo.
The aforementioned Spanish verb conjugation rules don’t apply here in a helpful way, so Spanish verbs with irregular forms must be memorized. If you need some additional irregular Spanish verb practice, you can find more irregular forms here.
3. How to Conjugate in the Present Progressive
Present progressive verbs 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):
Then, change the suffix of the action verb:
- -ar to -ando
- -er/ir to -iendo
Let’s take an example with the verb escribir (to write). How should we form the sentence “I am writing” in Spanish?
First we’d need to conjugate estar in the yo form. We get estoy.
Then, we change the suffix of the verb escribir to get escribiendo.
Now our sentence reads Estoy escribiendo.
4. 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.
In this verb tense, the -er/-ir forms have the same ending:
|-ar verbs||–er/-ir verbs|
To give an example, “I swam” becomes Yo nadé, where nadar (to swim) is the verb infinitive.
For this verb tense, accents are important, but are only used for the first and third person.
5. How to Conjugate in the Future Tense
Many consider the future tense 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.
Here are the verb endings for the future tense:
The sentence “I will drive” becomes Yo manejaré, where the verb is manejar (to drive).
Hard Time Conjugating? Try These Practice Resources
If you’re just getting started, learning how to conjugate Spanish verbs can be a bit overwhelming. If it’s not instant recall (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:
- Verb tenses
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 out:
- The SpanishDict conjugation tool: You can type in any verb you need to look up or test yourself on. You can enter the infinitive or a conjugated form in the search bar and you’ll get comprehensive conjugation charts.
- conjugation.org: This is a straightforward tool for learning or testing yourself on conjugated forms of Spanish verb infinitives. You can select which tenses to focus on, which makes this especially useful for beginners who don’t want to be overwhelmed.
- FluentU: Want to practice Spanish verbs in a more natural environment? FluentU is an innovative tool that teaches vocabulary and grammar through real-world Spanish videos, like movie trailers, YouTube clips, news broadcasts and more.
Each video comes with interactive captions providing definitions for all words used in the video. You’ll get to see how verbs are formed in the context of authentic Spanish speech or dialogue. Plus, after watching a video, you’ll get learning tools like exercises and flashcards to make sure you retain what you’ve learned.
You’ll pick up new verbs and reinforce the ones you already know, all while absorbing Spanish the way natives really use it.
Learning Spanish verb conjugations is part practice, 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!
Do you have any tricks revolving around how to conjugate Spanish verbs? If so, tweet them at @FluentU!
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