How to Use the 20 Most Common Irregular Spanish Verbs

Let’s hear it for the outcasts.

The weirdos.

The totally, proudly irregular.

There’s a certain charm to being different—to playing by your own rules.

Even when it comes to Spanish verbs.

Right now, like a lot of Spanish learners, you might not be a fan of irregular verbs. Yes, they’re harder to learn because they don’t follow standard conjugation patterns. But they’re not always as baffling as they seem at first glance. In this post, we’ll show you some of the secret patterns underlying lots of Spanish irregular verbs, plus tips to master 20 of the most common ones in the language.

Hopefully you’ll walk away wondering what’s so great about being regular after all!


Why Irregular Verbs Aren’t as Hard as They Seem

Irregular verb conjugations might seem totally random and crazy when you start learning them. However, recognizing that there’s a method to the madness can help you get more comfortable with irregular verbs and learn them more quickly.

First, irregular verbs tend to be high-use verbs. Linguists have found that irregular verbs are “fossils” of grammar rules that no longer exist, and frequency of use has helped them survive. That means you’ll be encountering irregular verbs early and often as you start reading, listening to and communicating in Spanish, so you’ll get lots of opportunities to practice using them.

Second, irregular verbs often sound better and are easier to pronounce than they would be if they were conjugated regularly. Take ir (to go). If it were conjugated regularly in the first person present tense, it would become o. Its true first person present tense conjugation, voy, sounds much more natural.

Finally, many irregular verbs share the same rules and patterns. For example, when you add an a or an o to a stem ending in c, you change the c to zc, so agradecer (to thank) becomes agradezco (I thank/appreciate). Aparacer (to appear) becomes aparezco (I appear). I won’t go through them all here; the point is, you’ll eventually master this. It’s not as hard as it looks.

How to Use the 20 Most Common Irregular Spanish Verbs

1. Ser – to be (have a quality/possession/price/origin)

Ser is in a world of its own, conjugation-wise: no other verbs follow the same model. It’s particularly irregular in all of the present, past and subjunctive tenses, as well as the imperative, but follows the rules for the future, conditional and past participle.

Present: Yo soy, tú eres, él/ella/Ud es, nosotros somos, vosotros sois, ellos/ellas/Uds son

Past: Yo fui, tú fuiste, él/ella/Ud fue, nosotros fuimos, vosotros fuisteis, ellos/ellas/Uds fueron

La girafa es muy alta. (The giraffe is very tall.)

Soy de Australia. (I’m from Australia.)

2. Estar – to be (feelings/location)

Estar also has its own unique conjugations, though it’s regular in more tenses than ser (to be). It’s irregular in the present, past and future subjunctive.

Present: Yo estoy, tu estás, él/ella/Ud está, nosotros estamos, vosotros estáis, ellos/ellas/Uds están

Past: Yo estuve, tu estuviste, él/ella/Ud estuvo, nosotros estuvimos, vosotros estuvisteis, ellos/ellas/Uds estuvieron

El pingüino está molesto. (The penguin is angry.)

¿Dónde está el baño? (Where’s the toilet?)

3. Haber – to be (there is, auxiliary verb have)

Haber is used as an auxiliary verb in the same way that English uses “have,” for example, he comido (I’ve eaten). So, with a lot of use, it should become automatic fairly quickly for you. Its conjugations are unique. Conjugations of haber you’ll use often include hay (there is/are) and hubo (there were).

Present: Yo he, tú has, él/ella/Ud ha (but hay for impersonal), nosotros hemos, vosotros habéis, ellos/ellas/Uds han

Past: Yo hube, tú hubiste, él/ella/Ud hubo, nosotros hubimos, vosotros hubisteis, ellos/ellas/Uds hubieron

Hay un dragón en la colina. (There’s a dragon on the hill.)

Hubo un accidente en la autopista. (There was an accident on the road.)

4. Tener – to have/to have to do something

The present and subjective form of tener is completely irregular, but otherwise its irregularities often just involve an e-to-ie stem change, and tuv– for the past and subjunctive future.

Present: Yo tengo, tú tienes, él/ella/Ud tiene, nosotros tenemos, vosotros tenéis, ellos/ellas/Uds tienen

Past: Yo tuve, tú tuviste, él/ella/Ud tuvo, nosotros tuvimos, vosotros tuvisteis, ellos/ellas/Uds tuvieron

Tengo que irme ya. (I have to go now.)

Maria tiene dolor de cabeza. (Maria has a headache.)

5. Poder – to be able (can, permission)

Things get a bit easier with poder. It follows the same model as many irregular verbs, changing o to ue or to u, though be aware that its future form gets a bit complex. In all irregular verbs, when these changes to ue occur, nosotros is never affected.

Present: Yo puedo, tú puedes, él/ella/Ud puede, nosotros podemos, vosotros podéis, ellos/ellas/Uds pueden

Past: Yo pude, tú pudiste, él/ella/Ud pudo, nosotros pudimos, vosotros pudisteis, ellos/ellas/Uds pudieron

No puedo nadar. (I can’t swim.)

¿Puedo ayudarle? (Can I help you?)

6. Hacer – to do/to make

Hacer breaks all the rules in all the tenses, except, nicely, the present tense—apart from yo. Other verbs that follow exactly the same pattern include deshacer (undo) and satisfacer (satisfy).

Present: Yo hago, tú haces, él/ella/Ud hace, nosotros hacemos, vosotros hacéis, ellos/ellas/Uds hacen

Past: Yo hice, tú hiciste, él/ella/Ud hizo, nosotros hicimos, vosotros hicisteis, ellos/ellas/Uds hicieron

No hago deporte. (I don’t do sports.)

Me haces reir. (You make me laugh.)

7. Ir – to go

Ir is another verb that’s uniquely irregular in all of the tenses.

Present: Yo voy, tú vas, él/ella/Ud va, nosotros vamos, vosotros vais, ellos/ellas/Uds van

Past: Yo fui, tú fuiste, él/ella/Ud fue, nosotros fuimos, vosotros fuisteis, ellos/ellas/Uds fueron

Voy a Francia. (I’m going to France.)

Ya se fue. (He already left.)

8. Poner – to place/to put

For poner, the stem changes to u in the past tense.

Present: Yo pongo, tú pones, él/ella/Ud pone, nosotros ponemos, vosotros ponéis, ellos/ellas/Uds ponen

Past: Yo puse, tú pusiste, él/ella/Ud puso, nosotros pusimos, vosotros pusisteis, ellos/ellas/Uds pusieron

Puse los libros en los estantes. (I put the books on the shelves.)

Ponte los zapatos. (Put on your shoes.)

9. Decir – to say

Decir is conjugated in the same way as bendecir (to bless) and maldecir (to curse or insult).

Present: Yo digo, tú dices, él/ella/Ud dice, nosotros decimos, vosotros decís, ellos/ellas/Uds dicen

Past: Yo dije, tú dijiste, él/ella/Ud dijo, nosotros dijimos, vosotros dijisteis, ellos/ellas/Uds dijeron

Dice que el mundo está malo. (He says the world is bad.)

Se dice que es mejor comer un buen desayuno. (They say it’s better to eat a big breakfast.)

10. Ver – to see/to watch

Ver is another unique verb that doesn’t share the patterns of any other.

Present: Yo veo, tú ves, él/ella/Ud ve, nosotros vemos, vosotros veis, ellos/ellas/Uds ven

Past: Yo vi, tú viste, él/ella/Ud vio, nosotros vimos, vosotros visteis, ellos/ellas/Uds vieron

Te veo el lunes. (I’ll see you on Monday.)

Vio la película el lunes. (She saw the movie on Monday.)

11. Querer – to want/to care about

Querer’s stem changes to i in the past tense. Bienquerer (to be fond of) and malquerer (to dislike) conjugate in the same way.

Present: Yo quiero, tú quieres, él/ella/Ud quiere, nosotros queremos, vosotros queréis, ellos/ellas/Uds quieren

Past: Yo quise, tú quisiste, él/ella/Ud quiso, nosotros quisimos, vosotros quisisteis, ellos/ellas/Uds quiserion

Quiero irme ya. (I want to go now.)

Te quiero mucho. (I care about you a lot.)

12. Saber – to know/to taste

Like many irregular verbs, saber is irregular in the first person present tense and its stem in the past tense consistently changes to u.

Present: Yo sé, tú sabes, él/ella/Ud sabe, nosotros sabemos, vosotras sabéis, ellos/ellas/Uds saben

Past: Yo supe, tú supiste, él/ella/Ud supo, nosotros supimos, vosotras supisteis, ellos/ellas/Uds supieron

Él sabe todas las respuestas. (He knows all the answers.)

Sabe muy bien. (It tastes very good.)

13. Llegar – to arrive

The main way llegar is irregular is that its e changes to ue in the present subjunctive. Otherwise, it’s mostly regular.

Present: Yo llego, tú llegas, él/ella/Ud llega, nosotros llegamos, vosotros llegáis, ellos/ellas/Uds llegan

Past: Yo llegué, tú llegaste, él/ella/Ud llegó, nosotros llegamos, vosotros llegasteis, ellos/ellas/Uds llegaron

Llego a Caracas el jueves. (I arrive in Caracas on Thursday.)

Nunca llegó. (He never arrived.)

14. Creer – to think/to believe

Creer shares its conjugation pattern with a number of verbs, including desposeer (to dispossess), desproveer (to deprive), poseer (to own), proveer (to provide) and sobreseer (to discontinue). Its present tense is regular.

Present: Yo creo, tú crees, él/ella/Ud cree, nosotros creemos, vosotros creéis, ellos/ellas/Uds creen

Past: Yo creí, tu creíste, él/ella/Ud creyó, nosotros creímos, vosotros creísteis, ellos/ellas/Uds creyeron

No te creo. (I don’t believe you.)

No todo el mundo cree en Dios. (Not everyone believes in God.)

15. Encontrar – to find/to meet

Encontrar is another o ue verb.

Present: Yo encuentro, tú encuentras, él/ella/Ud encuentra, nosotros encontramos, vosotros encontráis, ellos/ellas/Uds encuentran

Past: Yo encontré, tú encontraste, él/ella/Ud encontró, nosotros encontramos, vosotros encontrasteis, ellos/ellas/Uds encontraron

Encontraron el cuerpo en el pecio. (They found the body in the wreckage of the ship.)

Me encontré a tu amigo en la calle. (I bumped into your friend in the street.)

16. Venir – to come

Venir conjugates in a similar way as tener (to have), with the first person present tense changing to a g, vengo.

Present: Yo vengo, tú vienes, él/ella/Ud viene, nosotros venimos, vosotros venís, ellos/ellas/Uds vienen

Past: Yo vine, tú viniste, él/ella/Ud vino, nosotros vinimos, vosotros vinisteis, ellos/ellas/Uds vinieron

La profe vino tarde. (The teacher came late.)

Vengo de lejos. (I come from far away.)

17. Pensar – to think

Pensar has an e ie verb change in the present simple and present subjunctive. A lot of verbs follow this pattern, such as alentar (to encourage), apretar (to squeeze), calentar (to heat), cerrar (to close) and confesar (to confess). Notice they’re all -ar verbs with an e in the second to last syllable.

Present: Yo pienso, tú piensas, él/ella/Ud piensa, nosotros pensamos, vosotros pensáis, ellos/ellas/Uds piensan

Past: Yo pensé, tu pensaste, él/ella/Ud pensó, nosotros pensamos, vosotros pensasteis, ellos/ellas/Uds pensaron

Pienso mucho en la noche. (I think a lot at night.)

No piensa salir con ella. (He doesn’t plan to go out with her.)

18. Conocer – to get to know

Conocer shares its conjugation pattern with a ton of other –ecer verbs, including abastecer (to supply), atardecer (to get dark), apetecer (to feel like), aparecer (to appear), desobedecer (to disobey), parecer (to seem like) and reconocer (to recognize). It’s almost entirely regular in the present and past tense, becoming irregular in the present subjunctive.

Present: Yo conozco, tú conoces, él/ella/Ud conoce, nosotros conocemos, vosotros conocéis, ellos/ellas/Uds conocen

Past: Yo conocí, tú conociste, él/ella/Ud conoció, nosotros conocimos, vosotros conocisteis, ellos/ellas/Uds conocieron

Conozco a Pablo desde hace tiempo. (I’ve known Pablo for a while.)

El plomero conoce bien su oficio. (The plumber knows his job well.)

19. Sentir – to feel/to feel sorry

Sentir shares its conjugation with a lot of ir verbs with an e in the second to last syllable, such as advertir (to warn), invertir (to invest), mentir (to lie), preferir (to prefer), hervir (to boil) and herir (to injure).

Present: Yo siento, tú sientes, él/ella/Ud siente, nosotros sentimos, vosotros sentís, ellos/ellas/Uds sienten

Past: Yo sentí, tu sentiste, él/ella/Ud sintió, nosotros sentimos, vosotros sentisteis, ellos/ellas/Uds sintieron

Siento mucho la muerte de tu abuela. (I’m really sorry about your grandmother’s death.)

Siente calor. (He feels the heat.)

20. Volver – to return/to do again

Volver is an o ue verb that shares its conjugation pattern with a range of similar verbs such as llover (to rain), morder (to bite), resolver (to resolve), absolver (to absolve/to pardon) and disolver (to dissolve).

Present: Yo vuelvo, tú vuelves, él/ella/Ud vuelve, nosotros volvemos, vosotros volvéis, ellos/ellas/Uds vuelven

Past: Yo volví, tú volviste, él/ella/Ud volvió, nosotros volvimos, vosotros volvisteis, ellos/ellas/Uds volvieron

Vuelvo a casa despues del trabajo. (I come home after work.)

Volvieron a hacerlo porque hubo errores. (They did it again because there were mistakes.)


It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but make no mistake: once you have these 20 irregular verbs down pat you have the basics of Spanish communication in the bag. Practice these verbs and listen out for them when talking with native speakers or watching movies, and you’ll be good to go soon!

Tamara Pearson is a journalist, teacher and language lover who has lived in Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and now Mexico. She is also the author of “The Butterfly Prison.”

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