Discover the Lovely Logic Behind 4 Simple Conjugation Rules for Regular Spanish Verbs
58% of Spanish verbs are regular.
This is an awesome fact to keep in mind on those days when stem-changers or irregulars really make your brain work.
Sometimes, though, regular Spanish verbs aren’t as regular as you might think: they undergo nifty spelling changes to keep the pronunciation just as you’d expect.
In this post we’ve provided the logic behind why these changes occur, and importantly, how to identify them!
- What Are Regular Spanish Verbs?
- Why Do Some Regular Verbs Have Irregular Conjugation Patterns?
- 4 Rules for Conjugating Regular Spanish Verbs with C, G and Z
What Are Regular Spanish Verbs?
Regular Spanish verbs follow a specific conjugation pattern, which depends on the verb’s ending (-ar, -er or -ir). In Spanish, verbs are conjugated differently based on their mood (subjunctive or indicative), their tense (past, present, future, etc.), and their subject (I, you, we, she and so on).
Learning and memorizing the conjugation rules for regular Spanish verbs is an essential step to speaking Spanish. Generally, Spanish conjugation starts with the root of a verb.
The root is the infinitive verb minus the –ar, –er or –ir ending. So, the root of the regular verb hablar (to talk) is habl- and the root of the regular verb vivir (to live) is viv-. Once you have the root of the verb, add the appropriate ending based on mood and tense.
This article will not go into the specifics of Spanish verb conjugation, but if you’re unfamiliar with the conjugation rules or need a refresher, you can take advantage of our collection of helpful articles related to conjugation.
Why Do Some Regular Verbs Have Irregular Conjugation Patterns?
In Spanish, even some regular verbs are… well, not quite regular! Unlike English, Spanish has very particular and generally unchanging rules for pronunciation and spelling. Vowels generally only make one sound, and most consonants do, too.
In fact, only a few consonants make different sounds based on their placement within a word. This regular pronunciation is great for Spanish learners! Once you learn the rules of the game, you’ll know how to spell or pronounce just about any Spanish word.
Sometimes, in order to maintain these spelling and pronunciation norms, we have to adjust the regular conjugation rules. This especially happens with the letters c and g, whose pronunciation changes are based on the following letter. It also happens frequently with the letter z, which generally doesn’t come before an e or an i in Spanish.
Unlike irregular verbs, the verbs mentioned below do follow regular rules. So, unlike irregular verbs, if you learn how to conjugate a few of the verbs below, you’ll be able to apply the conjugation patterns to a variety of similar verbs.
4 Rules for Conjugating Regular Spanish Verbs with C, G and Z
1. Verbs with –gar
Before we jump straight into the rule, it’ll help a ton with these first two if you know a bit more about the Spanish letter g. (This is that behind-the-scenes “why” we mentioned earlier, which will provide clarity.)
What to Know About G:
The g is one of only a few Spanish consonants that can make more than one sound. In the case of the g, the sound depends on the letter that comes immediately after the g.
If the letter that follows is an a, o, u or any consonant, the g makes a hard g sound like in the English word “good.” See, for example, words like juglar (juggle) or ganar (to win).
However, if the following letter is an e or i, the g makes a guttural sound. The sound doesn’t quite exist in English, but it sounds like an English h pronounced in the back of the throat. You can hear this sound in words like gente (people). (Click the word to hear it pronounced.)
Many verbs in Spanish end in –gar, –ger or –gir. This means that the verb root ends in a –g. When adding on the correct verb endings to conjugate these verbs, you often must make a change in order to preserve the correct pronunciation of the g.
Now, let’s look at our first group of verbs: –gar verbs. Take the regular verb llegar (to arrive), for example. Since the g in llegar is followed by an a, it makes a sound like an English hard g. Conjugated in the present tense, we don’t run into any problems: yo llego, tú llegas, él/ella/usted llega, nosotros llegamos, vosotros llegáis, ellos/ellas/ustedes llegan.
However, in the preterite tense, we run into an issue: In the yo form, the verb ending is –é. However, if we took the verb root lleg- and simply added é, we would end up with llegé, and the g would change to a guttural g!
In order to maintain that hard g pronunciation, we simply insert a silent u in between the g and the e, thus ending up with llegué (I arrived). Put simply:
When working with –gar verbs, any time the verb ending begins with an e, you must insert a u before the e.
This applies to the preterite tense, as explained above, as well as in the present subjunctive and the command form.
You can find the full conjugation for llegar here.
Some regular –gar verbs that follow the same pattern are pegar (to hit or to stick), pagar (to pay), encargar (to order) and entregar (to turn in).
2. Verbs with –ger and –gir
On the other side of the coin, we have verbs that end in –ger and –gir. The g sound in all of these verbs is the soft, guttural g, and we must maintain that sound when conjugating the verb.
In this case, problems show up when the verb ending starts with an a- or an o-, such as in the first-person present tense, the third-person preterite or the present subjunctive.
For regular –ger and –gir verbs, preserve the guttural g sound by replacing the g with j in the present simple and present subjunctive.
For example, proteger (to protect) becomes protejo (I protect) in the present simple and protejan (they protect) in the present subjunctive.
Other verbs that follow this conjugation pattern are coger (to catch or to take), escoger (to choose), dirigir (to direct) and fingir (to pretend).
3. Verbs with –car
As with the first two rules, we’re going to take a closer look at the letter c before zooming in on -car verbs.
What to Know About C:
The pronunciation of the Spanish c is similar to that of the g: It depends on the letter immediately after the c.
If the c is followed by a consonant, an a or an o, it’s pronounced like an English hard c, such as in the word “catch.” You can see this pronunciation in words like aclarar (to clarify).
If the c is followed by an e or i, it makes a soft sound. In this case, the c pronunciation depends on your location. In most parts of Spain, a soft c sounds like the English “th” at the end of “tooth.” In Latin America, it makes an “s” sound like in the English word “cents.” A good example is the Spanish word cierto (true or certain). You can hear both regional pronunciations here.
When you have two c’s next to each other, pronounce the first as a hard c and the second as a soft c. For example, accidente (accident).
As with –gar verbs, –car verbs have special rules when the verb ending begins with an e-.
For regular -car verbs, when the verb ending begins with an e-, change the c to qu to maintain the hard c sound.
The q makes the same hard c sound, and the u is silent. This change is necessary in the first-person preterite form and the present subjunctive.
For example, the regular –ar verb sacar (to take out) becomes saqué (I took out) in the preterite or saquemos (we take out) in the present subjunctive. Here is the full conjugation chart for sacar.
There are many –car verbs and they follow this pattern. Some examples are tocar (to touch or to play), colocar (to place), aparcar (to park) and buscar (to search).
4. Verbs with –zar
Finally, we come to verbs that end in –zar. As before, we’ll begin with some background on the Spanish letter z.
What to Know About Z:
The Spanish z makes the same sound as the Spanish c, regardless of the letter that comes after it. This means that in Spain, it makes a “th” sound, and in Latin America it makes an “s” sound. Note that it does not sound like an English z would in the word “buzz.” Click here to listen to two pronunciations of the Spanish word azafata (flight attendant).
It’s not very common to see words with a z directly followed by an e or i. When it does happen, it’s generally because the word comes from a different language. Some examples are Nueva Zelanda (New Zealand) and pizzería (pizzeria). It’s much more common to see a c before an e or an i, such as in the word cero (zero).
There are many regular Spanish verbs that end in –zar. In the preterite and the subjunctive conjugations would have a z next to an e. In order to avoid that, change the z to a c in these situations.
For regular -zar verbs, when the verb ending begins with e-, change the z to c.
For example, the word realizar (to make happen, to achieve) becomes realicé (I achieved) in the preterite and realice (she achieves) in the subjunctive. You can find the full conjugation of realizar here.
Other verbs that follow this pattern are rezar (to pray), cazar (to hunt) and abrazar (to hug).
So, unlike irregular verbs, once you learn these spelling changes, you’ll be able to apply them to a bunch of different verbs. Plus, they’ll help you remember the few Spanish consonants that can be pronounced different ways.
Don’t get scared off by these seemingly tricky conjugation rules!
They can feel overwhelming, but just by practicing Spanish in conversations or listening to authentic Spanish dialogues, you’ll eventually master them. If you’re studying from home, try immersion-based learning programs that’ll give you exposure to native speakers and real Spanish media.
For example, the bite-sized, authentic Spanish videos on FluentU come from real Spanish media—like telenovelas, news, and movie trailers—and provide interactive subtitles to aid comprehension of conjugated verbs (and you could also create your own flashcard decks to practice the conjugation rules we’ve discussed here.)
Start looking out for conjugations any time you hear Spanish, and you’ll be surprised how fast you pick them up.