Inquiring minds want to know…
Why are ER verbs so frustrating?
I bet you want to scream every time you hear, “Oh yeah, that verb is irregular.”
You’ll hear that a lot when it comes to ER verbs, so try to keep the screaming at a minimum.
In fact, 72% of all ER verbs are irregular verbs.
They may be some of the most frustrating of all Spanish verbs, but once you have them down they will quickly become your best friends.
Why are they so important? Well, ER verbs just happen to be very commonly used in Spanish. This means that if you don’t master them then your Spanish can only go so far.
Everything You Need to Know About Spanish ER Verbs
How Important Are Spanish ER Verbs?
To give you an idea of just how important ER verbs are in Spanish, I’ve consulted the ultimate arsenal for all your Spanish inquiries, none other than FluentU. Here’s what I found:
- Out of the 10 most common need-to-know Spanish verbs, more than half of them are ER verbs, and of the six ER verbs, five are irregular.
- 23 of the 33 difficult yet super useful Spanish verbs are ER verbs. Not surprisingly, all of those 23 verbs are irregular in at least one tense.
- Lastly, on the list of 50 absolutely essential Spanish verbs, almost half of all the verbs are ER verbs.
As you can see, ER verbs are both very common and very irregular. Here you’ll find the ultimate guide to help you understand them and plenty of resources to practice with.
And while we’re on the topic, FluentU is actually a great way to learn those pesky ER verbs, irregular or otherwise.
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 has a wide variety of videos—topics like soccer, TV shows, business, movies and even magical realism, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts. You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.
Review a complete interactive transcript under the Dialogue tab, and find words and phrases listed under Vocab.
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s robust learning engine. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and it recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store for iOS and Android devices.
Regular Spanish ER Verb Conjugation
In this article we’ll cover irregular and stem-changing verbs, but first let’s review the basics.
If you’re reading this article, I’m going to assume you know the difference between AR, ER and IR verbs. However, for a quick overview of Spanish verb categories as well as verb tenses (the five indicative simple tenses) check out this helpful article.
Instead of taking a paragraph or so to explain these tenses once again, I’ll show you how the tenses work specifically in relation to ER verbs with this chart conjugating the regular Spanish verb comer (to eat):
Comer (Indicative Tenses)
As you can see in the chart above, most of the time conjugating regular ER verbs is as simple as adding the corresponding ending for each tense to the stem (whatever is left of the verb once the -er ending has been removed).
This is true for the present, preterite and imperfect tenses.
Things become even easier with some tenses because you don’t even have to remove the -er ending. With the conditional and future tenses, you simply add the appropriate ending onto the infinitive form (form that contains both the stem and the ending).
Invent a little melody for the endings for each tense and you’ll have them down in no time. Once these endings are memorized you can conjugate any regular ER verb in the Spanish language! Unfortunately, there are more irregular ER verbs than there are regular ones.
Irregular ER Verb Conjugation
As mentioned before, almost all ER verbs are irregular. For this reason, it’s extremely important that you learn this form. We’re going to start with the irregular of the irregular, those irregular verbs that have their own irregularities (verbos de irregularidad propia).
How do these differ from just plain, old irregular verbs? Well, it turns out there’s still a pattern to a lot of irregular verbs: like when nacer (to be born), conocer (to know) and agradecer (to express gratitude) become nazco, conozco and agradezco in the first person singular of the present tense.
Adding a z before the c applied to more than one verb.
Well, the conjugation of an irregular verb with its own irregularity only applies to that one verb in certain forms. Though I found sources that differed in how many of these verbs there are, according to the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) there are 22 in this category and can be found here.
Below you’ll see charts showing how ser (to be) and tener (to have), two verbs in this category and two of the most commonly used verbs in Spanish, are conjugated.
Ser (Indicative Tenses)
As you can see, these verbs are irregular because there’s no formula that we’re able to follow to make sense of the conjugations, as there is with regular verbs.
The verb stem is completely wacky in every tense, except for the conditional and future tenses which retain the infinitive form of ser. Furthermore, the conjugations for ser are completely different than those of tener.
Here’s what irregular verb tener looks like:
Tener (Indicative Tenses)
Stem-changing Spanish ER Verb Conjugations
Aside from irregular ER verbs, there’s another tricky category of verbs that we call stem-changing verbs. All stem-changing verbs are irregular by nature because they don’t follow the conjugation rules of regular verbs, but you’ll find a similar pattern in more than one of them. Let’s check them out now!
Thankfully, when we speak of stem-changing verbs (verbs whose stems undergo a change in the conjugation process) we’re speaking of changes that only affect verbs in three cases: the present simple, the past simple and the present continuous. Luckily the other verb tenses aren’t even affected by stem changes so you needn’t worry about them. For your complete guide to Spanish stem-changing verbs, check out this article.
When speaking of ER verbs specifically, things become easier because past simple and present continuous stem-changers don’t even apply to ER verbs! Present simple, however, does include the ER verb category.
Present Simple Stem-changers
There are three types of stem-changers for the present simple: e-ie, and e-i. Of these three types, only e-ie and o-ue apply to ER verbs, which simplifies things even further.
When stem-changing verbs are conjugated in the present simple, the stem changes in every form except for the nosotros and vosotros forms.
Let’s check out some examples starting with e-ie. We’ll look at tener (to have), entender (to understand), querer (to want) and perder (to lose).
Once again we see that the only exceptions to the stem-changing rules come in the nosotros and vosotros forms. For every other pronoun simply follow the formula to make the stem change!
As you can see, the e in all of these ER verbs changes to ie in all persons except for nosotros and vosotros. The stem in the verb tener also changes (see conjugation above) with the exception of the yo form tengo.
The same goes for o-ue stem changers. Let’s look at some of these cases now. Here we have poder , volver (to return) and soler (to have the tendency to).
The 12 Most Common ER Verbs in Spanish
Now that you’ve made it past the hard part, here’s a simple list of the ER verbs that will be the most helpful to you in the future.
Meaning: to be (permanent qualities)
This important irregular verb is used to refer to time, date, nationality, occupation/profession and physical description of people, places and event locations.
Soy de Georgia. (I am from Georgia.)
Soy americano(a). (I am American.)
Hoy es jueves. (Today is Thursday.)
Meaning: to be/to exist or there is/there are
Haber can be tricky because it’s used differently than most verbs. It’s used a lot though, so it’s extremely important to learn. I could write an entire article here on the uses of haber, but it’s already been done! If you want to really delve into this important verb, check out this article.
But I’ll go ahead and give you the basics. Haber is used in two ways: either to express the existence of something or as an auxiliary verb that precedes a past participle from the perfect tense.
Hay mucha gente aquí. (There are a lot of people here.)
No ha descansado y por eso tiene sueño ahora. (He hasn’t rested and that’s why he’s sleepy now.)
Meaning: to have
This e-ie stem-changing verb is used for possession, age (you possess age in Spanish!) and the phrasal verb tener que + infinitive (non-conjugated verb).
Tengo 21 años. (I am 21 years old.)
Tengo que hacer algunos recados. (I have to run some errands.)
Tienen un hermano. (They have a brother.)
Tener can also be used to express if you’re hot or cold. Notice that the literal translation in the example below is “I had heat,” which we’d translate in English as “I was hot.”
Tuve calor y por eso decidí dormir sin manta. (I was hot and that’s why I decided to sleep without a blanket.)
Meaning: to be able to, can
Poder is an o-ue stem-changing verb used to express the ability to perform an action or activity.
¿Puedo ir al baño por favor? (Can/may I go to the bathroom please?
Puedes acompañarnos si quieres. (You can come along with us if you’d like.)
Puede ser. (It’s possible.)
When used in the preterite tense, poder changes its meaning slightly.
Pudimos arreglar los viajes. (We managed to work out the trips.)
No pudimos terminar con el proyecto. (We failed to finish the project.)
5. & 6. Saber, Conocer
Meaning: to know
Saber and conocer are both irregular verbs that mean “to know.” However, saber is different from the Spanish verb conocer (to know) in that it always refers to what we would call “head knowledge” (facts, dates, etc.), while conocer deals more with “heart knowledge” such as relationships with other people. However, we also use conocer with places, songs, etc.
Sé hablar español. (I know how to speak Spanish.)
¿Sabes montar en bicicleta? (Do you know how to ride a bike?)
No sabe cuánto lo quiero. (He doesn’t know how much I love him.)
La conozco bastante bien y puedo decir que es muy buena persona. (I know her pretty well and can say she’s a very good person.)
¿Conoces la ciudad? (Do you know/have you personally visited the city?)
No conozco esta canción. (I don’t know this song.)
When used in the preterite tense, saber changes its meaning quite a bit.
Supimos que iba a llover y cancelamos la barbacoa. (We found out it was going to rain and canceled the barbecue.)
Most people know saber as the verb that means “to know,” but it can also be used to describe taste.
It’s important to note that a follows the verb when it’s being used to mean “to taste of/like.”
El pollo sabe a perejil. (The chicken tastes like parsley/has a parsley taste to it.)
La tarta sabe a gloria. (The cake tastes delicious.)
La tarta sabe bien. (The cake tastes good.)
Meaning: to learn
Thankfully this verb functions pretty much exactly like the verb “to learn” in English.
Quiero aprender a hablar francés. (I want to learn to speak French.)
Los idiomas se aprenden en la cuna o en la cama. (Languages are learned in the crib or in the bed.)
Como no aprendas a bailar, no podrás apuntarte para el concurso de baile. (If you don’t learn how to dance, you won’t be able to sign up for the dance contest.)
Meaning: to understand
This e-ie stem-changing verb is another Spanish verb that functions pretty much exactly like its English equivalent.
No entiendo cómo has logrado escapar. (I don’t understand how you’ve managed to escape.)
No entendemos los deberes. (We don’t understand the homework.)
Entiende muy bien cómo funciona la empresa y por eso se ha convertido en director. (He understands very well how the company operates and for this reason he’s become the manager.)
Meaning: to make/to do
This irregular verb can also be reflexive (hacerse), which can mean a variety of different things depending upon the context in which it’s used.
In Spanish, there’s no distinction between the things we do and the things we make. Hacer is used to describe both situations. Hacer is usually used to talk about making food or doing an activity, but we also use it for the English phrase “to play sports” (hacer deportes).
Siempre hago los deberes. (I always do my homework.)
Estoy haciendo una sopa. (I’m making a soup.)
Hace buen tiempo. (Literally: it makes good weather. Translated as: the weather is nice.)
Meaning: to eat
While in Central and South America (and certain parts of Southern Spain) comer is used to mean “to eat” in a general sense, here in Madrid, comer is used to specifically mean “to have lunch.” In other parts of the world, almorzar is used for lunch. In Madrid and elsewhere, desayunar (to have breakfast) and cenar (to have dinner) are used for the other meals.
Vamos a comer. (We are going to eat/we are going to have lunch.)
Hoy he comido algo que me ha sentado fatal. (Today I ate something that didn’t sit well with me.)
Ella come muy poco. (She doesn’t eat very much.)
Meaning: to see/to watch
This verb is irregular and also has a reflexive version (verse). The verb ver is usually used to speak of watching a movie but it can also be used to speak of physically seeing people. When this is the case, the verb is followed with a since we’re referring to people.
Hoy he visto a Carmen andando por la calle. (Today I saw Carmen walking down the street.)
Hoy vemos una película de terror. (Today we’ll watch a horror movie.)
¿Ves cómo no me hace caso? (Do you see how he doesn’t pay attention to me?)
The reflexive verse, in addition to the meaning of “to see oneself,” is also used to describe how someone or something looks.
Se ve buena la película. (The movie looks good.)
Te ves muy linda esta noche. (You look very pretty tonight.)
Meaning: to want/to wish/to love
The e-ie stem-changing verb querer is one of those versatile verbs with various shades of meaning depending upon when and how you use it. For starters, it’s usually used to express wanting something. For example:
Quiero una copa de vino. (I want a glass of wine.)
However, it’s also used very frequently as a less profound version of amar (to love). While querer is used more informally than amar, it still means “to love.”
Quiere mucho a su hermanito. (She really loves her little brother.)
When used in the preterite tense, querer changes its meaning quite a bit.
Quise evitarlo pero al final no pude. (I tried to avoid it but in the end I couldn’t.)
El niño no quiso comer. (The child refused to eat.)
Resources to Help You Practice
So now that you have the most common ER verbs at your disposal, it’s time to practice!
While it’s true that you’ll pretty much have to just memorize irregular verbs, there are plenty of resources out there to help you. By simply typing “Spanish irregular verb songs” into your browser, you’ll be presented with a variety of videos of catchy songs that can help you master all of these tricky tenses. For example, here’s a great one from YouTube:
And while speaking is definitely the most efficient way to really get down all of these tricky ER verbs, there are ways to practice them online if your situation doesn’t allow you to jump right into conversation. Before my first trip to Spain I was on the website Conjuguemos daily, plugging away at the verb conjugation exercises.
The great thing about this site is that it’s free and doesn’t require you to crack open a book or workbook, making it easier to come back to day after day. Instead of just reading, you’re interacting with the activity, which makes you have to think quickly and put your knowledge to the test.
Better yet, it gives you the personal motivation to beat your own record since you’re timed on how fast you can conjugate the tenses. While this is personally my fun go-to website for verbs, if you’re looking for some tips on practicing Spanish grammar in general you should check out this post.
Remember, when it comes to Spanish verbs—be they of the AR, ER or IR persuasion—practice really does make perfect!
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