spanish irregular verbs

The Simple Guide to Untangling Irregular Spanish Verbs

Learning Spanish is like walking through a museum.

You’re entranced by the colors, the image, the emotions and the creativity.

Many of the Spanish language elements you’ll encounter in this linguistic museums are rather straightforward—Spanish is really great at not overcomplicating things (as opposed to, say, English). With most Spanish verbs, for example, what you see is what you get. You apply the simple conjugation charts you already learned and—boom, you’re done.

However, some verbs are just weird, like abstract Picasso paintings. You see some of the same techniques used in other paintings, but you just can’t make sense of the why and how. You have to tilt your head, squint and use your imagination to really see the picture. After leaving the museum, you may soon forget many of the quirky details of those funkier paintings.

Irregular verbs are the Picasso paintings in our Spanish gallery.

Here, we’ve created a guide to teach you how to see the painting and the method behind what seems random and chaotic.
 

 

Irregular Spanish Verbs: Conjugation Made Simple for Beginners

Learn a foreign language with videos

An Introduction to Regular Verb Conjugation

There are three types of verbs in Spanish and they’re categorized by their endings.

There are -AR verbs (like hablar), -ER verbs (like beber) and -IR verbs (like vivir). When conjugating any verb in Spanish, you remove that two-letter ending and add the proper conjugation depending on the tense and which person you’re referring to.

The best way to explain it is to show it. All three of these verbs are regular. Here are the conjugations for a regular verb.

Hablar (to Speak)
Yohablo
hablas
Él/Ella/Ustedhabla
Nosotroshablamos
Vosotroshabláis
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes hablan

 

Beber (to Drink)
Yobebo
bebes
Él/Ella/Ustedbebe
Nosotrosbebemos
Vosotrosbebéis
Ellos/Ella/Ustedesbeben

 

Vivir (to Live)
Yovivo
vives
Él/Ella/Ustedvive
Nosotrosvivimos
Vosotrosvivís
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes viven

There you go, a quick guide to standard, “regular” Spanish conjugation. Ta-da! Time for the more complex area: irregular verbs.

An Introduction to Irregular Verb Conjugation

What makes a Spanish verb irregular?

Irregular verbs are any verbs that do not use the standard, “regular” verb conjugations listed above. What makes irregular verbs difficult is that, by definition, they do not have a regular set of rules you can follow. But here are some numbers to think about.

Almost all -AR verbs are regular. Less than 5% are irregular.

Almost all -ER verbs are irregular. Over 72% are irregular. There are 18 verbs that end in -AER and they are all irregular. For example, caer (to fall) and traer (to bring).

Less than half of all -IR verbs are irregular. Over 33% are irregular.

So while there are no steadfast rules, those numbers should give you a good idea of when to expect irregular verbs.

There are some tips and tricks you can keep up your sleeve that will help you understand irregular verb conjugation.

A Quick Overview of Spanish Verb Tenses

Before we get into the verbs, let’s talk about tenses. There are five indicative simple tenses.

Present, preterite, imperfect, conditional and future.

PresentPretty self explanatory. A verb conjugated in present tense is expressing an action that’s currently happening or that’s recurring. For instance, “Billy eats dinner” (Billy come la cena).

PreteriteThis an action performed in the past that’s completed. Something like “I walked to school” (Yo caminé a la escuela). You walked to school, it happened and now you’re done with it.

Imperfect: this is an action performed in the past that is not completed. An example of this is “I was reading my book when the phone rang” (Yo leía mi libro cuando sonó el teléfono).

ConditionalThis tense is used when something may or may not happen or could’ve happened. For example, “I would study if I didn’t have so much to do” (Estudiaría si no tuviera tanto que hacer). You might have also noticed our tricky friend subjunctive in there (tuviera). Dive deeper into that with this post. 

FutureThis tense is used for something that will happen. “I will go to the store tomorrow” (Iré a la tienda mañana).

Keep in mind that the above examples are using all different types of Spanish verbs, -AR, -ER and -IR.

How to Deal with Irregular Verbs

Finally, we’re here. You now have a good base understanding of how verbs are conjugated in Spanish. Let’s just go for it!

Ser and Estar (to Be)

These are the two most common verbs in Spanish. They’re also two of the weirdest verbs to conjugate. There have been whole books written on ser and estarlike this one.

I’m not going to go into all of the differences between ser and estar, but I am going to show you how to conjugate these funky verbs in the five indicative simple tenses.

 SerPresentPreteriteImperfectConditionalFuture
yosoyfuieraseríaseré
eresfuisteerasseríasserás
él/ella/Ustedesfueeraseríaserá
nosotrossomosfuimoséramosseríamosseremos
vosotrossoisfuisteiseraisseríaisseréis
ellos/ellas/Ustedessonfueroneranseríanserán

 

 EstarPresentPreteriteImperfectConditionalFuture
yoestoyestuveestabaestaríaestaré
estásestuvisteestabasestaríasestarás
él/ella/Ustedestáestuvoestabaestaríaestará
nosotrosestamosestuvimosestábamosestaríamosestaremos
vosotrosestáisestuvisteisestabaisestaríaisestaréis
ellos/ellas/Ustedes estánestuvieronestabanestaríanestarán

How can you differentiate between these two? Here’s something to keep in mind.

Estar in every tense starts with “est.” So even though the endings are irregular, which will take a bit of practice and memorization, the beginning three letters are always the same. This will also help you distinguish between ser and estar in reading and conversation.

Haber (to Have)

Haber is another verb that’s like a Picasso painting. There isn’t anything quite like it. Only a few of these conjugations are irregular, shown in red above. You can see that the real funky tense is the preterite. The only thing that’s different is that, in the preterite, you’re using a u when normally you would use an a.

HaberPresentPreteriteImperfectConditionalFuture
yohehubehabíahabríahabré
hashubistehabíashabríashabrás
él/ella/Ustedha, hayhubohabíahabríahabrá
nosotroshemoshubimoshabíamoshabríamoshabremos
vosotroshabéishubisteishabíaishabríaishabréis
ellos/ellas/Ustedeshanhubieronhabíanhabríanhabrán

 

Hacer (to Do) and Decir (to Say)

Why the heck would I put these two verbs together? They have different endings and completely different meanings. I promise, there’s method to my madness.

Decir and hacer have one main thing in common, the soft “c.” This means that they have similar irregularities. What are those irregularirites? I’m glad you asked!

1. The first person conjugation (yo) in the present tense requires a g for both decir and hacer.

2. In the preterite tense, they both change the vowel in their stems to i.

3. The conditional tense for hacer and decir both add in an r.

Take a look!

 HacerPresentPreteriteImperfectConditionalFuture
yohagohicehacíaharíaharé
haceshicistehacíasharíasharás
él/ella/Ustedhacehizohacíaharíahará
nosotroshacemoshicimoshacíamosharíamosharemos
vosotroshacéishicisteishacíaisharíaisharéis
ellos/ellas/Ustedeshacenhicieronhacíanharíanharán

 

 DecirPresentPreteriteImperfectConditionalFuture
yodigodijedecíadiríadiré
dicesdijistedecíasdiríasdirás
él/ella/Usteddicedijodecíadiríadirá
nosotrosdecimosdijimosdecíamosdiríamosdiremos
vosotrosdecísdijisteisdecíaisdiríaisdiréis
ellos/ellas/Ustedes dicendijerondecíandiríandirán

 

Tener (to Have) and Poner (to Put)

It really helps when you group similar words together. Then you just have to remember what’s irregular about one to know what’s irregular about the other. How are these two similar?

1. In the first person conjugation (yo) of the present tense there’s a g.

2. The preterite tense changes the stem vowel to u for both poner and tener.

3. In the conditional and the future tenses there’s a d placed before the conjugated ending.

 TenerPresentPreteriteImperfectConditionalFuture
yotengotuveteníatendríatend
tienestuvisteteníastendríastendrás
él/ella/Ustedtienetuvoteníatendríatend
nosotrostenemostuvimosteníamostendríamostendremos
vosotrostenéistuvisteisteníaistendríaistendréis
ellos/ellas/Ustedes tienentuvieronteníantendríantendrán

 

 PonerPresentPreteriteImperfectConditionalFuture
yopongopuseponíapondríapond
ponespusisteponíaspondríaspondrás
él/ella/Ustedponepusoponíapondríapond
nosotrosponemospusimosponíamospondríamospondremos
vosotrosponéispusisteisponíaispondríaispondréis
ellos/ellas/Ustedes ponenpusieronponíanpondríanpondrán

 

Sentir (to Feel) and Seguir (to Follow)

First, these two verbs have the same irregularity in preterite: The e changes to i in both the singular and the plural third person conjugations.

However, they have different irregularities in the present tense.

Sentir has ie instead of e in singular first and second person conjugations. This change doesn’t occur in the plural first and second person conjugations, nosotros and vosotros forms.

Seguir has just an i instead of the e for four conjugations: first person plural and first, second and third person singular.

These irregularities are very common and you will find them repeated often. Other verbs which have the same irregularity as sentir (e to ie) include: empezar, comenzar, pensar and querer. Other verbs like seguir (e to i) are: pedir, elegir and medir.

 SentirPresentPreteriteImperfectConditionalFuture
yosientosentísentíasentiríasentiré
sientessentistesentíassentiríassentirás
él/ella/Ustedsientesintiósentíasentiríasentirá
nosotrossentimossentimossentíamossentiríamossentiremos
vosotrossentíssentisteissentíaissentiríaissentiréis
ellos/ellas/Ustedes sientensintieronsentíansentiríansentirán

 

 SeguirPresentPreteriteImperfectConditionalFuture
yosigoseguíseguíaseguiríaseguiré
siguesseguisteseguíasseguiríasseguirás
él/ella/Ustedsiguesiguióseguíaseguiríaseguirá
nosotrosseguimosseguimosseguíamosseguiríamosseguiremos
vosotrosseguísseguisteisseguíaisseguiríaisseguiréis
ellos/ellas/Ustedessiguensiguieronseguíanseguiríanseguirán

Now you can confidently look at these verbs and know how to conjugate them.

When in doubt, say the word out loud. Hearing it is different than seeing it or writing it.

With time you’ll be able to hear when a verb just doesn’t sound right—and that’s when you’ll know that you’re a total Spanish conjugation machine.

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.

Experience Spanish immersion online!

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.

Experience Spanish immersion online!

Comments are closed.