The Simple Guide to Untangling Irregular Spanish Verbs

Spanish is really great at not over-complicating 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 (such as the irregular ones) are just weird and work under some unique rules.

Here, we’ve created a guide to teach you how to figure out these irregular verbs and their mysterious workings.


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)
Yo hablo
Él/Ella/Usted habla
Nosotros hablamos
Vosotros habláis
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes  hablan


Beber (to Drink)
Yo bebo
Él/Ella/Usted bebe
Nosotros bebemos
Vosotros bebéis
Ellos/Ella/Ustedes beben


Vivir (to Live)
Yo vivo
Él/Ella/Usted vive
Nosotros vivimos
Vosotros vivís
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.

 Ser Present Preterite Imperfect Conditional Future
yo soy fui era sería seré
eres fuiste eras serías serás
él/ella/Usted es fue era sería será
nosotros somos fuimos éramos seríamos seremos
vosotros sois fuisteis erais seríais seréis
ellos/ellas/Ustedes son fueron eran serían serán


 Estar Present Preterite Imperfect Conditional Future
yo estoy estuve estaba estaría estaré
estás estuviste estabas estarías estarás
él/ella/Usted está estuvo estaba estaría estará
nosotros estamos estuvimos estábamos estaríamos estaremos
vosotros estáis estuvisteis estabais estaríais estaréis
ellos/ellas/Ustedes  están estuvieron estaban estarían estarán

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.

Haber Present Preterite Imperfect Conditional Future
yo he hube había habría habré
has hubiste habías habrías habrás
él/ella/Usted ha, hay hubo había habría habrá
nosotros hemos hubimos habíamos habríamos habremos
vosotros habéis hubisteis habíais habríais habréis
ellos/ellas/Ustedes han hubieron habían habrían habrán

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!

 Hacer Present Preterite Imperfect Conditional Future
yo hago hice hacía haría haré
haces hiciste hacías harías harás
él/ella/Usted hace hizo hacía haría hará
nosotros hacemos hicimos hacíamos haríamos haremos
vosotros hacéis hicisteis hacíais haríais haréis
ellos/ellas/Ustedes hacen hicieron hacían harían harán


 Decir Present Preterite Imperfect Conditional Future
yo digo dije decía diría diré
dices dijiste decías dirías dirás
él/ella/Usted dice dijo decía diría dirá
nosotros decimos dijimos decíamos diríamos diremos
vosotros decís dijisteis decíais diríais diréis
ellos/ellas/Ustedes  dicen dijeron decían dirían dirán

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.

 Tener Present Preterite Imperfect Conditional Future
yo tengo tuve tenía tendría tend
tienes tuviste tenías tendrías tendrás
él/ella/Usted tiene tuvo tenía tendría tend
nosotros tenemos tuvimos teníamos tendríamos tendremos
vosotros tenéis tuvisteis teníais tendríais tendréis
ellos/ellas/Ustedes  tienen tuvieron tenían tendrían tendrán


 Poner Present Preterite Imperfect Conditional Future
yo pongo puse ponía pondría pond
pones pusiste ponías pondrías pondrás
él/ella/Usted pone puso ponía pondría pond
nosotros ponemos pusimos poníamos pondríamos pondremos
vosotros ponéis pusisteis poníais pondríais pondréis
ellos/ellas/Ustedes  ponen pusieron ponían pondrían pondrán

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.

 Sentir Present Preterite Imperfect Conditional Future
yo siento sentí sentía sentiría sentiré
sientes sentiste sentías sentirías sentirás
él/ella/Usted siente sintió sentía sentiría sentirá
nosotros sentimos sentimos sentíamos sentiríamos sentiremos
vosotros sentís sentisteis sentíais sentiríais sentiréis
ellos/ellas/Ustedes  sienten sintieron sentían sentirían sentirán


 Seguir Present Preterite Imperfect Conditional Future
yo sigo seguí seguía seguiría seguiré
sigues seguiste seguías seguirías seguirás
él/ella/Usted sigue siguió seguía seguiría seguirá
nosotros seguimos seguimos seguíamos seguiríamos seguiremos
vosotros seguís seguisteis seguíais seguiríais seguiréis
ellos/ellas/Ustedes siguen siguieron seguían seguirían seguirán


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.

Seeing verbs in context can also help you regular their unique behavior. This can be done easily by consuming authentic Spanish media, like books or TV shows, or by using immersion-based language learning programs. One example is FluentU, which uses Spanish videos equipped with interactive subtitles. For any spoken word, verb or otherwise, these captions provide definitions, grammatical details and example sentences.

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.

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