Mastering the Spanish Present Tense: A Beginner’s Guide

You finally understand the rules of gender, you can tell your Spanish listening and conversation skills have gotten better, and you’re watching plenty of Spanish movies.

But something’s missing—your grammar is a mess.

If you missed your verb conjugation class at school and still can’t tell the difference between an -AR and an -IR verb, help is here.

Using this guide, you can become the next master of the Spanish present tense!



The Present Tense in Spanish

All Spanish verbs fall into one of just three categories when it comes to their endings in the infinitive:

  • Those that end in -AR, like bailar  (to dance)
  • Verbs that end in -ER, such as comer  (to eat)
  • Verbs ending in -IR, as in vivir  (to live)

In order to make the present tense in Spanish you must use the root (stem) of the word and then add on the appropriate ending, according to the subject and verb type (-AR/-ER/-IR).

The root or stem of the verb is the part before -ar/-er/-ir. Here are the stems of the three Spanish verbs we saw above:

  • bailar → bail-
  • vivir → viv-
  • comer → com-

And then the endings change for each verb type, so let’s take a look, beginning with our -ar verbs.

-AR Verbs: How to Conjugate in Present Tense

-AR verb endings are as you see in the chart below:


So take the verb bailar (to dance) and we get:

Bailo: Bailo todas las mañanas  (I dance every morning).
Bailas: Bailas todas las mañanas  (You dance every morning).
Baila: Baila todas las mañanas (He/she/it dances every morning/You (singular formal) dance every morning).
Bailamos: Bailamos todas las mañanas  (We dance every morning).
Bailáis: Bailáis todas las mañanas  (You (plural) dance every morning).
Bailan: Bailan todas las mañanas  (They dance every morning).

-ER Verbs: How to Conjugate in Present Tense

Here are the endings for -ER verbs:


You’ll notice that the endings for the -ER verbs are almost the same as the -AR verbs, except they use an “e” and not an “a”. The first person is the same.

Below are the present tense conjugations of the verb comer (to eat): 

Como: Como una hamburguesa (I eat a hamburger).
Comes: Comes una hamburguesa (You eat a hamburger).
Come: Come una hamburguesa (He/she/it eats a hamburger/You (singular formal) eat a hamburger).
Comemos: Comemos una hamburguesa  (We eat a hamburger).
Coméis: Coméis una hamburguesa (You (plural) eat a hamburger).
Comen: Comen una hamburguesa (They eat a hamburger).

 And now that everyone wants a hamburger, let’s move on to the the -IR verbs!

-IR Verbs: How to Conjugate in Present Tense

The -IR endings are very similar to the -ER endings; the only differences are in the nosotros and vosotros forms of the verbs.


So vivir is conjugated as follows:

Vivo: Vivo en Buenos Aires  (I live in Buenos Aires).
Vives: Vives en Buenos Aires (You live in Buenos Aires).
Vive: Vive en Buenos Aires (He/she/it lives in Buenos Aires/You (singular formal) live in Buenos Aires).
Vivimos: Vivimos en Buenos Aires  (We live in Buenos Aires).
Vivís: Vivís en Buenos Aires  (You (plural) live in Buenos Aires).
Viven: Viven en Buenos Aires  (They live in Buenos Aires).

The only way you’ll be able to master the present tense is through practice, practice, practice. Do grammar exercises, make up sentences in your head, recite the endings over and over again to yourself. Do whatever works until you can remember which ending is which and apply them appropriately.

It would be great if that were all there is to it, but the fun doesn’t end there. Once you’ve got the regular verb endings down, it’s time to introduce the bane of all language learners’ lives: irregular verbs.

Irregular Verbs in the Spanish Present Tense

Irregular Spanish Present Tense Verbs: Stem-changers

Some verbs change their stem in the present tense. Note that the stems of these verbs change in all forms except nosotros and vosotros. They’re usually categorized by the type of change, for example “o” → “ue” and  “e” → “ie.”

“o” → “ue” Stem-changing Verbs

Dormir (to sleep)


These stem-changing verbs are often called “boot verbs,” and here’s why: When you organize the verb conjugations into two rows, the forms whose stems change look like a boot.

Let’s take a look at this shape with the verb acostar  (to go to bed):

acuesto        acostamos
acuestas     acostáis
acuesta       acuestan

Can you see the boot? The toe of the boot is made by the Uds./Ellos/Ellas form, acuestan.

Here’s one more “o” → “ue” stem-changing verb: volver  (to return):

vuelvo        volvemos
vuelves      volvéis
vuelve       vuelven

“e” → “ie” Stem-changing Verbs

Another group of stem-changing verbs change from “e” to “ie.” Examples include:

Empezar (to start)

empiezo      empezamos
empiezas    empezáis
empieza       empiezan

Querer (to want)

quiero          queremos
quieres       queréis
quiere         quieren

Sentir (to feel)

siento         sentimos
sientes       sentís
siente         sienten

If you’re feeling a little lost, don’t panic. All Spanish learners felt this way at some point, but the good news is that learning all these verbs is possible. Once you get used to the irregular verbs, they’ll come to you naturally and you’ll soon find your own ears wincing when listening to an improperly conjugated verb.

Irregular Spanish Present Tense Verbs: First Person

Other verbs are irregular in the first person, yet regular in all other forms. These are relatively simple to learn.

One example is dar (to give). The first person form is irregular: doy , as in doy un regalo  (I give a present), but the other forms are regular:

doy      damos
das     dais
da       dan

The verbs poner  (to put/place), traer  (to bring) and salir  (to leave/go out) are sometimes called the “go” or “yo-go” verbs because they end in “-go” in the first person. Poner becomes pongo , traer becomes traigo  and salir becomes salgo . All three verbs are regular in all other forms. Here’s poner conjugated, for example:

pongo     ponemos
pones     ponéis
pone       ponen

Other similar verbs are hacer  (hago ) and tener  (tengo ).

Decir (digo ) and venir  (vengo ) are both “go” verbs and also stem-changing verbs.

Other irregular verbs in the first person are: ver  (to see), which becomes veo , and saber  (to know), which becomes sé as in yo sé , or I know.

Irregular Spanish Present Tense Verbs: Totally Irregular

There are three verbs that are so irregular they get their own special category: ser (to be), estar (to be), and ir (to go).

Ser (to be) 

SubjectConjugationEnglish Translation
YoSoy I am
Eres You are (singular, informal)
Él/Ella, UstedEs He/She is, You are (singular, formal)
NosotrosSomos We are
VosotrosSois You are (plural, informal)
Ellos/Ellas, UstedesSon They are, You are (plural, formal)

Estar (to be) seems almost normal, until you see the accents.

SubjectConjugationEnglish Translation
YoEstoy I am
Estás You are (singular, informal)
Él/Ella, UstedEstá He/She is, You are (singular, formal)
NosotrosEstamos We are
VosotrosEstáis You are (plural, informal)
Ellos/Ellas, UstedesEstán They are, You are (plural, formal)

And Ir  (to go) is almost unrecognizable:

SubjectConjugationEnglish Translation
YoVoy I go
Vas You go (singular, informal)
Él/Ella, UstedVa He/She goes, You go (singular, formal)
NosotrosVamos We go
VosotrosVais You go (plural, informal)
Ellos/Ellas, UstedesVan They go, You go (plural, formal)

Spelling Rules in the Spanish Present Tense

Just to confuse matters further, some verbs change their spelling in the present tense. Luckily, there are rules that dictate when this happens.

Verbs ending in -cer/-cir

When the verb ends in a vowel + “cer” or “cir,” you need to change the “c” to “zc” in the first person. For example the verb conocer (to know) becomes: conozco  in the first person and is regular in all other forms:

conozco     conocemos
conoces    conocéis
conoce       conocen

Other verbs that also have this spelling change are:

Traducir (to translate) becomes traduzco

Aparecer  (to appear) becomes aparezco

Crecer  (to grow) becomes crezco

Nacer  (to be born) becomes nazco

Verbs ending in -ger/-gir

With verbs that end in “-ger” or “-gir” change the “g” to a “j” in the first person.

For example:

Escoger (to choose) becomes escojo

Exigir (to require/demand) becomes exijo

Fingir  (to pretend) becomes finjo

Elegir (to choose) becomes elijo (which is also a stem-changing verb).

Verbs ending in -guir

Finally, when a verb ends in “-guir” change “gu” to “g” in the first person.

Conseguir (to get/achieve) becomes consigo .

Seguir (to follow) becomes sigo  (another stem-changing verb).

Distinguir (to distinguish/tell apart) becomes distingo .

Head hurt? Don’t worry. Take a deep breath, make a cup of tea and then work through each of these sections again, taking time to study each part before moving on to the next.

Trust me, it will be worth your time.

Why Is Spanish Grammar Important?

Although vocabulary may often hold the key to making yourself understood—walk into a shop and say pan  (bread) for example, and you’ll likely come away with the desired product—grammar is equally crucial to getting your point across.

Consider the following sentence:

Vivo en Barcelona.”  (I live in Barcelona)

The verb vivir in this sentence is conjugated in the first person in the present tense, giving us vital information that the person talking currently lives in Barcelona.

If we simply said:

Vivir en Barcelona.” (To live in Barcelona/Living in Barcelona)

Then the listener has no idea who the sentence refers to or whether the speaker is referring to the past, present, future or a hypothetical scenario.

Aside from the communication breakdown mixing up your verbs can cause, conjugating your verbs correctly will make you sound like a much better Spanish speaker. Many native Spanish speakers consider conjugating verbs one of the most challenging aspects of learning their language, so get those verb endings right and you’ll be sure to impress!

Speaking of natives, a great way to learn these concepts is by watching native speakers use them in action. To do that, try reading a good Spanish-language novel or diving into a telenovela

You could also use a virtual immersion platform. FluentU, for example, takes culturally-relevant short videos and turns them into Spanish lessons. There are annotated captions that let you read along and watch for how the verbs are conjugated.

There are lots of resources out there that will help you make the connection between Spanish conjugations and their meanings, regardless of your learning style.


So don’t get discouraged if you don’t get it right away. With the right combination of study, practice and immersion, you’ll understand the Spanish present tense in no time.

¡Puedes hacerlo! —You can do it!

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