18 Spanish Verb Tenses Every Learner Must Know [with Examples]
There are 18 Spanish verb tenses—some used daily, and others only in literature and legal documents.
You likely already know some, like the beginner present simple tense (and maybe even the preterite and imperfect).
But others—I’m looking at you, subjunctive—might have you scratching your head and murmuring ¡Ay, Dios mío! (oh my God!)
It’s great to be familiar with all Spanish verb tenses, but you’ll want to focus on mastering those that will maximize your conversational fluency.
This post will explain both with the help of conjugation tables and examples provided by an hispanohablante (Spanish speaker).
- Spanish Moods vs. Spanish Tenses
- The Indicative Mood
- The Subjunctive Mood
- The Imperative Mood
Spanish Moods vs. Spanish Tenses
Spanish uses both moods and tenses to talk about time and events.
A Spanish tense describes when the action took place—past, present or future.
The Spanish moods determine how the verb is going to be conjugated because unlike the tense, it describes how the action took place.
For example, did it happen before another action interrupted it? Is the action a command? Is it something that will happen or something you hope will happen?
Just like tenses, there are three Spanish moods (also sometimes called “modes”):
To fully understand how each mood affects the conjugations, you’ll first learn the tenses in the indicative mood, then the subjective and finally, the imperative. The tables will teach you how to form the correct conjugations for –ar, –er and –ir verbs and you’ll see them in action with the example sentences.
It’s important to note, too, that not all verbs are equal. There’s a handful of irregular verbs in Spanish (such as ser, estar and tener), so once you’ve mastered the regulars with the tables here, you can level up by becoming confident in those.
The Indicative Mood
The indicative mood is the most common in Spanish and the first one you learn when starting your Spanish journey.
It includes all the simple tenses (such as future simple and present simple) and you can use it to talk about anything factual (such as observable features and true events, like “she is tall” or “I went to the store yesterday”).
There are 10 total Spanish verb tenses in the indicative mood:
- Present simple
- Future simple
- Simple conditional
- Present perfect
- Past perfect
- Past anterior
- Future perfect
- Conditional perfect
1. Present Simple Tense
Generally speaking, we use the simple present tense to talk about facts and descriptions. For example:
Los pájaros vuelan.
Vivo en Polonia.
I live in Poland.
Juan es alto y tiene los ojos azules.
Juan is tall and has blue eyes.
The present simple tense is used a lot more in Spanish than it is in English though, which might not come as natural for you at first.
Such instances include any time you’re talking about:
- Actions that are currently happening (but not at the moment of speaking)
- Talking about future plans
- Actions that are ongoing
Ahora viven en un hotel.
They are living in a hotel now.
Viajo a España el martes.
I’m traveling to Spain on Tuesday.
Vivo en Polonia desde 2006.
I have been living in Poland since 2006.
A helpful tip: any time you see the words desde, desde que and desde hace and the verbal periphrasis llevar + gerund, you’ll most likely want to use the present simple tense!
|Present Simple (-AR Verbs)|
|Present Simple (-ER Verbs)|
|Present Simple (-IR Verbs)|
2. Imperfect Tense
We use the Spanish imperfect tense to talk about actions that happened in the past without a specific time duration (such as habitual actions—things that would occur on a regular basis or over a prolonged period of time).
A good rule of thumb: any time you’d say “used to” in English, you’ll want to use the imperfect tense in Spanish.
Take a look at the example sentences to see what I mean:
Solía ir a ese parque cuando era joven.
I used to go to that park when I was young.
Juana cocinaba cuando Pedro volvió.
Juana was cooking when Pedro came back.
In the imperfect tense, –er and –ir verbs have the same conjugations, so they are shown in the same table below.
|Imperfect (-AR Verbs)|
|Imperfect (-ER/-IR Verbs)|
3. Preterite Tense
We use the Spanish preterite to talk about:
- Actions that both started and finished in the past
- Actions that took place during a specific time period
- Sequences of actions
Ayer comí lasaña.
I ate lasagna yesterday.
El mes pasado fui de compras dos veces.
I went shopping twice last month.
Me levanté, abrí la puerta y me fui.
I got up, opened the door and left.
|Preterite (-AR Verbs)|
|Preterite (-ER/-IR Verbs)|
4. Future Simple
The future simple is used exactly how it sounds: to describe actions that haven’t happened yet, but will. For example:
I will be late.
Encontrarás al amor de tu vida muy pronto.
You will find the love of your life very soon.
You’ll hear it less frequently, but we also use this tense for solemn commands, such as:
Thou shall not kill.
No irás a la fiesta.
You won’t go to the party.
However, there’s one other use of the future simple in Spanish that drives some learners crazy—talking about possibilities.
¿Dónde estará Juan?
Where could Juan be?
Me pregunto qué hora será.
I wonder what time it is.
To use the future simple tense, you don’t really conjugate, but rather add a specific ending to the infinitive form of a verb, depending on which pronoun you’re using.
5. Simple Conditional Tense
We use the Spanish simple conditional to talk about hypothetical situations, give advice and make requests.
You’ll often hear the phrase me gustaría, which means “I’d like/love to…”. By starting a sentence with this, you can use the conditional tense instead of the subjunctive when talking about wishes and desires.
Saldría si tuviera dinero.
I would go out if I had money.
¿Podrías pasarme la sal, por favor?
Could you pass me the salt, please?
Me gustaría ser millonario.
I would like to be a millionaire.
¿Por qué no vino Juan? No sé, estaría enfermo.
Why didn’t Juan come? I don’t know, maybe he was ill.
Si yo fuera tú, lo dejaría.
If I were you, I would leave him.
¿Por qué no estudiaría yo más?
Why didn’t I study harder?
Like the simple future, simply add the appropriate ending to a verb to conjugate it in the simple conditional tense.
6. Present Perfect Tense
You’ll need to use the Spanish present perfect tense when talking about completed actions and actions that have already started but are still ongoing.
He desayunado dos veces ya.
I have already had breakfast twice.
Juan ha vivido en Sevilla todo este tiempo.
Juan has lived in Seville all this time.
It’s also the perfect tense to use when talking about life experiences (or lack thereof).
Nunca he estado casado.
I have never been married.
Hemos concertado una reunión con él para mañana.
We have arranged a meeting with him for tomorrow.
The present perfect tense is probably the easiest one to use. You only have to conjugate one verb: haber (to have). Then, simply make the main verb you’re wanting to use into the past participle.
The formula is:
conjugated haber + past participle of the verb
For the full rundown on Spanish past participles, check out this post that covers them in detail. But for now, all you need to know is that you need to take away the infinitive verb ending and attach –ado or –ido.
7. Past Perfect Tense (Pluperfect Tense)
The Spanish past perfect is used for two situations: talking about an action that happened before another and life experiences that you’re having for the first time.
La bomba ya había explotado cuando llegó la policía.
The bomb had already exploded when the police arrived.
Nunca antes había visto un tiburón.
I had never seen a shark before.
Conjugation for the past perfect is similar to the present perfect. The difference is that the conjugation of haber is in the imperfect form rather than the simple present.
8. Past Anterior Tense (Preterite Perfect Tense)
This tense is rare to use in Spanish nowadays, as it usually only appears in literature and extremely formal language.
The past perfect tense almost entirely replaces it now, as it’s also used to talk about a past action that took place right before another past action.
Cuando hubo comido, lavó los platos.
When/After he had eaten, he washed the dishes.
No dije nada después de que hube oído la noticia.
I didn’t say anything after hearing/having heard/I had heard the news.
The past anterior follows the same pattern as the present perfect and the past perfect, but this time haber will be in its preterite form.
|Past Anterior/Preterite Perfect|
9. Future Perfect Tense
We use the future perfect to talk about actions that will have been completed in the future and to make conjectures and hypotheses about the past (much like the simple future is used to make conjectures about the present).
En septiembre habré terminado mis estudios.
I will have finished my studies in September.
Se habrá quedado dormida.
She might have fallen asleep.
Once again, we use haber + the past participle, but this time haber will be in its future form.
10. Conditional Perfect Tense
We use the Spanish conditional perfect to talk about things that would or could have happened in the past (or not).
Habríamos ido si Ana no hubiera estado enferma.
We would have gone if Ana hadn’t been sick.
Habría preferido quedarme en casa.
I would have preferred to stay home.
Creí que no habrías querido venir.
I thought you wouldn’t have wanted to come.
The Subjunctive Mood
The subjunctive in Spanish is the opposite of the indicative. Instead of expressing facts, it’s used to communicate things like wishes and doubts.
Any time you’re unsure which one to use, think of the popular acronym “WEIRDO”:
- Interpersonal expressions
- Ojalá (I wish, hope, etc.)
In any of these cases, you’d conjugate the verb in the subjunctive.
There are six Spanish verb tenses under the subjunctive mood:
- Present subjunctive
- Imperfect subjunctive
- Future subjunctive
- Present perfect subjunctive
- Pluperfect subjunctive
- Future perfect subjunctive
11. Present Subjunctive Tense
You already know why and when to use the subjunctive (think “WEIRDO”). So it makes sense then that the present subjunctive tense is simply expressing those characteristics (such as wishes and doubts) in the present tense.
Necesito que venga pronto.
I need him to come soon.
I hope it rains!
|Present Subjunctive (-AR Verbs)|
|Present Subjunctive (-ER/-IR Verbs)|
12. Imperfect Subjunctive Tense
We use the imperfect subjunctive tense to talk about past feelings, but also to reflect on past events (as the first example sentence shows).
No creo que el examen fuera difícil.
I don’t think the exam was difficult.
Ojalá no lloviera.
I wish it hadn’t rained.
Quisiera saber su nombre, por favor. (I would like to know your name, please.)
There are three steps to conjugating Spanish verbs in the imperfect subjunctive tense:
Step 1: Find the third person plural of the verb in its preterite form (for example, hablaron — they talked)
Step 2: Remove the –ron at the end (for example, hablaron → habla)
Step 3: Conjugate the stem
There are two endings you can use in each case, and it doesn’t matter which you go with, as they both mean the same thing.
|Imperfect Subjunctive (-AR Verbs)|
|Imperfect Subjunctive (-ER/-IR Verbs)|
13. Future Subjunctive Tense
Much like anterior preterite, you’ll rarely encounter the future subjunctive “in the wild.” It’s mainly seen in literature and legal documents now, and where it was routinely used in conversations in the past, the present subjunctive and present indicative are typically used instead.
Its main use is when the main verb requires the subjunctive and it refers to the future:
Adonde fueres, haz lo que vieres. (When in Rome, do as the Romans do.)
El que rompiere la regla, será castigado. (He who breaks the rule will be punished.)
The conjugation for the future subjunctive uses the same stem as the imperfect subjunctive but uses these endings for all verb types instead:
14. Present Perfect Subjunctive Tense
The present perfect subjunctive is used to express the same things as the present subjunctive. The difference is that the verb has already happened or will in the near future.
Espero que hayas dormido bien.
I hope you slept well.
Te llamaré cuando haya comido.
I’ll call you when I finish eating.
To conjugate this tense, take the present subjunctive form of haber and add the past participle.
|Present Perfect Subjunctive|
15. Pluperfect Subjunctive Tense
We use the Spanish pluperfect subjunctive to reflect on actions in the past that were followed by another. Most commonly, to wish something had or hadn’t happened.
Si hubieras estudiado más, habrías aprobado el examen.
If you had studied harder, you would have passed the exam.
Ojalá no hubiera llovido tanto.
I wish it hadn’t rained so much.
For this one, put haber into the imperfect subjunctive form and add the past participle.
16. Future Perfect Subjunctive Tense
The Spanish future perfect subjunctive is basically obsolete.
It’s only used in formal literature, poetry and legal texts to refer to a future completed event that would only be true if the condition of an earlier event is fulfilled.
Well, it is, even for us native Spanish speakers!
This mouthful simply means that something can be completed in the future if and only if a prior condition is met.
Something has to happen first, and then a second event will take place and be completed.
Quien hubiere ultrajado la bandera, será castigado.
He who has vilified the flag will be punished.
Si no hubiere vuelto en dos horas, llamad a la policía.
If I haven’t returned in two hours, call the police.
For the future perfect subjunctive, put haber into its future form and add the past participle.
|Future Perfect Subjunctive|
The Imperative Mood
The imperative in Spanish is used to tell somebody what to do (i.e., make a demand).
There’s both an affirmative imperative and a negative imperative tense.
You’ll be happy to hear though that unlike the other Spanish verb tenses, both imperatives only conjugate in the tú, nosotros, usted, and ustedes forms.
17. Affirmative Imperative
Déjame ir a la fiesta, por favor.
Let me go to the party, please.
Perdóname, mi amor.
Forgive me, my love.
|Affirmative Imperative (-AR Verbs)|
|Affirmative Imperative (-ER/-IR Verbs)|
18. Negative Imperative
No vayas a la fiesta.
Don’t go to the party.
No me pidas perdón.
|Negative Imperative (-AR Verbs)|
|Negative Imperative (-ER/-IR Verbs)|
Spanish verb tenses are an adventure that your language learning journey will inevitably require you to embark on—especially for intermediate and advanced students who want to finally reach fluency.
The more you use the tenses, the more natural they’ll come. So now that you know how to use them, it’s time to start putting them into practice.
FluentU is a language learning program that allows you to do this from anywhere. It uses authentic content to teach Spanish concepts like verb tenses in a natural way, so you can use them as a native would.
For example, you can search for the present subjunctive tense to find a variety of Spanish media clips that feature it, then use the clickable captions to study how it’s used in context.
Stay curious, my friends, and as always, happy learning!