Spanish Verb Tenses

One of the most complex components of Spanish grammar is the verb conjugations.

The tenses include: present, imperfect, preterite, future, conditional, present perfect, pluperfect, preterit perfect, future perfect, conditional perfect, present subjunctive, imperfect subjunctive, present perfect subjunctive and pluperfect subjunctive.

Here are each of the terms explained:

Present Tense

The present tense is used to express an action that is continuously going on at this moment. They are also used to describe a habitual action, which occurs during the present time. To keep it simple, let‘s first go through the “persons”, meaning who the verb is talking about.

When using present tense, there are three singular forms, which then will turn into three plural forms. They are:


  • First Person: Use this when talking about yourself using “I”, or in Spanish, “Yo”. In its plural form, this person transfers to “We”, or in Spanish, “nosotros(-as)”.

  • Second Person: Use this person when talking about the informal “You”, or in Spanish, “”. In Spanish, you use this “informal” version when you‘re talking to someone you already know, who is younger than you or the same age. Do not use “” when you are in a professional or formal setting or speaking to someone older or higher-up (professionally) than you.

  • Third Person: This refers to when Person A and Person B are having a conversation and they are talking about Person C or Persons C, D, and E.To keep it simple, we‘re just going to talk about the indicative “mood” of these words. However, just to give you a sneak-peek, there are also the subjunctive and imperative forms. There are also three different tenses (just like in English), the past, the present, and the future.


To keep it simple, we‘re just going to talk about the indicative “mood” of these words. However, just to give you a sneak-peek, there are also the subjunctive and imperative forms. There are also three different tenses (just like in English), the past, the present, and the future.

When you are first starting to speak Spanish, you‘ll begin to notice patterns. In their infinitive form, you will notice that mostly all verbs will end in an -r.

The most common endings are: -ar, -er, and -ir.


"-ar"


Let‘s begin with the verb “to speak” or “hablar” in Spanish. You‘ll notice that the ending is with an “-ar”. Therefore, using “hablar” as a model, you can easily see how other “-ar” verbs will be conjugated, as well.


yo-ohabloI speak
-ashablasYou (informal) speak
Usted, él, ella-ahablaYou (formal) speak He/She speaks
nosotros(-as)-amoshablamosWe speak
vosotros-áishabláisYou (all informal) speak
Ustedes, ellos, ellas-anhablanYou (formal) speak They speak

"-er"

Another very common verb-ending is “-er”. You‘ll notice that it is very similar to the “-ar” ending pattern, simply change the vowel. Let‘s use the verb “to eat” in Spanish, which is “comer”. This is an extremely important word to know!


yo-ocomoI eat
-escomesYou (informal) eat
Usted, él, ella-ecomeYou (formal) eat He/She eats
nosotros(-as)-emoscomemosWe eat
vosotros-éiscoméisYou (all informal) eat
Ustedes, ellos, ellas-encomenYou (formal) eat They eat

"-i"

The last very common verb-ending is “-ir”. You‘ll notice that the table is also extremely similar to the table showing the “-er” ending pattern, even with some changes that are completely the same. Let‘s use the verb “to live” in Spanish, which is “vivir”.


yo-ovivoI live
-esvivesYou (informal) live
Usted, él, ella-eviveYou (formal) live He/She live
nosotros(-as)-imosvivimosWe live
vosotros-ísvivísYou (all informal) live
Ustedes, ellos, ellas-envivenYou (formal) live They live

Those are the three most common, regular verb endings. However, there are verbs that contain irregular forms.

Irregular “Yo” Forms

With these verbs, everything remains the same as mentioned before, when they end in “-ar”, “-er”, and “-ir”, except the first person form.

For example, the word “hacer”, which means “to do”, in English has a different “Yo” form than the regular “-er” verbs.

For “hacer”, all the other person (second and third) conjugations are the same except for the “Yo” form. You might think that it will be “haco” by following the table but it is not, It is “hago”. There are certain verbs that change the first person form only.


conocerconozcoConosco
dardoyI give
traducirtraduzcoI translate

You should be using the present indicative (the form you‘ve just learned) when talking about things happening now, in the near future, and other moments on a day-to-day basis. This form is one of the most common forms.

You‘ll be using the present indicative when talking about:

1. Everyday Actions

When you‘re talking about things that you do on a daily basis or extremely often, you will use the present indicative. This can mean talking about your routines, your responsibilities, any sports you may play or any hobbies you may have.

Here are some examples of “everyday actions” at work:

Me levanto a las ocho cada lunes.I wake up at eight o´clock every Monday.
Doy de comer al gato dos veces por día.I feed the cat two times a day.
A Paula estudia en la universidad.Paula studies at the university.

2. Present Events

When you‘re talking about things that are happening right at this moment in English, you will normally use the present progressive. In Spanish it‘s the same but you can also use the simple present, which is exactly what you just learned.

Here are some examples of present events:


Estoy bien, gracias amiga.I am doing well, thanks, (friend).
¿Qué haces ahora?What are you doing right now?
Cocino la almuerza.I‘m cooking lunch.

3. Things Happening in the Near Future

You can also use this tense when talking about things that will happen in the very-near-future. For example, although there is no specific time-limit here, it normally means that it won‘t be happening this afternoon or tomorrow. It usually means within a half-hour or so.

Here are some examples of near-future events:


Voy a la playa. ¿Vienes?I am going to the beach. Are you coming?
Salgo para la cinema en media hora.I am leaving for the movie theater in half an hour.

4. Concepts That Have No Time

When you‘re talking about things that are not time-relevant and simply just are, you can use the present indicative. You can also use it when talking about certain things that are simply known universally. Normally, you‘ll see this when talking about facts, opinions or proverbs.

Here is an example of a timeless concept:


Uno más uno son dos.One plus one is two.

5. Hypothetical Situations

You can use the present tense when you‘re talking about hypothetical situations that haven‘t happened yet or that could possibly happen in the future. The bottom line with these is that they are not 100 percent certain.

Normally in these sentences, you‘ll be using the Spanish version of “if”, which is “si”. Use the present tense when talking about these in a sentence.

Here are some examples of hypothetical situations:


Si tu hermana viene, vengo también.If your sister comes, I‘ll come too!
Si llueve, no podemos ir a la playa.If it rains, we cannot go to the beach.

6. Talking About A Time-Lapse

Even if you are technically talking about the past here, you can use the present tense to talk specifically about the time that has passed. Therefore when you‘re using the verb to describe the time, then use the present indicative form.

Especially for a beginner, this sentence might be a little advanced, however, if taken apart, all you have to do is follow a sentence formula.

Here is the formula used:

hace + (time period) + que + (present tense verb)


Hace tres años que jugamos fútbol juntas.It‘s been three years since we‘ve played soccer together.
Hace una semana que aprende tocar la guitarra.He‘s been learning to play guitar for a week.

7. Ordering From a Restaurant

You can easily refer to and use the present tense in Spanish when you are going to be asking for something delicious to eat in a restaurant or a supermarket.

To use the present tense when ordering, you can say:


Me trae un vaso de agua, por favor.Please bring me a cup of water.
Quiero el pastel de chocolate.I want the chocolate cake.

Although there are plenty of other ways to order from a restaurant, using the present tense in these examples will easily suffice.

However, for a better understanding of each of the verb tenses, here is each one explained:

Imperfect Tense

For this type of tense, there are two different sets of conjugations. To change the verb so that it is used in the imperfect tense, you just have to add to the end of the stem of the core of the verb.

This type of tense is used for speaking about actions that happened in the past where there was not a specified completion. When talking about continuous actions in the past or ones that are more habitual, you‘ll use this term.

Let‘s use the word “hablar” and take you through all the different terms using this verb, which means “to speak”.

In the imperfect tense:

yo hablaba: I was speaking, I used to speak

To be able to indicate that there was no end and know that you should be using the imperfect form, you can use the cues from these phrases:


cada añoevery year
cada díaevery day
a menudo/frecuentementeoften/frequently
a veces/de vez en cuandosometimes
siemprealways

Taking in the example of “hablar”, we can take a look at this chart in the imperfect tense:


Yohablaba
hablabas
él/ella/ustedhablaba
nosotroshablábamos
vosotroshablabais
ellos/ellas/ustedeshablaban

Preterite Tense

You will use this tense when describing specific actions that took place in the past and had a point of completion (it‘s finished), meaning it is used to describe one single event. This tense contrasts to the prior tense mentioned, the imperfect tense, because the actions used in the preterite tense are not habitual nor continuous. They have an actual completion point because they are talking about one single event.

In the preterite tense:

Carlos habló ayer sobre las galletas sabrosas. Carlos talked about the delicious cookies yesterday.

Just like the other form, you can simply add the ending change to the stem of the verb.


Yohablé
hablaste
él/ella/ustedhabló
nosotroshablamos
vosotroshablasteis
ellos/ellas/ustedeshablaron

Future Tense

Use this tense when talking about events that may or may not take place in the future. In Spanish, there are generally two ways to refer to the future tense.

The two ways are the informal future, which is when you use the “ir + a + infinitive form) and the simple future, which where you you conjugate the ending of the word, see below.

The formula used here would be “ir + a + infinitivo”.

When you are talking about the simple future, you will be referring to what will or should happen. It can also be used when talking about what may happen. You can use this tense to express a possibility, as if using the English words of “may” and “might”, etc.

When using this form, the endings are all the same:


Yohablaré
hablarás
él/ella/ustedhablará
nosotroshablaremos
vosotroshablaréis
ellos/ellas/ustedeshablarán

Conditional Tense

Simply used, the conditional tense is for when you‘re going to be talking about what would happen if something were true. You can also use this verb form when trying to make a request or a question more polite.

These are a little bit easier to conjugate because you simply add the endings, which change, to the infinitive form of the verb.

It is like using the equivalent of the English word “would”. You can use this -ar verb ending for all regular verbs.


Yohablaría
hablarías
él/ella/ustedhablaría
nosotroshablaríamos
vosotroshablaríais
ellos/ellas/ustedeshablarían

Present Perfect

When using this form, you are taking the auxiliary verb and then connecting it with the compound tense and adding the past participle.

You can simple take the present tense of “haber”, which means “to have” (in a way), and then add the past participle.

It is relatively simple to conjugate this verb form because you use the same verb form of the past participle and just change the word that comes before it.

This is “hablar” in the present perfect:


Yohe hablado
has hablado
él/ella/ustedha hablado
nosotroshemos hablado
vosotroshabéis hablado
ellos/ellas/ustedeshan hablado

Pluperfect Tense

To talk about the past as well, you can use the pluperfect tense. You need to use “haber” again but place it in the imperfect tense.

Take the imperfect tense of “haber” and add it to the past participle of the verb you want to use. When using our example of “hablar”, we can conjugate it to the pluperfect tense and past participle of “hablado”.

This is “hablar” in the pluperfect:


Yohabía hablado
habías hablado
él/ella/ustedhabía hablado
nosotroshabíamos hablado
vosotroshabíais hablado
ellos/ellas/ustedeshabían hablado

Preterit Perfect Tense

When using this verb form, you will be taking the preterit tense of “haber” and adding it to the past participle of your verb, which in this case is “hablar”.

This form is generally used in writing and almost never heard of in speech.


Yohube hablado
hubiste hablado
él/ella/ustedhubo hablado
nosotroshubimos hablado
vosotroshubisteis hablado
ellos/ellas/ustedeshubieron hablado

Future Perfect

When talking about the future, you can use the word “haber”, as well. The future perfect form still uses the past participle in its masculine form, even when describing the future.


Yohabré hablado
habrás hablado
él/ella/ustedhabrá hablado
nosotroshabremos hablado
vosotroshabréis hablado
ellos/ellas/ustedeshabrán hablado

Conditional Perfect

To use the conditional perfect you will take the future tense form of the verb “haber” again and then adding the past participle.


Yohabría hablado
habrías hablado
él/ella/ustedhabría hablado
nosotroshabríamos hablado
vosotroshabríais hablado
ellos/ellas/ustedeshabrían hablado

Present Subjunctive

This tense uses the first person singular present tense, leaving the “o” and then adding the new present subjunctive ending.

Take the first person singular form of “hablar”, which is “hablo”. Then, drop the “-o” and then add these endings:


Yohable
hables
él/ella/ustedhable
nosotroshablemos
vosotroshabléis
ellos/ellas/ustedeshablen

To conjugate words that end in “-er” or “-ir”:


Yo-a
-as
él/ella/usted-a
nosotros-amos
vosotros-áis
ellos/ellas/ustedes-an

Imperfect Subjunctive

Just like the previous tense is formed by taking the first person singular, the imperfect subjunctive takes the third person plural form. Once you have that form, drop the “-ron” and then add the new subjunctive ending.

No matter what the verb is, the endings are the same:


Yohablara
hablaras
él/ella/ustedhablara
nosotroshabláramos
vosotroshablarais
ellos/ellas/ustedeshablaran

Or, you can also use these forms:

Yohablase
hablases
él/ella/ustedhablase
nosotroshablásemos
vosotroshablaseis
ellos/ellas/ustedeshablasen

Present Perfect Subjunctive

This form takes “haber” again and then the past participle is added:


Yohaya hablado
hayas hablado
él/ella/ustedhaya hablado
nosotroshayamos hablado
vosotroshayáis hablado
ellos/ellas/ustedeshayan hablado

Pluperfect Subjunctive

Last but not least, this is the form of “hablar” in the pluperfect subjunctive, which is formed by taking the imperfect subjunctive tense and adding it to the past participle.


Yohubiera hablado
hubieras hablado
él/ella/ustedhubiera hablado
nosotroshubiéramos hablado
vosotroshubierais hablado
ellos/ellas/ustedeshubieran hablado