To learn Spanish conjugation, you have to be rigorous and meticulous: for starters you have to learn the endings of all the verbs in each tense and learn all of the irregular verbs which don’t follow the normal rules.
Here are our tips for mastering the tenses and moods of the Spanish language, from the indicative to the conditional via the subjunctive and the imperative.
What are The Tenses Used in Spanish?
There are two verbs that are the most used in Spanish “ ser ” and “ estar ”, that both mean ‘to be’ in English.
Whether you use one or the other depends on the context of the sentence.
In Spanish, the most used tenses are in the indicative:
- Present indicative
- Simple Future
For students, the present indicative and the simple future are the easiest to learn. Why?
Because as soon as you learn the three verb groups (1st group: verbs ending in AR, 2nd group: verbs ending in ER, and 3rd group: verbs ending in IR) you can learn the present endings and apply them to each verb.
- Verbs ending in AR endings : o, as, a, amos, áis, an,
- Verbs ending in ER endings: o, es, e, emos, éis, en,
- Verbs ending in IR endings: o, es, e, imos, ís, en.
For the future tense you just need to write or say the infinitive of the verb (hablar, conocer, llamarser, coger, hacer, haber, poner, salir, etc.) and add the future ending (é, ás, á, emos, éis, án).
There are several conjugations for the past tense: imperfect, preterite, perfect, and the pluperfect.
To express a repeated action in the past, Spanish uses the indicative imperfect. Relatively easy to conjugate, it is formed using the infinitive of the verb plus an ending:
- First group : aba, abas, aba, ábamos, abais, aban,
- Second group : ía, ías, ía, íamos, íais, ían.
In Spanish, the preterite is used more than the perfect tense.
Here again, the choice of one or the other varies according to the context: the perfect tense (conjugated haber + past participle), is used if the action still has ties to the present while the preterite is a completed action in the past.
Pay attention to irregularities: diphthong (combination of two vowel sounds within the same syllable) may appear in the list of verbs you have to learn.
You’ll soon find out that the present subjunctive and the imperfect subjunctive are used a lot in Spanish.
The subjunctive allows you to express desire, wishes, conditions, hypotheses that haven’t been realised yet or doubts, advice or even orders.
As a general rule, the present subjunctive is constructed with the first person present form of the verb eg: Tengo (I have) minus the –o ending and plus the subjunctive ending.
To remember all of this takes practice, there are plenty of free sites where you can print off conjugation tables to memorise.
Learn more about the Spanish tenses.
The Most Used Spanish Verbs
To learn conjugation, focus on the most commonly used Spanish verbs first.
There’s no need to learn every single verb straight away because as the Pareto principle goes, learning 20% of Spanish words will give you 80% understanding.
We’ll start then by learning the following verbs: ser, estar, haber, tener, deber.
There is a plethora of courses and exercises online to help you learn them.
We would recommend making a list of irregular verbs (which includes these 5 common verbs) and revising them several times a week. Little and often works best.
Then, expand your revision by adding in some reflexive or pronominal verbs (when the subject and the object are the same): llamarse, levantarse, despertarse, acordarse, ducharse, lavarse, dormirse, vestirse, encontrarse.
For these verbs you just need to add the personal pronoun (me, te se, nos, os, se) of each person before the conjugated verb.
For example, to conjugate the verb to meet in the present indicative it would be: me encuentro, te encuentras, se encuentra, nos encontramos, os encontráis, se encuentran.
Note that the verb haber – to have – is used as an auxiliary verb in Spanish. The auxiliary verb, often known as a helping verb, is combined with a main verb to form a verb phrase. A verb tense that uses an auxiliary verb and a main verb is known as a compound tense. Haber is conjugated like this:
- Present : he, has, ha, hemos, habéis, han,
- Perfect tense : he habido, has habido, he habido, hemos habido, habéis habido, han habido,
- Preterite: hube, hubiste, hubo, hubimos, hubisteis, hubieron,
- Simple future: habré, habrás, habrá, habremos, habréis, habrán,
- Present subjunctive: haya, hayas, haya, hayamos, hayáis, hayan,
- Imperfect subjunctive: hubiera, hubieras, hubiera, hubiéramos, hubierais, hubieran.
What do you notice?
Haber is an example of diphthong where there are two vowels sounds in the same syllable.
To help get you started, we’ve concocted a list of the most commonly used Spanish verbs from A-Z:
Going to learn in a Spanish speaking country is the best way to learn, and much more useful than learning in your own country! Not only will you be immersed in the language but you’ll also experience a different culture.
But if you can’t go abroad here’s a top tip: on a blank sheet of paper, write down all the verbs that you can think of and conjugate them in every tense.
How to learn the conjugation of irregular Spanish verbs.
Learning a language requires mastering its grammatical setup, its different tenses, and its writing rules. To do this you have to repeat grammatical exercises over and over again.
For those learning or revising for exams here is a list of irregular Spanish verbs.
Tip n° 1: learn little by little. Write out revision sheets and be consistent in studying them.
Learn verbs by groups and practice writing sentence that include them.
Tip n° 2: describe everyday situations.
For example, instead of learning verb tables by heart you might find it easier to remember verbs by writing short sentences with them in:
- Pienso que obtendré mis examenes: I think I will succeed in my exams.
- Tengo que trabajar mucho para mejorar mis notas: I have to work hard to improve my grades.
- Si tuviera dinero, iría en América Latina: If I had the money I’d go to Latin America.
- ¡ Claro ! Conozco este hombre, ¡ era mi vecino el año pasado ! : Of course I know this man! He was my neighbour last year!
You can then build a stock of simple sentences for to learn the different tenses and irregular verbs in Spanish.
This will give you a load of sentences but the most important thing is to memorise the verbs not the sentences themselves.
Looking for a Spanish Conjugation Site?
On this site, you’ll find verbs in every tense conjugated in the click of a button. Perfect for when you’re not sure of the endings for a certain verb.
When learning Spanish and its irregular verbs, you must pay attention to the spelling.
Often the “ e ” becomes “ ie ” or the “ o ” turns into “ ue ”, the “ c ” to “ zc ” or the “ i ” becomes “ y ” in first person, second, third person singular or plural.
This means there are some irregular verbs that don’t follow any rules, like these that where “ e ” becomes “ ue ”:
- Acertar, adquirir, apretar,
- Empezar, enterrar, encender, entender,
- Pensar, Plegar, perder, preferir.
“ e ” becomes “ i ” :
- Colegir, conseguir, corregir,
- Pedir, perseguir,
- Seguir, sonreír, soñar,
“ c ” turns into “ zc ” :
- Acaecer, acontecer,
- Crecer, conducir,
- Embellecer, enriquecer,
Take lessons to improve your Spanish
Spanish is one of the most widely studied languages in the world, and one of the most effective ways of learning is with one-on-one classes at home.
At Superprof, our Spanish teachers can help you improve your Spanish by:
- Revising irregular verbs
- Distinguishing the difference between Ser and Estar
- Revising tenses (imperfect, simple future, pluperfect, preterite, past participle, subjunctive, conditional etc.) and when to use the right one
- Enriching vocabulary
- Overcoming difficult grammatical rules
Another alternative to home classes is to find a local language school where you’ll be able to learn from a native Spanish teacher.
What next? Take Spanish lessons London or anywhere in the UK so you can work on your accent and start reading Spanish literature to become truly bilingual!