Verbs and Related Basics

Below you’ll find an introduction to key Spanish verb types and their uses, and some examples particularly relevant to the Experience Industries. But before that, some other basics are best outlined here for the non-linguist, because there are a few important points to note to use verbs correctly in different situations.

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Although in spoken Spanish, personal pronouns are often missed out, you do need to be aware of how they are used and what they look like in Spanish – the equivalents of I, me, you, we, us, they, etc in English. Firstly, the subject pronouns are used when a person is the one ‘doing’ the action. In English these are I, you, he/she/it, we and they, for example I kick the ball, you catch the ball. The Spanish equivalents, used with the different forms of the verb (conjugations) are

yo (I); (you, familiar singular); él/ella (he and she respectively); nosotros/as (we, m/f); vosotros/as (you, plural m/f); ellos/ellas (they – male and female respectively). In addition there is a more formal usted form (you, polite sing.) and ustedes (you, polite pl.).

Object pronouns are used when something is happening to or involving someone. In English, this is me, you, him/her, us and them – so, as you can see, we use fewer pronouns. In Spanish the equivalent object pronouns also change depending on whether whether who you’re referring to is being directly affected by what’s happening – the direct object. For example, if a coach says to a gymnast “I will catch you”, I is a subject pronoun and you is the direct object in that sentence.

In Spanish, the direct object pronouns (for I, you, him/her, us, you (pl.) and they) are me, te, le/la (him/her), nos, os, les/las. In addition, lo and los is used for ‘things’ (i.e. ‘it’ and ‘them’) rather than people, e.g. I threw it, or I collected them. For the polite forms, lo is used for the singular and os is used for the plural.

Indirect object pronouns are used when something involves a person but is not affecting them, e.g. when telling someone, the ‘someone’ isn’t affected (at least in grammatical terms!) In contexts like this, Spanish uses a slightly different set of pronouns: me, te, le (for either him or her), nos, os, les (for ‘them’, whether male, female or both).

Just to complicate things a little further, when a preposition is used (e.g. speaking to someone) the pronoun is different still. For me and you (e.g. he is speaking to me, this gift is for you), Spanish uses and tí, e.g. ‘to me’ is a mí, and ‘for you’ is para tí. The other pronouns in this case are largely the same as the subject pronouns (e.g. a él, con ella, para nosotros, de vosotras, con ellos).

However, ‘with me’, with you’ (e.g. ‘you can work with me’) and the less commonly used ‘with himself/herself’ (e.g ‘she has taken a cellphone with her’) have a special form in conmigo, contigo and consigo respectively. The rest, ‘with him’ (e.g. are you going with him?’), ‘with us/you (pl.)/them’ take the form con él, con ella, con nosotros/as, con vosotros/as, con ellos/as.

Reflexive verbs mostly use the above pronouns, but please see that section for more detail. There are also some regional variations in Latin America for example.

The main verb forms – a reminder

Verbs may be regular, following neatly the sequence of ‘endings’ below, or they might be irregular, meaning that at some point they deviate form these rules – some significantly, others just a little. Below is the simple present tense of three examples, relevant to the Experience Industries of the main types of verb, known as ~ar , ~er and ~ir verbs.

It’s worth learning these standard formats because the vast majority of verbs are ~ar, with maybe only 30 % across ~er and ~ir. Not all of these are regular, of course, and it has been reported that perhaps a little over 40% are irregular in one way or another. These irregularities don’t have to be a barrier to learning and communication, especially when you realise that some verbs you’ll never use at all, while those you do use frequently will become very familiar. In any case, slight mistakes are entirely forgivable and to be expected. As long as you can get your point across, it’s ‘job done’!

Hablar to speak

yo hablo
él/ella/usted habla

nosotros/as hablamos
vosotros/as habláis
ellos/ellas/ustedes hablan

Comer to eat

yo como
él/ella/usted come

nosotros/as comemos
vosotros/as coméis
ellos/ellas/ustedes comen

Vivir to live

yo vivo
él/ella/usted vive

nosotros/as vivimos
vosotros/as vivís
ellos/ellas /ustedes viven

… Some of the more useful regular verbs (at least largely regular) are listed below.

-ar verbs

arrive – llegar ask (a question) – preguntar
explain – explicar forget – olvidar
help – ayudar
pay (for) – pagar
study – estudiar teach – enseñar
travel – viajar visit – visitar work – trabajar

~er verbs

depend – depender
drink – beber
fail – suspender
learn – aprender see – ver
sell – vender understand – comprender

~ir verbs

admit/permit – admitir ask (request) – pedir compete – competir
describe – describir
leave (depart) – partir
receive – recibir
share (out) – repartir sign/agree to – subscribir

Irregular verbs vary from the regular formats in different ways and they are seldom completely irregular. Some, like abrir (open) or escribir (write) are regular in the present tense but deviate in another such as a past participle (abierto, escrito). This means once you identify and practice an irregular verb you need to be aware of any irregularities you can expect to encounter.

You’ll also notice some patterns in irregularity, such as word endings for similar verbs in similar situations, such as agradecer (to thank/be thankful for) follows a pattern similar to conocer (to know/be familiar with).

The examples below illustrate some different variations amongst irregular verbs – the first three tables show variation in the present tense, sometimes just the yo form, sometimes more widespread, like cerrar – the first example. The next tables illustrate variations elsewhere.

Cerrar to close

yo cierro
él/ella/usted cierra

nosotros/as cerramos
vosotros/as cerráis
ellos/ellas/ustedes cierran

Conocer to know (a person)

yo conozco
él/ella/usted conoce

nosotros/as conocemos
vosotros/as conocéis
ellos/ellas/ustedes conocen

Salir to leave (exit)

yo salgo
tú sales
él/ella/usted sale

nosotros/as salimos
vosotros/as salís
ellos/ellas /ustedes salen

Past participles irregular

abrir (open) abierto
creer (believe) creído
escribir (write) escrito
freír (fry) frito

reír (laugh) reído

Gerunds irregular-~ing

caer (fall) – cayendo
construir (build) – construyendo creer (believe) – creyendo
divertir (enjoy) – divirtiendo
divertirse (enjoy oneself) – divirtiéndose
freír (fry) – friendo
reír (laugh) – riendo
instruir (instruct/order) – instruyendo repetir (repeat) – repitiendo

ir – to go … widely irregular

Present tense: voy, vas, va, vamos, vais, van

ir – to go … past tenses

Past participle : ido Preterite (went): fui, fuiste, fue, fuimos, fuisteis, fueron Imperfect (was going/used to go): iba, ibas, iba, íbamos, ibais, iban

Reflexive verbs largely follow the pattern below, and more examples are listed elsewhere on this site, but three examples are shown below for reference. In short these verbs indicate an action where the person(s)/subject(s) doing the action are affecting themself/ves. For example, bañarse (to bathe oneself) is different from bañar, which indicates something/someone else is being bathed.

The examples given below are all irregular, but the focus here is on patterns that make up a reflexive verb. There are examples of regular reflexive verbs of course such as bañarse, marcharse (to go away/leave), but you’ll find the majority are ~ar verbs, and in fact any verb that has the possibility of doing something to oneself can have a reflexive equivalent.

despertarse to awaken / wake up

yo me despierto
te despiertas
él/ella/usted se despierta

nosotros/as nos despertamos
vosotros/as os despertáis
ellos/ellas/ustedes se despiertan

caerse to fall down

yo me caigo
te caes
él/ella/usted se cae

nosotros/as nos caemos
vosotros/as os caéis
ellos/ellas/ustedes se caen

dormirse to fall asleep

yo me duermo
te duermes
él/ella/usted se duerme

nosotros/as nos dormimos
vosotros/as os dormís
ellos/ellas /ustedes se duermen

… And finally, three of the most important verbs – the verbs ‘to have’ tener and ‘to be’ – ser and estar in the simple present tense. Tener is widely used either alone or in phrases such as to have to (tener que), and to describes states like being cold, excited, etc.

As previously explained ser and estar are used for more and less permanent contexts respectively, although the original logic of this is in some respects no longer valid. They would have developed, for example, at a time when someone’s career path or profession would be largely unchanged throughout their lifetime, hence use of ser for professions as well as more intrinsically permanent characteristics like colour or size. The use of estar for location, how we are feeling, and other temporary ‘states’, does of course make sense.

Tener – to have

yo tengo
él/ella/ usted tiene

nosotros/as tenemos
vosotros/as tenéis
ellos/ellas /ustedes tienen

Ser – to be (permanent/professions)

yo soy
él/ella/usted es

nosotros/as somos
vosotros/as sois
ellos/ellas/ustedes son

Estar – to be (temporary, etc)

yo estoy
él/ella/usted está

nosotros/as estamos
vosotros/as estáis
ellos/ellas/ustedes están

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