There is a very important aspect of Spanish you must learn: the conjugation of verbs. Unfortunately, there’s quite a bit more to verb conjugations in Spanish than there is in English. You may have seen crazy Spanish verb tables already, pero no te preocupes (but don’t worry): there’s really no need in memorizing conjugation tables!
Instead, in this article you will discover an easy way to imprint regular verb conjugations on your brain so you can use them in conversations without even having to think about conjugation tables!
The key to understanding verb conjugation
Verb conjugation in Spanish might come across as unpredictable, nonsensical even, but there are two features that will allow you to understand how verb conjugation works in Spanish.
Number 1: in terms of conjugation, verbs in Spanish may be either regular or irregular. Regular verbs follow a pattern, but irregular verbs don’t. To keep things simple, we’ll focus on regular verbs for now!
Number 2: regardless of whether they are regular or irregular, Spanish verbs in the infinitive form (also known as the unconjugated form) will always end in -ar, -er, and -ir. You should remember these endings because they will tell you la raíz del verbo (the stem of the verb) and, when it comes to regular verbs, the stem never changes.
Spanish Present Tense Conjugation
Spanish has many tenses and verb conjugation will depend on the tense, but again, to keep things simple, we’re going to focus only on the present tense, which is called el presente. This tense allows you to talk about things that are currently happening.
Enough theory for now! Let’s go to the essence of the matter with a couple of examples.
Let’s have a look at three verbs:
- cantar (to sing) — which ends in -ar
- aprender (to learn) — which ends in -er
- aplaudir (to applaud) — which ends in -ir.
If you take those endings out, you are left with the stem: cant-, aprend-, and aplaud-
If I want to express that singing, learning, and applauding are things that I usually do, I would say:
- Yo canto una canción (I sing a song)
- Yo aprendo alemán (I learn German)
- Yo aplaudo en el teatro (I applaud at the theater)
What’s the pattern? Yes, when a regular verb is conjugated in the present tense in the first person singular, which is I, it will always end with an O, regardless of whether the ending is -ar, -er, or -ir. Easy, right?
How to practice
So how do you imprint this pattern on your brain? Easy: memorize some of these verbs as a chunk (a word combination) directly in a sentence, so you’re actually learning and imagining them in context!
For example, you can make a flashcard saying:
- FRONT: _____________ (I sing) una canción.
What’s the answer?
- BACK: Yo canto una canción.
If you learn a couple of different sentences like this with flashcards, it’ll become so automatic for you to say “yo canto” or “yo aprendo” that you won’t have to think about any verb table anymore!
Alright, so what should we do if we want to talk about you? Look:
- Tú cantas una canción. (You sing a song.)
- Tú aprendes español. (You learn Spanish.)
- Tú aplaudes en el teatro. (You applaud at the theater.)
So, if the ending is -ar, the conjugation in the present tense in the second person singular (tú) will be -as, but if the ending is either -er or -ir, the conjugation will be -es.
You can memorize these patterns in exactly the same way: create flashcards where you fill in the conjugation (the chunk) in a sentence! Like this:
- FRONT: _____________ (You sing) una canción.
- BACK: Tú cantas una canción.
The pattern continues
Now, the following personal pronouns share the same conjugation:
- Ella canta una canción. (She sings a song.)
- Él aprende español. (He learns Spanish.)
- Ella aplaude en el teatro. (She applauds at the theater.)
- Usted canta una canción. (Formal you sing a song.)
- Usted aprende español. (Formal you learn Spanish.)
- Usted aplaude en el teatro. (Formal you applaud at the theater.)
So, verb conjugation in the third person singular (ella/él) and in the formal version of you (usted) is just like the informal version of you (tú), but without the S at the end.
Now, if we want to talk about us, which in Spanish would be nosotras or nosotros depending on gender, the conjugation would be as follows:
- Nosotras/nosotros cantamos una canción. (We sing a song.)
- Nosotras/nosotros aprendemos español. (We learn Spanish.)
- Nosotras/nosotros aplaudimos en el teatro. (We applaud at the theater.)
What’s the pattern here? We’ve got the stem and depending on whether the ending is -ar, -er or -ir, the conjugation will be -amos, -emos, -imos. That’s why I told you these endings are key!
Once again, the following pronouns share the same conjugation:
- Ustedes cantan una canción. (You guys sing a song.)
- Ustedes aprenden español. (You guys learn Spanish.)
- Ustedes aplauden en el teatro. (You guys applaud at the theater.)
- Ellas/ellos cantan una canción. (They sing a song.)
- Ellas/ellos aprenden español. (They learn Spanish.)
- Ellas/ellos aplauden en el teatro. (They applaud at the theater.)
As you might have noticed, the verbs ending in -er and -ir are conjugated exactly the same way in the second and the third person plural (ustedes and ellas/ellos). Additionally, when compared with the conjugation of the formal version of you (usted) and the third person singular (ella/él), there’s another pattern: it’s exactly the same conjugation, but an N is added at the end.
- Ella aprende español – Ellos aprenden español
- Usted canta una canción – Ustedes cantan una canción
In Spain, people make a distinction in the second person plural: they say vosotras/vosotros in informal situations, but they use ustedes in formal situations. In Latin America, we only say ustedes. The conjugation of vosotras/vosotros is peculiar, so you should definitely watch the video we have prepared about this topic!
So, to sum things up:
- The conjugation in the first person singular (yo) is always O
- The conjugation in the second person singular (tú) is either -as or -es
- The conjugation in the third person singular (ella/él) and the formal version of you (usted) is either -a or -e (you drop the S from the informal version of you)
- The conjugation in the second person plural (nosotras/nosotros) could be -amos, -emos, -imos depending on whether the infinitive form of the verb ends in -ar, -er, or -ir
- The conjugation in the second and the third person plural (ustedes and ellas/ellos) is either -an or -en
These patterns are followed by all regular verbs when conjugated in the present tense. Try to always learn them in the context of a sentence instead of as a verb table; it’ll help you a lot while speaking Spanish in conversations!
Let’s see if you are able to conjugate the verbs in these examples:
- Ustedes aplaud__ mientras yo cant_. (Plural you applaud while I sing)
- Cuando ellas aprend__ yo aplaud__. (I applaud while they sing)
- Tú aplaud__ porque él aprend__. (You applaud because he learns)
- Nosotros cant____ mientras ella aplaud__. (We sing while she applauds)
Try to write your answers in the comments below!
Free Spanish Training
¡Muy bien! Now you know the basics about verb conjugation in Spanish. If you want to know more, you should sign up to the Free Spanish Training on our website. By doing so, not only will you get free sample lessons, but you’ll also discover the method we use at our Spring Spanish Academy to teach students to speak fluent Spanish.
This method consists in learning chunks like yo canto una canción or yo aprendo alemán. Chunks will allow you to speak Spanish in no time without having to worry too much about grammar rules. If you want more of them, check out the other videos on our channel or click on the link in the description box to sign up to the free Spanish training I mentioned!