DON’T Learn the Spanish Present Tense Conjugation Table! (Do THIS instead for fluent Spanish)
So, you’re in a conversation in Spanish, you’ve been listening to your conversation partner, and now you’re getting ready to say something… BUT suddenly you’ve forgotten the correct conjugation… You start rattling off the verb conjugation table in your head (yo, tú, él, nosotros…).
La presión aumenta (The pressure mounts)… People are waiting for you to finish your sentence y eso lo empeora todo (and that only makes it worse)… You stress out!… and you think, frustrated, “Come on! How can it be THAT difficult! Just the simple present tense! I’ve drilled these conjugation tables!”
Uff! I bet esa situación te sonó familiar (this situation sounded familiar to you)! But can I let you in on a secret? The people who DO manage to speak Spanish fluently don’t even think about conjugation tables at all!
They use a different way that lets them bypass the entire conjugation table and makes them use the Spanish present tense automatically while speaking.
Today, I, Mariana, head of grammar at Spring Spanish, will show you how YOU can use that other strategy! And to prove to yourself, you’ll be using the tense in sentences in a quiz at the end of this article! Ready to kiss those conjugation tables goodbye?
1) Things happening right now or in the near future
The present tense in Spanish is used, entre otras cosas (among other things), to talk about something that is happening en ese preciso momento (at that very moment) or that will happen en el futuro cercano (in the near future), like in this conversation:
¡Qué onda! ¿Qué haces?
(Hey! What are you doing?)
¿Ahorita? Estoy haciendo mi maleta.
(Right now? I’m packing.)
¿Neta? ¿A dónde vas?
(Really? Where are you going?)
Viajo a Durango; voy a visitar a mis abuelos.
(I’m traveling to Durango, to visit my grandparents.)
Estoy haciendo mi maleta is a chunk that native speakers use all the time as an equivalent of “I’m packing”. The literal translation would be “I’m making my bag”, but that makes no sense because strictly speaking, it’s already made, you just have to put stuff in it!
Since it makes no sense when you translate it word-for-word, it’s better if you just learn it as a whole, as a chunk!
Now, here’s the best part: when you learn a chunk like this, you’re already using the conjugation of the verb estar (to be) in the present tense, in the first-person singular, but you’re not even thinking about it!
2) Facts, opinions, and proverbs
Native Spanish speakers also use the present tense in proverbs or sayings, para expresar una opinión (to express an opinion) o para hablar de hechos (or to talk about facts).
¡Qué chido! ¿A qué hora sale tu avión?
(Cool! At what time does your plane leave?)
Mi avión sale a las siete.
(My plane leaves at 7.)
[This is a fact. I can’t change the time when my plane leaves… even if I get there late! Yes, it’s happened to me! It wasn’t my fault, though! So, don’t judge me!]
Oye, ¿y te emociona ir a Durango?
(Hey, and are you excited about going to Durango?)
Pues me emociona ver a mis abuelos.
(Well, I’m excited about seeing my grandparents.)
Oye, ¿y qué tal es Durango? Dicen que es aburrido, ¿no?
(Hey, and how’s Durango? People say it’s boring, don’t they?)
Pues la capital de Durango no es muy grande, pero el estado tiene paisajes increíbles.
(Well, the capital city is not that big, but the state has amazing landscapes.)
Everyone knows that Durango has amazing landscapes and that the capital city is relatively small! That’s just a fact! Therefore, we need the present tense. Now, dicen que (people say that) is another chunk you should learn by heart. It could be translated as “People say that”…
Dicen (They say) is the verb decir (to say) conjugated in the present tense, in the third-person plural (they). We don’t really know who “they” are, so you can just learn this chunk to either express a general opinion or a gossip without being held accountable for it.
Por cierto (By the way), we’ve created a flashcard deck to help Inner Circle students memorize all the chunks from this lesson (and all our other lessons).
The present tense is also used to talk about things we do on a regular or daily basis, like our job or just habits and routines.
Pero ¿qué haces cuando estás en Durango?
(But what do you do when you’re in Durango?)
No hago mucho, la verdad.
(I don’t do much, to be honest.)
[The verb hacer is irregular, which means it doesn’t follow a pattern. You might think that makes it harder, but if you learn this chunk no hago mucho (I don’t do much), you are already conjugating the verb hacer in the present tense, in the first-person singular! No need to drill a conjugation table!]
¿No vas de antro?
(Don’t you go to nightclubs?)
No conozco ninguno en Durango.
(I don’t know any nightclubs in Durango.)
[Conocer is also an irregular verb, but again, if you learn this chunk no conozco ninguno (I don’t know any), you’ve already learned the conjugation, plus something you may say in a conversation without thinking about any grammar rules!]
Entonces, sí es aburrido.
(It is boring, then.)
Supongo que depende de lo que te guste hacer.
(I guess it depends on what you enjoy doing.)
¿A ti qué te gusta hacer?
(What do you like doing?)
Yo prefiero ver películas o leer un libro.
(I prefer watching movies or reading a book.)
Okay! Why don’t you test what you’ve learned in this article by filling in the blanks in the following sentences?
- _____________ mi maleta. (I’m packing.)
- This is something I’m doing right now.
- _________ Durango. (I’m travelling to Durango.)
- This is something I’ll do in the near future.
- ____________ a las siete. (My plane leaves at 7.)
- This is a fact.
- __________ es aburrido, ¿no? (People say it’s boring, don’t they?)
- This is an opinion.
- _________ ver películas o leer un libro. (I prefer watching movies or reading a book.)
- This is a habit or something I do regularly.
¡Felicidades! (Congratulations!) You can now use the present tense in Spanish! But can you use all the other tenses? If not, you should now read my article about ALL Spanish tenses… where I help you master them… through chunks and dialogues!