One of the most important aspects of learning Spanish is knowing how to conjugate verbs. As a beginner student, you will notice that verbs conjugate differently based on tenses and personal pronouns. The Spanish present tense is not an exception.
The conjugation of verbs in the Spanish present tense is not the same for all kinds of verbs (regular, irregular, etc.). Consequently, you might be wondering how to practice, and when to use the conjugations of el presente. The good news is that studying the present tense in an organized way will help you comprehend it better.
This article will present you with organized ideas on how to conjugate and study regular and main irregular verbs in the present tense, and how to use this tense. It will make a short comparison with the preterite and future tenses in Spanish. With these selections, practicing the present tense will be more natural and more understandable, which means you’re on your way to mastering Spanish.
El presente del indicativo – Spanish present tense
The first step to practice el presente del indicativo is to understand that all the verbs in Spanish are grouped into three categories according to the endings:
- Verbs that end in “-ar” like hablar (to talk or to speak)
- Verbs that end in “-er” like comer (to eat)
- Verbs that end in “-ir” like vivir (to live)
Understanding how verbs are grouped in Spanish is the first step; the second step to study is to divide them into regular and irregular verbs.
Spanish regular verbs
The regular verbs in Spanish follow specific rules for each category, either in the -ar, -er, or -ir categories. One tip for studying the conjugation of the regular verbs is to divide them by type and learn the conjugation of each group.
Regular -ar verbs
To conjugate regular -ar verbs in Spanish in the present, remove the infinitive ending (-ar) and add the ending that matches the subject or personal pronoun. But before conjugating, here it is the list of the personal pronouns in Spanish.
- Yo: I
- Tú: You (singular, informal)
- Él: he
- Ella: she
- Usted: (you – formal, singular)
- Nosotros: We
- Ellos: They (masculine)
- Ellas: They (feminine)
- Vosotros/as: You (plural)
- Ustedes You: (plural)
Vosotros and ustedes have the same usage, and mean “you” in the plural form. Most countries of South America, Central America, and Mexico only use the ustedes pronoun. Vosotros is mostly used in Spain. This article presents you with both pronouns to show that verbs conjugate differently with each of them.Now that we have the list of the personal pronouns, we are going to conjugate the verb hablar (to speak or to talk) from the -ar group of verbs.
To conjugate a regular -ar Spanish verb, drop the infinitive ending -ar and replace it with its correct ending, as explained in this table:
- Yo hablo – I speak
- Tú hablas – You speak (informal, singular)
- Él habla – He speaks
- Ella habla – She speaks
- Usted habla – You speak (formal, singular)
- Nosotros hablamos – We speak
- Ellos hablan – They speak
- Vosotros hablais – You speak (plural)
- Ustedes hablan – You speak (plural)
These rules can be applied to all other regular verbs ending in -ar. These are some -ar regular verbs: trabajar (to work), estudiar (to study), limpiar (to clean), enseñar (to teach), caminar (to walk), cantar (to sing), cocinar (to cook).
Let’s take the verb trabajar (to work) and conjugate it following the same endings we used for the verb hablar (to talk). Keep the root trabaj- but drop the infinitive -ar and replace it with the word’s respective conjugation.
- Yo trabajo – I work
- Tú trabajas – You work (informal, singular)
- Él trabaja – He works
- Ella trabaja – She works
- Usted trabaja – You work (formal, singular)
- Ellos trabajan – They work
- Vosotros trabajáis – You work (plural)
- Ustedes trabajan – You work (plural)
Notice that the -ar verbs conjugated in the third person singular, el (he), ella (she), and usted (you, formal) have the same ending: -a. Some examples include él cocina (he cooks), ella estudia (she studies), and usted canta (you sing, formal)Also, Spanish -ar verbs conjugated in the third person plural for ellos (they) and ustedes (you, plural) also have the same ending: -an. For example, ellos enseñan (they teach), and ustedes limpian (you clean-plural).
To continue learning the conjugation of this group, practice conjugating other regular verbs, like the ones above (limpiar, caminar, estudiar, cantar, cocinar, etc). Keep the roots of each verb, drop the infinitive -ar, and add the respectfully ending learned in the chart above. Write it down in a notebook or in an electronic device and practice several times until you feel more familiar with the conjugation of regular -ar verbs.
Regular -er verbs
Regular -er verbs have mostly different ending conjugations than the -ar verbs. To conjugate them, remove the infinitive ending (-er) and add the ending that matches the subject.
You can find some examples of these endings in the following table using the verb comer (to eat).
- Yo como – I eat
- Tú comes – You eat (singular)
- Él come – He eats
- Ella come – She eats
- Usted come – You eat (formal, singular)
- Nosotros comemos – We eat
- Ellos comen – They eat
- Vosotros coméis – You eat (plural)
- Ustedes comen – You eat (plural)
These rules can be applied to all other regular verbs ending in -er . These are some -er common regular verbs: aprender (to learn), beber, (to drink), comprender (to understand), correr (to run), leer (to read), responder (to answer), and vender (to sell).
Let’s practice with the verb aprender (to learn), conjugating it following the same endings we used for the verb comer (to eat). Keep the root aprend- but drop the infinitive -er and use the correct endings:
- Yo aprendo – I learn
- Tú aprendes – You learn (informal, singular)
- Él aprende – He learns
- Usted aprende – You (formal) learn
- Nosotros aprendemos – We learn
- Ellos aprenden – They learn
- Vosotros aprendéis – You learn (plural)
- Ustedes aprenden – You learn (plural)
Just like -ar verbs, -er verbs conjugated in the third person singular, like el (he), ella (she) and usted (you, formal) also have the same endings. But these have -e endings instead of -a.
Here are a few examples: él bebe (he drinks), ella corre (she runs), and usted lee (you read, formal).
Moreover, -er verbs conjugated in the third person plural for ellos (they) and ustedes (you, plural) also have the same ending: -en, like ellos responden (they answer) and ustedes venden (you sell, plural)
Regular IR verbs
Most of the present tense endings for -er and -ir Spanish verbs are the same. Easy! Only the nosotros and vosotros endings are different.
The verb comer (to eat) conjugated as nosotros comemos (we eat) has the endings -emos (for its regular -er verb). But for the regular -ir verbs, the ending for nosotros is -imos, as in nosotros vivimos (we live) from the verb vivir (to live).Vender (to sell) conjugated as vosotros vendéis (you dance-plural) has the ending -éis. However, for regular -ir verbs, the ending for vosotros is -ís, like in vosotros vivís.To conjugate an -ir verb, remove the infinitive ending -ir and add the ending that matches the subject.
- Yo vivo – I live
- Tu vives – You live (singular)
- El vive – He lives
- Ella vive – She lives
- Usted vive – You live (singular, formal)
- Nosotros vivimos – We live
- Ellos viven – They live
- Vosotros vivís – You live (plural)
- Ustedes viven – You live (plural)
These endings can be applied to other regular -ir verbs. Some of the most useful are escribir (to write), recibir (to receive), abrir (to open), permitir (to allow), dividir (to divide), and imprimir (to print).
Once again, third person singulars like el, ella, and usted have the same endings as the -er verb counterparts: -e. You can see it in action in verbs like él come (he eats), él vive (he lives), ella aprende (she learns)* ella vive* (she lives), usted lee (you read, formal), and usted vive (you live, formal).
The third person plural for ellos and ustedes have the same endings as the er verbs -en.
When studying, make sure to practice these verbs and make comparisons when necessary. To feel more familiar in a shorter amount of time, practice in small conversations with friends or a Spanish tutor.
Once you feel comfortable with the conjugation of regular verbs, start expanding your knowledge by studying the conjugation of a few main irregular Spanish verbs.
Spanish Irregular verbs
Conjugations in Spanish can be irregular. That means they don’t follow certain endings in quite the same easy to remember ways as -ar, -er, and -ir regular verbs.
In Spanish present tense, irregular verbs vary according to the subject, have a change of stem or root, or completely change when they’re conjugated. El presente del indicativo has a large number of irregular verbs. Here’s how some of the most useful irregular verbs conjugate.
Tener means “to have” in English. The tener conjugation is irregular because of three characteristics:
First, instead of dropping the ending -er and adding an -o for the yo (I) form, it adds a -go. This is common in verbs that end in -ner. The conjugation for the yo form is then yo tengo (I have).
Second, when conjugating the rest of the pronouns, there is a stem-changing verb from “e” to “ie”. In other words, the vowel “e” from the stem or root ten- changes to -ie. This happens with all the rest of the conjugations except for the nosotros and vosotros form, where there is no change of vowel. The conjugations will be like this: Tu tienes (you have, singular), el tiene (he has), ella tiene (she has), nosotros tenemos (we have), ellos tienen (they have), vosotros tenéis (you have plural), ustedes tienen (you have, plural)
Third the endings of the conjugations of the pronouns, except for the yo form, are the same as the -er regular verbs (as seen above).
- Yo tengo – I have
- Tú tienes – You have (informal, singular)
- Él tiene – He has
- Ella tiene – She has
- Usted tiene – You have (formal, singular)
- Nosotros tenemos – We have
- Ellos tienen – They have
- Vosotros tenéis – You have (plural)
- Ustedes tienen – You have (plural)
There are other irregular verbs that end in -ner in the present tense that conjugate similar endings as tener. These are some of them: contener (to contain), detener (to detain), entretener (to entertain), obtener (to obtain), retener (to retain).
Hacer means “to do” or “to make”. Hacer conjugation changes in the yo form. Instead of dropping the ending -er and adding an -o, this verb actually drops the -cer and adds -go. The rest of the conjugations for hacer follow all the regular endings for -er verbs.
Let’s take a look at the chart to understand it better.
- Yo hago – I do, I make
- Tú haces – You do, you make (informal, singular)
- Él hace – He does, He makes
- Ella hace – She does She makes
- Usted hace – You do, you make (formal, singular)
- Nosotros hacemos – We do, we make
- Ellos hacen – They do they make
- Vosotros hacéis – You do, yo make (plural)
- Ustedes hacen – You do, you make (plural)
Here some examples using the verb hacer in the Spanish present tense:
- Mi hermana hace su tarea todas las tardes. – My sister does her homework every day.
- Manuel y Rosa hacen manualidades los miércoles. – Manuel and Rosa make crafts on Wednesdays.
Ir means “to go”. The ir conjugation is irregular because it completely changes its form when conjugating in the present tense:
- Yo voy – I go
- Tu vas – You go (informal, singular)
- Él va – He goes
- Ella va – She goes
- Usted va – You go (formal, singular)
- Nosotros vamos – We go
- Ellos van – They go
- Vosotros váis – You go (plural)
- Ustedes van – You go (plural)
When studying, one of the fastest ways to learn Spanish is by practicing writing one conjugation at a time. Create small sentences with each subject about yourself and people you know. Incorporate the verbs in your life applying the uses we will see in the following sections. It will help to be more familiarized with the conjugations of regular verbs and especially the irregular verbs. For example:
- Yo voy al parque – I go to the park
- Mi amiga va a la piscina. – My friend goes to the pool.
- Nosotros vamos a la tienda. – We go to the store.
If you feel up to it, try using conjugations in Spanish while practicing important words and phrases in Spanish.
Using the Spanish present tense
El presente is used to talk about routines or habitual actions, for stating what is happening now, to talk about the near future, for universal truths, for hypothetical situations, and for ordering food.
Routines or Habitual Actions
The presente indicativo is used to talk about activities or actions a person does every day. Also, daily routines, responsibilities, hobbies, and jobs are included.
- Lucia trabaja en un restaurante. – Lucia works at a restaurant.
- Pablo y Roxana estudian español todos los viernes. – Pablo and Roxana study Spanish every Friday.
- Manuel y yo cocinamos juntos los martes. – Manuel and I cook together on Tuesdays.
When studying this usage, use verbs that apply to your own routine and responsibilities to practice conjugations in this tense.
Stating what is happening now
Expressing something happening at the moment of speaking is usually done in the present progressive in English. In Spanish, both the present tense and the present progressive can be used to talk about things that are happening right now.
- Qué haces? – What are you doing?
- Limpio mi cuarto. – I am cleaning my room.
- ¿Cómo estás? – How are you doing?
- Estoy bien. – I am doing well.
Notice that in the previous sentences, the subjects are not visually written. Instead of saying “¿qué haces tú?”, I have simply written “¿qué haces?”. This is grammatically correct in the Spanish language since subjects are implicit in the verbs. For example: Tengo una casa grande. – I have a big house.
Tengo comes from the verb tener. It is the only verb in the yo form that conjugates like that. So, the subject yo is implicit in the verb itself.
The Spanish present tense can also be used to express events that will happen in the near future, like:
- Voy al supermecado. ¿Vienes conmigo? – I am going to the supermarket. Do you want to come with me?
- Nosotros llegamos a tu casa em media hora. – We are going to arrive at your house in thirty minutes.
Expressing universal truths
El presente is also used to express things that are universally known or generally accepted. These can be facts, opinions, or proverbs. For example:
- Un dia tiene 24 horas. – A day has 24 hours.
- El agua es vida. – Water is life
- “No todo lo que brilla es oro” – Not all that glitters is gold.
In general, idioms and sayings in Spanish do not literally use the same vocabulary as in English. What translates is the whole meaning.
Practice looking for Spanish idioms in English and finding the correct translation into Spanish. You will be surprised by the difference in vocabulary. However, the present tense will be used abundantly.
When used with the conjunction si (if), the Spanish present tense can express hypothetical situations and outcomes, as it does in these examples:
- Si hablas despacio, te entiendo. – If you speak slowly, I understand.
- Si llegas temprano hoy, vemos una película. – If you arrive home early today, we watch a movie.
El presente del indicativo is also used when ordering in a restaurant or in a store.
- Quiero dos tacos de carne con queso. – I would like two beef tacos with cheese.
- ¿Me trae un café con leche, por favor? – Would you bring me a latte, please?
Practice by writing sentences ordering your favorite food or from a specific Spanish speaking country.
Learning the usages of present tense will provide more opportunities to use regular and irregular verbs. Once this tense has been polished, other tenses can be introduced like the preterite or the future tense.
Comparing the Spanish present tense to the preterite
Perhaps you’re wondering how many verb tenses in Spanish exist. There are several tenses, but the three critical tenses are the present, the preterite, and the future tense.
As already stated, conjugations in Spanish vary based on personal pronouns and tenses.
The next examples will briefly show some conjugations of three verbs in the preterite. This will help you notice that conjugations in the present tense are different from those in the preterite.
For the -ar regular verbs, we will briefly review the conjugation of the verb hablar (to speak or to talk) in the preterite. When conjugating it, drop the infinitive-ar and change it for the corresponding endings.
- Yo hablé – I spoke
- Tu hablaste – You spoke (informal, singular)
- El habló – He spoke
- Ella habló – She spoke
- Usted habló – You spoke (formal, singular)
- Nosotros hablamos – We spoke
- Ellos hablaron – They spoke
- Vosotros hablasteis – You spoke (plural)
- Ustedes hablaron – You spoke (plural)
Notice the accent marks on the yo form -é, and in el, ella, and usted forms -ó. These are very important when writing and speaking in Spanish. It gives the intonation of the consonant marking a difference between tenses.
For example, yo canto (“I sing” from the present tense) and el cantó (“he sang” in the preterite).
Now to practice with an -er regular verb. The verb comer (to eat) will be conjugated in the preterite. Watch for the endings, where some of them also have the accent marks.
- Yo comí – I ate
- Tu comiste – You ate (informal, singular)
- Él comió – He ate
- Usted comió – You ate (formal, singular)
- Nosotros comimos – We ate
- Ellos comieron – They ate
- Vosotros comisteis – You ate (plural)
- Ustedes comieron – You ate (plural)
Lastly, we will conjugate the verb vivir in the preterite.
- Yo viví – I lived
- Tu viviste – You lived (informal, plural)
- El vivió – He lived
- Usted vivió – You lived (formal, singular)
- Nosotros vivimos – We lived
- Vosotros vivisteis – You lived (plural)
- Ustedes vivieron – You lived (plural)
As you can see, the regular verbs ending in -er and ir have the exactly same endings when conjugated in the preterite. Now let’s briefly conjugate the same verbs in the future tense. This will show that again the future tense conjugates differently than the present and preterite.
Comparing present tense to Spanish future tense
Conjugations in the Spanish future tense are a little different than the present and the preterite. Instead of dropping the endings and replacing them, we add endings to the already existed infinitive verbs according to each personal pronoun. The good news is that all the regular verbs ending in -ar, -er and -ir the endings are the same.
- Yo hablaré – I will speak
- Tu hablarás – You will speak (informal, singular)
- El hablará – He will speak
- Usted hablará – You will peak (formal, singular)
- Nosotros hablaremos – We will speak
- Ellos hablarán – They will speak
- Vosotros hablaréis – You will speak (plural)
- Ustedes hablarán – You will speak(plural)
Notice that the infinitive has stayed as it is, as in the yo form, hablar, and then the ending is -é resulting in yo hablaré. The same happens with all the conjugations of the other verbs but with different endings.
As you can see, the present, the preterite and, the future tenses conjugate differently. However, studying and putting them into use will help you feel confident as you continue to practice Spanish.
How do you memorize Spanish verb conjugations?
The answer is: by tense and category. First, write down each ending for regular verbs, then irregular verbs.
Then, form small sentences based on all the uses of the present tense. Base the sentences in your own life, your hobbies, responsibilities, and actions of the moment. Write down about hypothetical situations, talk about what you will do in the near future, and practice ordering food.
Another tip on how to learn Spanish conjugations is to read small stories in the language, and watch for the verb tenses. If you’d like, listen to music in Spanish and pay attention to how the verbs work, and you’ll find yourself better able to memorize their uses.
If your goal is to become fluent, practicing with an experienced Spanish tutor can help you learn Spanish more effectively, and even more quickly. Through personalized lessons targeted to your own unique understanding of Spanish language, a fluent educator with the right know-how can be the difference between saying, “I’m learning Spanish,” and “I speak Spanish!”