Spanish Verb Conjugation - Past, Present & Future Tenses


Conjugating verbs in Spanish is one of the most challenging parts of learning Spanish as a second language. This guide will help you learn how to conjugate verbs correctly for past, present and future tenses. You will find charts to master Spanish verbs ending in IR, ER, AR and more.

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  • What Does it Mean to Conjugate Verbs?
  • How to Conjugate Verbs in Spanish
    • Spanish Verb Tenses
    • Perspective
    • -AR, -ER, and -IR Verbs
    • Irregular Verb Conjugations
  • Present Tense Verb Conjugations
    • Conjugating -AR Verbs in Present Tense
    • Conjugating -ER and -IR Verbs in Present Tense
  • Past Tense Verb Conjugations (Imperfect & Preterite tense)
    • Conjugating Verbs in the Imperfect Tense
    • Conjugating Verbs in the Preterite Tense
  • Future Tense Verb Conjugations

What Does it Mean to Conjugate Verbs?

In English, we conjugate verbs by changing verbs like to run into he runs, I run, and we ran.

Notice how we conjugate the verb differently depending on the perspective (who) and the tense (when).

We can visualize these differences in conjugation with the chart below.

To run - Present Tense

I run We run
You run You guys run
He runs; she runs They run


In these tables, each cell represents a different “who.” When you see these verb conjugation tables, you can think of them as displayed in the chart below.

Singular Plural
First Person I We
Second Person You You guys; you all
Third Person He; She; It They; Them


Usually the tables are abbreviated into a 2 column, 3 row layout rather than 3 columns and 4 rows, but the concept is the same.

For example, here’s a basic conjugation for the english verb to walk in the past tense:

To walk - Past Tense

I walked We walked
You walked You guys walked
He walked; she walked They walked


The past tense is really easy to conjugate in English. You just add "ed" to the root verb and listo!

It’s much more complicated in Spanish, as you’ll learn, but the same concept applies.

How to Conjugate Verbs in Spanish

Conjugating verbs in Spanish requires an understanding of a few different concepts:

  1. Tense
  2. Perspective
  3. Verbs ending in -ar vs -er and -ir
  4. Irregular verb conjugations

With those in mind, usually conjugations include the root of the word being conjugated minus the last two letters of the verb (ar, er, or ir).

Verb Tense

In English, different tenses produce verb conjugations such as:

  • I eat
  • I am eating
  • I ate
  • I will eat

See how the verb tense effects the way we conjugate? The concept applies the same in Spanish. The most common tenses that you’ll conjugate are:

  • El Presente: The present tense
  • El Futuro: The future tense
  • El Pretérito Perfecto: The preterite tense (past tense, fixed)
  • El Pretérito Imperfecto: The imperfect tense (past tense, malleable)

There are other tenses that we won’t get into in this article.

 

El Pretérito vs El Imperfecto

El preterito and el imperfecto are both past-tense conjugations. Learning which one is more appropriate will take time, but we can simplify with these guidelines.


Use el preterito when speaking about:

  • A single event in the past
  • Events that began and ended in the past

Use el imperfecto when speaking about:

  • A habitual or repeated action
  • An ongoing action with no specified completion
  • General descriptions of physical or emotional states of being in the past
  • Expressions of time in the past

For more on the imperfect vs the preterite tense, check out this article by our friends at Lawless Spanish.

Perspective

In order to conjugate verbs, you must be speaking about a specific person or subject. There are only 6 perspectives you need to know, and they line up with the cells in the chart shown above.


The six perspectives for conjugating verbs are:

  • I → Yo
  • You → Tú
  • He/She/It → Él, Ella, Usted
  • We → Nosotros
  • You guys/you all → Vosotros (only used in Spain, otherwise use ellos, ellas, or ustedes)
  • They/them → Ellos, Ellas, Ustedes

The perspective or the subject of the verb will change how it's conjugated.

AR, ER, and IR Verbs

In Spanish, it’s easy to tell when a word is a verb because all verbs end in one of these three ways.

  • AR: Caminar, Hablar, Presentar
  • ER: Comer, Ver*, Correr, Conocer*, Saber*
  • IR: Vivir, Escribir, Subir, Describir, Dormir*

* Indicates verb has irregular conjugations

There are different rules for conjugation depending on the last two letters of these verbs. In other words, Spanish verbs ending in AR are conjugated differently than verbs ending in ER and IR.

Irregular Spanish Verbs

For the most part, what you'll learn in this article applies to any verb in the Spanish language. However, some verbs are irregular, meaning they get conjugated differently. They break the rules you're about to learn. It's important to keep this in mind, and you may want to keep a list of irregular verbs and their proper conjugations. A good one can be found on Fluentin3months.

Conjugating Verbs in the Present Tense

The first tense you’ll learn how to conjugate for is the present tense, or el presente. In the present tense, AR verbs are conjugated differently than ER and IR Verbs.

Present Tense Conjugations for AR Verbs

Regular AR verbs are conjugated in the present tense like this:

 

o amos
as ais
a an

Let’s try some examples


Hablar - to talk

  • Yo hablo
  • Tú hablas
  • Él habla
  • Nosotros hablamos
  • Vosotros habláis
  • Ellas hablan

Caminar - to walk

  • Yo camino
  • Tú caminas
  • Ella camina
  • Nosotros caminamos
  • Vosotros caminais
  • Ellos caminan

Present Tense Conjugations for ER & IR Verbs

In the present tense, verbs ending in ER and IR share the same method of conjugation:


o imos
es eis
e en

Here are some examples of regular Spanish vergs ending in ER and IR in the present tense.


Comer

  • Yo como
  • Tú comes
  • Él come
  • Nosotros comemos
  • Vosotros comeis
  • Ellos comen

Vivir (“to live”):

  • Yo vivo
  • Tú vives
  • Usted vive
  • Nosotros vivimos
  • Vosotros
  • Ellos viven

Conjugating Spanish Verbs in the Imperfect Tense (El Pretérito Imperfecto)

Conjugating AR Verbs in the Preterite Tense

Regular AR verbs are conjugated in Spanish like this:


aba ábamos
abas abais
aba aban

Here’s an example:


Tomar - to take, to drink

  • Yo tomaba
  • Tú tomabas
  • Él tomaba
  • Nosotros tomábamos
  • Vosotros tomabais
  • Ellos tomaban

Imperfect ER/IR Verb Conjugations

Regular verbs ending in ER and IR are conjugated into the imperfect tense like this:


ía íamos
ías íais
ía ían

Here’s an example of an ER verb conjugated into the imperfect tense:


Escribir - to write

  • Yo escribía
  • Tú escribías
  • Él escribía
  • Nosotros escribíamos
  • Vosotros escribíais
  • Ellos escribían

Conjugating Verbs in the Preterite Tense (El Pretérito)

Conjugating AR Verbs in the Preterite Tense

Regular AR verbs are conjugated in spanish like this:

é amos*
aste asteis
ó aron

* Note that the first person plural (we) conjugation is the same in preterite tense as present tense.

Here’s some examples of regular AR verbs translated into the preterite tense:


Hablar - to talk

  • Yo hablé
  • Tú hablaste
  • Él habló
  • Nosotros hablamos
  • Vosotros hablasteis
  • Ellas hablaron

Caminar - to walk

  • Yo caminé
  • Tú caminaste
  • Usted caminó
  • Nosotros caminamos
  • Vosotros caminasteis
  • Ellos caminaron

Conjugating ER/IR Verbs in the Preterite Tense

Regular Spanish verbs that end with ER or IR are conjugated into the preterite tense as follows:


í imos
iste isteis
ieron

Let’s try conjugating an ER/IR verb into the preterite tense.


Escribir (“to write”):

  • Yo escribí
  • Tú escribiste
  • Ella escribió
  • Nosotros escribimos
  • Vosotros escribisteis
  • Ellas escribieron

Future Tense Spanish Verb Conjugations

Unlike the other tenses we’ve learned about thus far, constructing a conjugation in the future tense doesn’t require you to discern between AR, ER, and IR verbs. All regular verbs are conjugated the same way in the future tense. Here’s how:


é emos
ás éis
á án

Instead of cutting off the last two letters like we’ve done on other conjugations, the future tense just adds characters onto the end of the verb.

Here’s an example:


Tomar (“to take” or “to drink”):

  • Yo tomaré
  • Tú tomarás
  • Ella tomará
  • Nosotros tomaremos
  • Vosotros tomareis
  • Ellos tomarán

For more instruction on using the future tense, go through this lesson by StudySpanish


Conclusion

One of the most important things to keep in mind while you’re learning Spanish is that not all verbs follow the rules outlined in this post. Many verbs you’ll come across are irregular.


Some of the other ways you might see verbs conjugated in Spanish are:

  1. Yo estaba caminando cuando…
  2. He vivido aquí por 3 años

The translations of these phrases are as follows:

  1. I was walking when …
  2. I have lived here for 3 years

These conjugations represent additional verb tenses, which you’ll learn more about as you progress as a student of Spanish.


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Happy conjugating!



Riley Farabaugh
Founder & CEO
Monte Verde Media





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