Learning Spanish is an exciting venture. Once you speak the language you will be able to connect with millions of individuals from different cultural backgrounds and will have more engaging travel experiences to Spanish-speaking countries.
However, sometimes mastering the Spanish verb tenses may feel like a huge undertaking, especially if you are at the beginner’s stage because, in all honesty, there are a lot of them!
It is crucial that you stay focused on the essential bits of each verb conjugation. Once you digest all of this, you can move on to more complex grounds.
Formal vs. Informal Spanish
Remember that in Spanish, there are two customs of speaking, the formal and informal way. The informal custom expresses closeness and trust.
The formal custom is used to show respect and/or convey rank, therefore it calls for some of the following situations:
- When you meet a person for the first time.
- In most business communications, especially if they are written statements such as an office memo or a work email.
- When establishing relations with the spouse’s side of the family, mainly the parents-in-law and elder relatives.
- When addressing individuals who are public or private service providers such as waiters, taxi drivers, and police officers.
- Official announcements from the government and its branches/organizations.
- Most conventional messages from reliable or well-established institutions such as hospitals, universities, and charity organizations.
In addition, please note that there are diverse accents, expressions, and ways of using the Spanish language depending on the territory or country.
Spaniards, Argentinians, and Mexicans, for instance, use some pronouns and thus some verbs differently. This article is mainly based on neutral Spanish.
A Recap of Spanish Pronouns
Let’s begin with reviewing the subject pronouns that are used to conjugate the verbs.
|He||Third-person masculine singular||Él||Él|
|She||Third-person femenine singular||Ella||Ella|
|It||Third-person neuter singular||No direct translation|
|Direct object masculine||Lo||Lo|
|Direct object femenine||La||La|
|After preposition masculine||Él||Él|
|After preposition femenine||Ella||Ella|
|After preposition neutral||Ello||Ello|
Note: Usually in Spanish, the indefinite subject is not translated.
Spanish Verb Tenses and Verb Moods
Apart from having regular and irregular verbs — like in the English language — there are three main moods found in Spanish Grammar that indicate a specific verb form or verb category.
This in turn informs the conjugation for each verb.
The three main moods for Spanish verb tenses are:
- Indicativo – Indicative:
It expresses statements of fact. It is used to describe what is (present), what it was (past), and what it will be (future).
- PRESENT: Lola canta muy bonito. – Lola sings beautifully.
- PAST: Lola cantó canciones de mariachi. – Lola sang mariachi songs.
- FUTURE: Lola cantará en el concierto de mañana. – Lola will sing at tomorrow’s concert.
- Subjuntivo – Subjunctive:
It expresses hypothetical concepts or the emotions of the speaker towards an action. It is used to describe wishes, mandates, petitions, exclusions, suggestions, invitations, and demands, amongst others.
- WISH: Deseo que Lola cante una canción. – I wish that Lola sings a song.
- Imperativo – Imperative:
It expresses an order, request or prohibition. Imperative is used to describe commands and instructions, may be affirmative or negative.
- AFFIRMATIVE: Por favor canta para mí. – Please sing for me.
- NEGATIVE: No cantes esa canción. – Do not sing that song.
Nonfinite Verb Forms and Spanish Verb Tenses
In Spanish nonfinite verb forms are called formas no personales, which means non-personal forms. These forms can be used in some cases as verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.
- Infinitivo – Infinitive:
It is considered as the base form of the verb. In Spanish infinitives are easy to recognize because of their characteristic inflective endings: –ar, –er, and –ir.
Example: Bailar es divertido. – Dancing is fun.
In addition, infinitive is subdivided into two forms:
- Infinitivo Simple – Simple Infinitive:
Simple infinitive verbs appear with three endings as it is shown in the table below.
- Infinitivo Compuesto – Compound Infinitive:
This form is constructed with the infinitive form of the verb haber (to be) plus the participle of the second verb.
Example: Pedro perdió la vista después de haber trabajado todos esos años con muy poca luz. – Peter lost his sight after having worked all those years with insufficient light.
- Participio – Participle:
The participle verb form is made by adding the suffix –ado or –ido to the root.
- LOVE: Amar ® amado
- EAT: Comer ® comido
- LAUGH: Reír ® reído
Some verbs have irregular participles, like the verb to write: escribir ® escrito.
- Gerundio – Gerunde:
Traditionally the gerund form is used as an adverb or verb; it expresses a simultaneous action or previous action to the one noted by the main verb, and in most cases it refers to the same subject.
It can be shaped by adding the suffixes –ando, –iendo, –yendo, and –endo.
- Juan comesu cena viendo el televisor. – John eats his dinner watching the TV.
- Tenemos que armar el LEGO siguiendo las instrucciones. – We have to build the LEGO following the instructions.
- El equipo de fútbol perdió el partido, quedando fuera del torneo. – The football team lost the game, they are now out of the tournament.
All Spanish Tenses
According to the Real Academia de la Lengua Española (Royal Academy of the Spanish Language), this is the complete list of all Spanish verb tenses and moods:
- Pretérito Imperfecto/Copretérito
- Pretérito Perfecto Simple/Pretérito Indefinido
- Futuro Simple/Futuro
- Condicional Simple/Pospretérito
- Pretérito Compuesto Perfecto/Antepresente
- Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto/Antecopretérito
- Pretérito Anterior/Antepretérito
- Futuro compuesto/Antefuturo
- Condicional compuesto/Antepospretérito
- Pretérito Imperfecto/Pretérito
- Futuro Simple/Futuro
- Pretérito Perfecto Compuesto/Antepresente
- Pretérito Pluscuamperfecto/Antepretérito
- Futuro Compuesto/Antefuturo
- Formas no personales
Feel a bit confused? Look at the table below, it shows an example of the verb amar (love) with the first singular person yo (I).
The list is long and the names are not the easiest to remember. Right?
However, if you are keen to find out more about Spanish tenses and you really want to increase your Spanish language proficiency, visit our dedicated Spanish Conjugations page.
There, we break down all Spanish verb tenses and provide flash cards for you to use as a study material.
You may also want to consider taking a Spanish immersion course with one of our extraordinary native Spanish teachers who will tailor a class to suit your needs and adapt to your unique learning style.
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