Lesson 4: The Present Tense of Regular Verbs
The Spanish person system; subject
||nosotros (we, masculine);
nosotras (we, feminine)
||tú (you, familiar
||vosotros (you, familiar
plural, masculine); vosotras (you, familiar plural, feminine)
||él (he), ella
(she), usted (you, polite singular)
||ellos (they, masculine);
ellas (they, feminine); ustedes (you, polite plural)
- The difference between tú and usted is
very significant. Tú, sometimes called "the familiar
form" of the second person, is used between friends. This may include
author and reader, if the author wishes to imply the reader is a friend
("dear reader," "gentle reader"). It is always used between
children and between lovers, usually among family members and colleagues at
work, and in prayer. Tú is also used in addressing a subordinate:
a servant, child, or animal.
Usted is derived from vuestra
merced, "your grace" (although most Spanish speakers are unaware
of this). It is used to show respect: with people one does not know, in
business settings, between professional and client, sometimes in very formal
families. A rule of thumb is: tú is the equivalent of calling
someone by their first name in English. Just as addressing someone by the first
name can cause offense, the too-casual use of tú can also.
Usted is sometimes used to emphasize that the speakers are not
friends, are wary of each other, or are conscious of social class. It is always
used to address anyone of higher status (a teacher, doctor, king, judge, etc.).
Usted is in general somewhat less used than previously, especially in
Spain and in environments where social class is rejected, as in Cuba.
- Vosotros and vosotras are common in Spain, but rarely used in
Spanish America. They are seldom seen in writing, except in reports of speeches
and in fiction. In Spanish America, ustedes is the general plural.
- In parts of Central and South America there is another familiar singular
subject pronoun, vos, with different verb endings in the present tense.
It is rarely seen in writing, other than in fiction.
- Note that Spanish has no subject pronoun meaning
- Nosotras and vosotras are feminine plural forms, used only
for all-female groups. They are unique to Spanish, among the Romance languages.
Verb stems and verb
- All Spanish verbs consist of two parts, a stem and an ending.
- With the verb cantar (to sing), cant is the stem, and
ar is the ending. With the verb bailaron (they danced),
bail is the stem, and aron is the ending. For the remainder of
this lesson, a vertical bar | will be used to mark the division between the
stem and the ending.
- Many different endings can be applied to a single stem. These
endings adapt the verb for specific purposes, and give the reader additional
information. The stem cant can be combined with endings a, ad,
áis, amos, an, ando, ar, as, aste, asteis, e, éis, emos, en, er,
es, o, ó, and others.
- Note that all endings begin with a vowel.
- Verbs and the dictionary.
- When dictionaries of Spanish were first constructed, centuries ago, a
decision was made to include verbs under the infinitive form. The
infinitive is one of the two forms (the gerund or present
participle is the other) which are not "limited" to a specific
person and number. "Infinitive" means "unlimited." The
forms which are associated with a specific person and number are called
"conjugated" verb forms. Thus, "conjugations" are the
tables of endings that a given verb family uses.
- Students sometimes think, when infinitives are taught first, that the
infinitive is a "master" or "root" form. This is not
correct. Historically, the infinitive is derived from the conjugated forms.
- Forms other than the infinitive are never included in Spanish-only
dictionaries. Only recently have some Spanish-English dictionaries started to
include irregular conjugated verb forms.
- In order to look up a verb and find its meaning, you first need to
determine that it is a verb, and then create its infinitive.
- One of the most confusing features of Spanish dictionaries, for the student
of Spanish, is that they include nouns related to verbs, but do not include
verb forms which are identical. For example, cant|o is the ending
o combined with the stem cant. As a verb, it means "I
sing." However, canto is also a noun meaning "chant," as
in canto gregoriano, Gregorian chant. If you look up canto, or
any other of the hundreds or thousands of verbs which have noun homonyms, you
will find the noun meaning, but nothing to inform you that cant|o is
also a verb form. You are unfortunately on your own for this task.
- All Spanish textbooks, and all learning aids I have seen, are structured to
move from the infinitive to the other forms. In other words, you are taught how
to take a given infinitive and derive other verb forms from it. A unique
feature of this course is that rather than moving from the infinitive,
we will move toward the infinitive. You will learn how to arrive at the
infinitive from any other verb form, so as to look a verb up. You will also
learn how to distinguish verb forms from related nouns.
- The function and meaning of verb endings.
- The verb ending tells you what tense the verb is, in the same way that the
-ed on the verb walked tells you that it is the past tense.
- The ending also tells you the person and number of the subject. Verbs have
different endings depending on the person and number of the subject. Each tense
has a separate set of these endings. The ending tells you what the tense of the
verb is, and often what its subject is. (It is vital to know what the subject
of the sentence is.)
- In Spanish a subject pronoun is not usually used if the verb ending makes
the subject clear.
- With first and second person singular verbs, the ending always identifies
the subject (it can only be yo or tú).
- Habl|o - the -o ending indicates that the subject of the verb
is yo ("I"). Since it is clear and unambiguous, using the
pronoun yo with the verb is not required, and has taken on a suggestion
of emphasis ("I talk").
- With first and second person plural verbs, the ending usually identifies
the subject, although the verb ending alone cannot specify whether
nosotros or nosotras, vosotros or vosotras is the subject.
- With third person verbs, a single verb ending serves for él,
ella, and usted (he, she, it, or you singular). In the
plural, a single ending serves ellos, ellas, and ustedes
(they or you plural). Therefore, the subject is not as clear from
the ending as it is with the first and second person.
The subject pronoun
may be omitted with third person verbs only if the subject is clear and
unambiguous without it. For example, if the verb person and number continues
without change from a preceding sentence, the subject is assumed to be
unchanged also. When the subject of the verb is not clear from the context, a
subject pronoun (or noun) is required to avoid ambiguity.
- A subject pronoun which is present, even though the subject is unambiguous
without it, serves to emphasize the subject. Since Hablo can only
mean "I speak," Yo habl|o emphasizes that I am
- There is no requirement in Spanish that a subject precede the verb. The
subject frequently follows the verb.
- Canta María canciones flamencas. ("María sings flamenco
songs." Note that the singular verb ending cant|a tells you that
the subject is the singular María and not the plural
- Habla Pedro el español. ("Pedro speaks Spanish." Although
both "Pedro" and "el español" are singular,
"Spanish speaks Pedro" would not make sense.)
Verb groupings (conjugations). Spanish
verbs can be divided into two main groups, called conjugations. The
First Conjugation consists of verbs whose infinitive ends in -ar. The
Second Conjugation consists of verbs whose infinitive ends in -er or
-ir. Each group has a separate set of endings for the present tense. The
reason they are placed into groups is that the endings for each group are
- While traditionally the -er and -ir groups
are taught as separate conjugations, the -er verbs he second conjugation
and the -ir verbs the third. However, they are so similar that in this
course they are taught together. -Er and -ir verbs differ only in
the first and second persons plural of the present tense.
- Verbs do not have genders. The use of -o, -a, -os, etc. in verb
endings has no relation to the gender of the subject.
- Endings of the present
tense of a first conjugation verb, hablar (to speak)
||Stem + Ending
||Stem + Ending
||él, ella, usted; any singular noun
||ellos, ellas, ustedes; any plural noun
- Endings of the present
tense of a second conjugation verb, comer (to eat)
||Stem + Ending
||Stem + Ending
||comemos (for -ir verbs,
the ending is -imos)
||coméis (for -ir
verbs, the ending is -ís)
||él, ella, usted; any
||ellos, ellas, ustedes; any
Meaning of the present
tense. The Spanish present translates the English present progressive
and present emphatic (hablo = I speak, I am speaking, I do
speak). In a question, such as "Do you speak Russian?," the
"do...speak" combination is also translated as the simple present.
When translating into English, use the English form which is most appropriate.
Finding infinitives. The infinitive
must first be reconstructed in order to find a verb's meaning in a dictionary.
For most verbs, one simple removes the ending and replaces it with the
infinitive ending (-ar, -er or -ir). Some verbs require
adjustments in the stem.
- Removing the ending of present tense verbs.
- Verbs ending in -as, a, amos, -áis, -an: remove the ending
and replace it with -ar.
- Verbs ending in -es, -e, -emos or -imos, -éis or
-ís, -en: remove the ending and replace it with either -er
or -ir. You will have to check both possibilities, but only one will be
- Verbs ending in -o: since -o is an ending for both -ar
and -er/-ir verbs, there are some cases in which more than one possible
infinitive can be created. For example, par|o could be from the verbs
par|ar (to stop) or par|ir (to give birth). There are not many
such pairs of verbs, and usually only one infinitive can be formed.
Other such pairs are cre|ar (to create) -
cre|er (to believe); fund|ar (to found, create, or establish) -
fund|ir (to melt or cast metal, what is done in a foundry);
ment|ar (to mention) - ment|ir (to lie); mor|ar (to dwell)
- mor|ir (to die); pod|ar (to prune a plant) - pod|er (to
be able); sal|ar (to add sal, salt) - sal|ir (to leave);
sent|ar (to seat) - sent|ir (to feel).
- Verbs with Stem Changes. All verbs
require removing the ending and replacing it with the infinitive ending. In
addition, if a diphthong (double vowel) in found in the stressed syllable
of the verb, to find the infinitive the double vowel must be replaced with
a single one. In a small number of cases, an -i- in the stressed
syllable must be replaced with an -e-.
to Chapter 2, How to Find a Word's Stressed Syllable.
- The changes -ie- to -e- and -ue- to -o- are
also found with nouns. Being aware of these changes can help you guess the
meaning of nouns:
- puerto (port), puerta (door) > English port,
- fuente (fountain) > English font, fountain
- cuenta (counting, an account) > English count
- piedra (stone) > Latin root petr- (as in petrify)
- bueno (good) > Latin root bon, as in bonanza, bonbon,
bon appétit, bona fide.
- With the -o ending only, there are a few instances in which the
concluding consonant of the stem must be changed to write the same sound before
the different vowel of the infinitive ending. For example, the infinitive of
venzo is vencer (to conquer). Keep in mind that the sound
is unchanging; it is the written representation of the sound which
varies, depending on the following vowel. This type of change will be discussed
further when dealing with the subjunctive.
Exercise. Find the infinitive and meaning
of the following present tense forms. Which ones have English cognates?
Note that the forms marked with asterisks are nouns as well as verb forms.
In isolation these words could be either a noun or a verb. In a sentence, the
context will tell you whether you have a noun (preceded by an article, for
example), or a verb form (which will have a subject). Remember that Spanish
dictionaries include only the noun and the infinitive of the verb. Do not be
distracted by a noun homonym if you are looking for a verb form.
A cognate is a word of similar but not identical form, with a similar
meaning. Some of the words have several English cognates, some have none.
The division between stem and ending is marked for items 1-10. For the rest,
see if you can make that distinction.
- yergue (the initial y functions as an i in the dipthong)
Link to the answers to this
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