All Spanish verbs end in either -ar, -er, or -ir. Each of these verb categories has specific rules governing how they change to express layers of crucial information about the situation. Verbs that end in -ar are the most common, so memorizing their conjugations are a great place to start.
How Verbs Change
The form of a verb changes to show who perpetrated the action (“the person”) and when it occurred (“the tense”). Spanish uses one extra “person” category that corresponds to addressing “you all / you guys” in English. For more on the different person categories and personal pronouns in Spanish, see this guide.
Though native speakers may not notice it, English verbs also change depending on who performed the action and when it occurred. Most verbs only change in the third person singular (see below) in English, but all verbs change to distinguish when something occurs.
|Person (Singular)||Present tense||Past tense|
|First person||I walk||I walked|
|Second person||You walk||You walked|
|Third person||He/She walks||He/She walked|
In most cases (apart from irregular verbs), the English past tense is formed by adding -ed to the word. Both English and Spanish have a lot of irregular verbs which simply need to be memorized, but learning the rule for regular verbs makes conjugation much easier.
Being exposed to verbs in context (rather than just in a chart) is also crucial to becoming comfortable using them – not to mention it’s more fun! Use Lingvist’s Spanish course to see verbs in context, as well as look over grammar tips to clarify concepts explicitly as needed.
To Infinitivo and Beyond
The infinitive (infinitivo) form of a verb is its most basic form. You can spot them easily in Spanish because they retain their original ending of -ar, -ir, or -er. The equivalent meaning in English is the same as “to [verb],” so “amar” translates to “to love.”
Except when stacking two verbs together (“I [like] [to help]” / “Me [gusta] [ayudar]”), the infinitive form needs to change to express the who and when. This is where conjugation comes in.
For regular verbs, the infinitive lends its stem to its conjugated forms in a predictable way. The stem, or raíz (literally “root” in Spanish), is the part that occurs before the -ar, -ir, or -er.
Simply put, to conjugate an -ar verb, drop the -ar and add the appropriate ending according to the person and tense.
For example, in the present tense you add -o, -as, -a, -amos, -áis, or -an to the remaining stem after removing -ar. You’ll see an exception to this rule in the simple future, where you only need to add the ending to the intact infinitive.
Science says there’s a faster way to learn Spanish
Conjugation Rules for Regular -ar Verbs
Simple Present Tense Endings
To talk about something being done presently, drop the -ar and add one of these endings. English often uses the present continuous (example below with hablar) instead of the simple present, so you’ll end up using the simple present a lot more often in Spanish than you do in English. In English, the simple present often has an implied regularity or habitual connotation to it. This is not the case with the Spanish simple present.
I am talking (pres. cont.) / I talk (simple present)
Yo hablo (simple present)
Ex: Hablar –> Habl -ar (to talk/ speak)
|yo hablo||nosotros hablamos|
|tú hablas||vosotros habláis|
|él, ella, Ud. habla||ellos, ellas, Uds. hablan|
Use the imperfect (pretérito imperfecto) to talk about actions that were habitual in the past or lacked a defined end, e.g., “Trabajaba todos los días, hasta que me lesioné el pie.”
Ex: Hablar –> Habl -ar (to talk/speak)
|yo hablaba||nosotros hablábamos|
|tú hablabas||vosotros hablabais|
|él, ella, Ud. hablaba||ellos, ellas, Uds. hablaban|
Preterite Tense Endings
The preterite refers to an action that has been completed in the past. In English this is what we generally think of when we think of past tense, as in the sentence “I opened the box.” For more on how to use the Spanish preterite, see this guide.
Ex: Hablar –> Habl -ar (to talk/ speak)
|yo hablé||nosotros hablamos|
|tú hablaste||vosotros hablasteis|
|él, ella, Ud. habló||ellos, ellas, Uds. hablaron|
Simple Future Tense Endings
For the future tense you simply add the ending to the full infinitive (Note that these endings are the same for all three categories of verbs).
Ex: Hablar + ending (to talk/speak)
|yo hablaré||nosotros hablaremos|
|tú hablarás||vosotros hablaréis|
|él, ella, Ud. hablará||ellos, ellas, Uds. hablarán|
Common Irregular -ar Verbs
Many of the most common -ar verbs are irregular. These conjugations do not follow the patterns listed above, though there are some patterns in the ways that they differ, which you can read more about here. Be aware that the above conjugations won’t apply to these verbs. A few examples of common irregular verbs are:
- Estar (to be – for states of being)
- Dar (to give)
- Llegar (to arrive/reach)
- Encontrar (to find/encounter)
- Pensar (to think)
For a list of the most common -ar verbs and their conjugations, click here. Irregular verbs are highlighted in red in this list. For an example of how an irregular verb can differ, see the conjugation chart for the verb estar below.
States of “Being” in Spanish: Estar vs. Ser
Estar, one of the most common verbs in Spanish, means “to be.” Spanish has two verbs that correlate to the translation of “to be” in English: estar and ser. Estar is used to talk about temporary states of being, such as health or locations. Ser is used to describe more permanent attributes, such as characteristics of a person (tall/short), occupations, or where someone is from.
- Yo estoy feliz (I am happy).
- El perro está en la playa (The dog is at the beach).
- Las chicas están ocupadas (The girls are busy).
- Tú eres alto (You are tall).
- Yo soy jardinera (I am a gardener).
- Él es de Perú (He is from Peru).
Being able to judge which verb is appropriate will come with more exposure to these verbs in context, which is why it’s important to expose yourself to full sentences or longer texts in Spanish whenever possible. See this page for how to use ser and estar in descriptions, and this guide on specific uses.
Note that all forms of estar begin with “est-”.
Simple present tense is irregular in all forms except nosotros and vosotros:
|yo estoy||nosotros estamos|
|tú estás||vosotros estáis|
|él, ella, Ud. está||ellos, ellas, Uds. están|
Imperfect tense is only irregular in vosotros:
|yo estaba||nosotros estábamos|
|tú estabas||vosotros estábais|
|él, ella, Ud. estaba||ellos, ellas, Uds. estaban|
Preterite tense requires a stem change from est- to estu-:
|yo estuve||nosotros estuvimos|
|tú estuviste||vosotros estuvisteis|
|él, ella, Ud. estuvo||ellos, ellas, Uds. estuvieron|
Simple future tense is not irregular:
|yo estaré||nosotros estaremos|
|tú estarás||vosotros estaréis|
|él, ella, Ud. estará||ellos, ellas, Uds. estarán|
Need more practice with conjugations? Sign up for Lingvist’s online Spanish course today to discover fun exercises for practicing conjugations and learn new verbs!