Verbs in Spanish are key to forming sentences. Why? Because they allow you to indicate the action a person is performing or the state of something. In simple terms, verbs are action words, and without them, we couldn’t know what a person is doing or feeling at a certain moment.
If you’re serious about learning Spanish, getting familiar with verbs is crucial. For that reason, in the following sections, I’ll provide you with all the essential information that you need to know about this topic. Here’s an overview of the topics we’ll cover:
- Best Way to Learn Verbs in Spanish
- Types of verbs
- Frequently Asked Questions
By the end of this, you’ll understand what verbs are, how they are classified, when you are supposed to use them, and what you can do to learn more verbs in Spanish.
Get a Step-by-Step Map to Learning Spanish
Join the Tell Me In Spanish community and get a copy of my step-by-step Spanish Learner’s Roadmaps and tricky synonyms & vocab cheat sheets.
Best Way to Learn Verbs in Spanish
Since they allow you to describe different actions, learning new verbs in Spanish should be one of your top priorities. Even though you’ll find your own learning style, here are some of the best things you can do to increase your verb vocabulary and make the most of it.
1. Focus on common key verbs for your conversations
One of the biggest mistakes we make when learning a new language is trying to learn as many new words as possible. The problem is that if you don’t apply those words daily, you’re likely to forget them. The good news is that you only need to know a limited but essential number of verbs to speak and understand Spanish.
According to a study performed by the Instituto de Verbología, basic and standard Spanish vocabulary is formed by 523 verbs. These are verbs that Spanish speakers of all ages and backgrounds use in their daily activities. So, instead of exhausting your brain power with words that you may not use, you should focus on learning some of these common verbs.
If you don’t know where to start, you can check these guides we’ve created for you:
Five hundred twenty-three is still a lot. So, as a starting point, you can identify verbs that you consider helpful for the situations you frequently encounter. Let’s suppose that you’re planning to stay a few months in a Spanish-speaking country for immersion purposes.
In that case, it would be convenient for you to learn verbs related to grocery shopping, asking directions, going to the doctor, ordering food, etc. Doing this helps you be better prepared for your next conversation.
2. Use learning resources and dynamic activities
When learning new verbs, you need to practice as much as possible to absorb the information. In this case, there are numerous activities and resources that you could use to reinforce your recently acquired knowledge. Some ideas include:
- Playing board games related to verbs.
- Practicing and identifying common conjugations patterns.
- Writing sentences using the new verbs that you just learned.
- Using flashcards and stickers as a support tool to memorize information.
- Reading appropriate books for your level and identifying verbs that are frequently used.
- Using Spanish TV shows, recordings, or movies to learn basic vocabulary.
Depending on your learning style, you may prefer certain activities over others. The key is to find something that works for you and helps you to improve your knowledge of Spanish verbs.
3. Learn opposite verbs
A simple activity that you can do to expand your vocabulary while improving your conversational skills is to learn pairs of opposite verbs. In other words, once you have identified the most important verbs for your daily situations, you should also learn their antonyms.
Here are some common examples:
- Subir / Bajar – To get on / To get off
- Hablar / Escuchar – To talk / To listen
- Prender / Apagar – To turn on / To turn off
- Poner / Quitar – To put / To remove
- Sacar / Meter – To take out / To put in
- Vestir / Desvestir – To get dressed / To undress
- Atar / Desatar – To tie / To untie
Learning opposite verbs is a crucial and helpful activity. Why? Because many times a verb and its antonym will follow the same conjugation pattern (check ‘vestir’ and ‘desvestir’). Additionally, since they’re two related concepts, they may be easier for you to remember.
Finally, if you use a verb, you may also need to use its opposite at some point in the conversation. Check these examples:
Ya me subí al camión, ¿en qué parada me bajo?
I just got on the bus. Where should I get off?
¿Por qué dejaste la tele prendida? Te dije que la apagaras.
Why did you leave the TV on? I told you to turn it off.
Types of Verbs in Spanish
In Spanish, verbs are classified into three groups: -AR verbs, -ER verbs, and -IR verbs.
This classification is done based on the last two letters (known as ending) of the verb in its infinitive form. Depending on the group that the verb falls into, you will need to use specific endings to conjugate it.
One of the first things you should know about verbs in Spanish is that these words are classified depending on their infinitive ending. This is important because it’ll help you identify the conjugation rules and endings you need to use with a specific verb. Check this example below:
Take Note: Conjugating a verb means changing it from its infinitive form to a different tense. By conjugating, we can express who did the action and when the event took place. You can see this in the examples below.
Me gusta mucho viajar en tren.
I like to travel by train a lot.
Este año no he viajado mucho.
I haven’t traveled a lot this year.
-Ar Verbs in Spanish
According to the research performed by Jaime Suances-Torres, -AR verbs represent 82.95% of the most common verbs that Spanish speakers use in their daily conversations. Since they’re a significant portion of your vocabulary, you should get familiar with –AR verbs in Spanish.
Although this group is the largest, you can start by learning some common verbs that you’re likely to use more frequently. Examples of -AR verbs that can be very helpful in Spanish include, but are not limited to:
Dejar – To leave / To stop doing something
Since it allows you to express that a person left something or that someone gave her or his permission to do something, dejar is a basic -AR verb that you should get familiar with. Furthermore, dejar can also be used in more sophisticated structures to describe that a person stopped doing a certain activity.
Dejé comida en el refri.
I left food in the fridge.
Su mamá no las deja comer azúcar.
Her mom doesn’t let them eat sugar.
Ashley dejó de fumar hace dos años.
Ashley stopped smoking two years ago.
Esperar – To wait / To hope
Esperar is another basic Spanish verb that can help convey more complex ideas in specific contexts. As the direct translation of ‘to wait’ or ‘to hold’, ‘esperar’ expresses that a person is waiting for someone or something to happen. If you want to sound more natural when speaking Spanish, this -AR verb can help you describe your hopes and expectations.
Estamos esperando a Liam.
We’re waiting for Liam.
Espero que tengas un buen día.
I hope that you have a nice day.
No esperaba verte otra vez.
I didn’t expect to see you again.
Estar – To be
Since it’s one of the direct translations of ‘to be’, estar is one of the first verbs you’ll learn, and you won’t stop using it when speaking Spanish. Overall, the verb estar is used to talk about locations, emotions, temporary states, or physical conditions. Additionally, it’s also used to form the present progressive tense.
So, in short, you must learn how and when to use this verb.
La comida está fría.
The food is cold.
Mis amigos están en el museo.
My friends are in the museum.
Lenny está hablando con Mateo.
Lenny is talking to Mateo.
Gustar – To like
Gustar is one of the most common -AR verbs that you’ll use in your daily conversations since it allows you to share your likes and dislikes. Although it’s a regular verb, ‘gustar’ follows a slightly different structure that may be confusing for new Spanish learners. Understanding how to use ‘gustar’ in Spanish will certainly help you improve your conversational and grammar skills.
A Cindy no le gustan las anchoas.
Cindy doesn’t like anchovies.
Me gusta practicar español con mis amigos.
I like practicing Spanish with my friends.
-Er Verbs in Spanish
If you’re starting to learn Spanish, you’ll soon notice that many of the important irregular verbs you have to learn are actually -ER verbs. Here is a sample of some of those verbs that you must know in order to keep a basic conversation in Spanish.
Haber – To be / To have
When it comes to -ER verbs in Spanish, haber is a must since it allows you to describe the things that exist or are in a certain place. Additionally, haber is the Spanish auxiliary verb that we use to build compound tenses, such as the present perfect tense. So, based on the structure you’re using, this verb can be translated as ‘to be’ or ‘to have’.
Ya no hay comida.
There’s no food left.
En la siguiente cuadra, hay una farmacia.
There is a pharmacy on the next block.
No he visto esta película, ¿vale la pena?
I haven’t seen this movie. Is it worth it?
Poder – Can/To be able to
In Spanish, the verb poder allows you to talk about a person’s ability to do something. As a result, ‘poder’ is the direct translation of ‘can’ or ‘to be able to’. However, it’s also close in meaning to ‘might’ or ‘may’. Given that is an auxiliary verb, poder is always followed by a verb in the infinitive form.
¿Puedes hablar más despacio?
Can you speak slower?
¿Podría decirme dónde está el baño?
Could you tell me where the toilet is?
Gabriela y Luis no podrán venir.
Gabriel and Luisa will not be able to come.
Querer – To want / To love
Since it helps you talk about wishes, cravings, and things you want, querer is a basic verb you need to incorporate into your vocabulary. Additionally, this Spanish verb also conveys feelings or affection towards someone. So, depending on the context, ‘querer’ can be translated as ‘to love’ or ‘to want’.
Quiero un café, por favor.
I want a coffee, please.
¿Qué quieres hacer mañana?
What do you want to do tomorrow?
Las quiero mucho, chicas.
I love you very much, girls.
Ser – To be
The Spanish verb ser is one of the -ER verbs that you’ll use on a daily basis. This verb has multiple applications, such as telling the time, talking about family relationships, and describing people and objects, among other things.
Son las dos de la tarde.
Grace es mi hermana.
Grace is my sister.
Los chicos nuevos son muy tímidos.
The new kids are very shy.
Tener – To have/To be
Tener belongs to the top 5 -ER verbs that you need to know since it allows you to express possession, describe your emotions and physical conditions, say your age, and refer to duties and obligations. In summary, ‘tener’ has multiple applications that we use on a daily basis.
Lo siento, tengo que irme.
I’m sorry, I have to go.
¿Cuántos años tienes?
How old are you?
Tenemos mucha hambre, ¿a qué hora vamos a comer?
We are starving, what time are we eating?
Take Note: In Spanish, you’ll use ‘tener’ to say your age and to describe your emotions or physical states. So, in this context, ‘tener’ is actually translated as ‘to be’.
See all 72 of the top -ER verbs to learn here.
-Ir Verbs in Spanish
Spanish -IR verbs are another important set of verbs that can help you increase your vocabulary and improve your conversations. Although there are many -IR verbs that you should know, you’ll find a few of the most common ones below.
Dormir – To sleep/To fall asleep
As the direct translation of ‘to sleep’, you can use the verb dormir to talk about some of your daily routines. Another useful situation where you can use this verb is to express that your limbs become numb. If you’re talking about your habits and routines, you should use its reflexive form dormirse.
Depending on the situation, ‘dormir’ can be translated as ‘to sleep’, ‘to fall asleep’, or ‘to be numb’.
Ayer no dormí nada.
I didn’t sleep last night.
Diane se durmió a mitad de la película.
Diane fell asleep in the middle of the movie.
Espérame, se me durmió la pierna.
Give me a minute, my leg is numb.
Ir – To go
The verb ir is by far the most important -IR verb that you should learn. This is because ir is the direct translation of ‘to go’. As a result, you can use this verb to express that a person is going somewhere or to talk about future actions.
¿A dónde vas?
Where are you going?
Voy a hablar con Julia más tarde.
I’m going to talk to Julia later.
Take Note: Although they look similar, there’s a small nuance in meaning between ir and irse. ‘Ir’ implies that a person is going somewhere, while its reflexive form, irse, expresses that a person is leaving.
Pedir – To ask/To order
If you want to make requests or demands, you need to use the Spanish verb pedir. This word is commonly used when: asking someone to do something, demanding things or ordering something from a restaurant or store. So, ‘pedir’ can be translated as ‘to ask’, ‘to order’ or ‘to demand’.
¿Qué postre pidieron?
What dessert did you guys order?
Te pedí que limpiaras la cocina.
I asked you to clean the kitchen.
Vestir – To dress / To get dress
Vestir is another basic verb to talk about daily routines. Depending on how your sentence is structured, it can be translated as ‘to dress’, ‘to wear’, or ‘to get dressed’. Be aware that you’ll either need to use reflexive or direct object pronouns to build those meanings.
¿Por qué te vestiste así?
Why did you dress like that?
Me estoy vistiendo, espérame.
I’m getting dressed, wait.
Learn the most common -IR verbs.
Frequently Asked Questions About Spanish Verbs
Spanish verbs can be confusing for many people. For that reason, in the section below, you’ll find essential answers to some common questions that most of my Spanish students have. Hopefully, this important information will help you solve some of your doubts about verbs!
Can all verbs be reflexive in Spanish?
In Spanish, not all verbs can be reflexive. Most intransitive verbs (verbs that do not require a direct object) do not have a reflexive form. However, certain intransitive verbs may be pronominal. Although this type of verb uses reflexive pronouns, they are not considered reflexive.
When learning Spanish, many students think that all verbs have a reflexive form. However, in reality, there are many verbs that can never be reflexive. For example:
Katty baila muy bien.
Katty dances pretty well.
Nick y Claudia viven en Francia.
Nick and Claudia live in France.
Lucero se queja mucho.
Lucero complains a lot.
Check example #3. Even though it works with reflexive pronouns, quejarse is actually an intransitive pronominal verb. With this type of verb, the subject doesn’t receive the action. Additionally, pronominal verbs always need a reflexive pronoun. Otherwise, the verb will be incorrect, and you wouldn’t be able to convey your idea.
What is the difference between regular and irregular verbs in Spanish?
The key difference between Spanish regular and irregular verbs is that regular verbs have a consistent conjugation, whereas the conjugation of irregular verbs is highly variable. Regular verbs always keep their stem unchanged. However, irregular verbs can have changes in the stem or conjugation endings.
Although this difference may not be obvious when the verb is in its infinitive form, regular and irregular verbs in Spanish distinguish from each other based on their conjugation. As its name suggests, regular verbs follow a steady and consistent pattern. This means that they keep the same stem, and you simply have to add the correct endings.
Irregular verbs, on the other hand, are not consistent. Depending on the verb, you can see some irregularities in their stem, the conjugation endings or both. Irregularities in the stem include changing vowels or consonants to keep a consistent pronunciation. For example:
Of course, other verbs are irregular not because they have to keep a consistent pronunciation but rather because that’s the way they evolve over time. For instance:
Yo tengo dos coches.
I have two cars.
Tuve poco tiempo para hacer el proyecto.
I had little time to do the project.
Mañana tendré que ir al doctor.
I’ll have to go to the doctor tomorrow.
If a Spanish sentence has two verbs, do you conjugate both?
In Spanish, two verbs in a sentence need to be conjugated if those verbs are forming a compound tense, such as the present perfect or the present progressive tense. However, in sentences where the second verb is a complement, only the first verb will be conjugated.
There are certain Spanish verbs whose meaning is incomplete unless you add a complement. In many cases, this complement can be an activity and, as a result, you’ll use a second verb in your sentence.
Keep in mind that you only have to conjugate the two verbs when building a sentence with a compound tense. In the rest of the cases, you will only conjugate the first verb and keep the second one in its infinitive form:
Compound Tense Examples:
He comido mucho.
I have eaten a lot.
Estoy hablando por teléfono.
I’m talking on the phone.
Second Verb Complement Example:
¿Puedes ayudarme, por favor?
Can you help me, please?
Take: When you conjugate a verb, you’re actually providing information about when the action happened and who carried that action out. So, as you can see, conjugating is essential.
Does the verb go before or after the noun in Spanish?
Overall, verbs in Spanish are more commonly placed after the noun. However, with certain structures, they can also go before the noun. As a rule of thumb, verbs can never go at the end of a sentence. These are some situations where you can place the verb before the noun:
- On questions or interjections.
- When using hay.
- To express what a person is saying, feeling or thinking (narrations).
- When using gustar and similar verbs.
- When the adverb precedes the verb.
Check these examples:
¿Puede decirle a Betty que lo siento?
Can you tell Betty that I’m sorry?
Hay dos pedazos de pizza.
There are two slices of pizza.
No me gusta esta película.
I don’t like this movie.
Cuando era niña, no soportaba a mis hermanos.
When I was a kid, I couldn’t stand my brothers.