Complete Guide To Spanish Verbs And How They Are Used

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Spanish verbs are one of the most important parts of Spanish grammar. They are essential for understanding how sentences are constructed and what they mean. Verbs in Spanish express the action or state of being at a given moment.

Spanish verbs are among the most fascinating aspects of the language. They are conjugated according to tense, person, and number. Without exception, each verb must be conjugated to fit all three categories in order to make sense in a sentence.

In this article, we will be going over the basics of Spanish verbs and giving over 1000 examples of their use in modern Spanish. If you want to try out a fun interactive quiz to help you learn dozens of action verbs, click the button below.

Verb Quizzes

What are the 6 forms of Spanish verbs?

Spanish verbs have 6 different forms that show:

  1. Tense (Present, Future, various kinds of Past Tense, Conditional, etc.)
  2. Mood (Indicative, Imperative or Subjunctive)
  3. Person (first, second or third) and Number (singular or plural)

There are also three Non-Finite Forms of verbs:

  1. the Gerund
  2. the Past Participle
  3. the Infinitive. The latter, which always ends in -r, is the Dictionary Form of the verb.

Tense

Spanish tenses are of two basic kinds:

  1. Simple Tenses, consisting of a single word
  2. Compound Tenses, consisting of an appropriate form of the verb haber plus a Past Participle:
  • Simple Tenses bebo, beberé, bebí I drink, I’ll drink, I drank
  • Compound Tenses he bebido, había bebido I have drunk, I had drunk

All the various tenses of verbs can also appear in the Continuous Form, made from the verb estar to be plus the Gerund, which always ends in -ndo:

  • estoy bebiendo I’m (in the middle of) drinking
  • estaba bebiendo I was drinking
  • he estado bebiendo I have been drinking

Mood

Verbs appear either in the Indicative Mood, used for making statements, the Subjunctive Mood, or the Imperative Mood, which is used for making orders or requests.

Person and Number

Spanish verbs are unlike English verbs in that their endings show the Person and Number of their Subject:

  • hablo I speak
  • hablamos we speak
  • hablas you(singular) speak
  • habla he/she speaks,
  • hablan they/you (plural) speak

As a result, a verb on its own can form a Spanish sentence: voy means I’m going, duermen means they’re sleeping. The Spanish words for I, you, he/she/it, we, they - have special uses such as for emphasis and specificity.

What are the 3 main types of Spanish verbs?

As far as the task of learning their various forms is concerned, there are three broad types of Spanish verb:

  1. Regular verbs: ending in -ar, -er or -ir.
  2. Radical Changing Verbs: their stem vowels change in certain forms.
  3. Irregular Verbs: their forms are unpredictable and must be learned separately.

Regular Verbs

The vast majority of Spanish verbs are regular. If one knows the endings of the various tense forms and the spelling rules, one can predict every form of every regular verb.

Regular verbs are divided into three Conjugations according to whether their Infinitive ends in -ar, -er or -ir. Three commonly encountered regular verbs are hablar to speak (first conjugation), beber to drink (second conjugation), vivir to live (third conjugation). The various forms of these three verbs in all their tenses and these forms should be learned first.

Radical Changing Verbs

The endings of Radical Changing Verbs are the same as for regular verbs, but their stem vowels change in certain forms, cf. dormir to sleep, duermo I sleep, durmió he slept, etc. These irregularities appear only in the Present Tenses (Indicative and Subjunctive), in the Imperative and, in the case of some -ir verbs, in the Preterit, the Imperfect Subjunctive and the Gerund. Radical changing verbs are quite numerous and many are in everyday use.

Irregular verbs

Some Spanish verbs are truly irregular. Some of their forms are unpredictable and must be learned separately. These verbs are not very numerous, but they include the most common verbs in the language like ‘to go’, to come’, ‘to be’, ‘to have’, ‘to put’, and they must therefore be memorized thoroughly. The irregularities are usually most obvious in the Present Indicative and the Preterit: with some exceptions one can usually predict most of the other forms from these two sets of forms.

Spanish Uses Of The Indicative Tenses

Present Indicative Tense

Present Indicative forms like hablo, bebes, vivimos mean I speak, you drink, we live and also I’m speaking, you’re drinking, we’re living. They are also often used for future actions and occasionally for past ones as well. This imprecision can sometimes be removed by using the Present Continuous forms of the verb to stress the idea that an action is actually in progress in the present.

The main uses of the simple Present Indicative tense are:

To show that an action happens habitually or is timeless (i.e. is an eternal truth):

  • Me peino todos los días. I do my hair every day. (habit)
  • Los españoles comen mucho ajo. The Spanish eat a lot of garlic.(habit)
  • Trabajas demasiado. You work too much.(habit)
  • El carbón de piedra produce calor. Coal produces heat. (timeless)

To show that something is happening in the present:

  • Hoy hace mucho calor. It’s very hot today.
  • ¿Qué haces hoy? What are you doing today?
  • ¡Cómo llueve! Look at the rain!(literally how it’s raining!
  • Nos hospedamos en el Hotel Palace. We’re staying at the Palace Hotel.

It is more appropriate to use the Present Continuous if we need to stress the fact that the action is in progress at this very moment:

  • Roberto está pintando la puerta. Roberto is (in the middle of) painting the door.

To show that an event is imminent, i.e. is just about to happen:

  • ¡Socorro! ¡Que me caigo! Help! I’m falling!
  • ¿Le pago ahora? Do I pay you now?/Shall I pay you now?
  • ¡Que se va el tren! The train’s leaving!
  • ¿Vienes conmigo? Are you coming with me?

To show that an event in the future is scheduled or prearranged. In this case it is often like the English present form ending in -ing in next year we’re going to Miami:

  • La fiesta es mañana a las ocho. The party’s tomorrow at eight o’clock.
  • Te llamo esta noche a las nueve. I’ll call you tonight at nine.
  • En diciembre voy a París. In December I’m going to Paris.
  • El avión sale mañana a las ocho. The plane leaves tomorrow at eight.

As a past tense (the ‘Historic Presento.) The present is often used as an alternative to the Preterit tense to make narrative in the past sound exciting. This is found both in formal literary styles and in informal speech:

  • Unos días después empieza la Guerra Civil. A few days later the Civil War began. (literally begins)
  • Entra y me dice... She/He comes in and says to me...(familiar style)

The present tense is also used in sentences of the type:

  • I’ve spoken/been speaking French since I was a girl.
  • It’s the first time we've seen her in years.

The Preterit Tense

To look back on an event as completed in the past. It is therefore used to report the fact that event A happened and finished, then event B happened, then event C, and so on.

  • Se sentó, sacó un cigarrillo y lo encendió. He sat down, took out a cigarette and lit it.
  • Anoche vi dos veces a tu madre. I saw your mother twice last night.
  • Fue intérprete y después profesor. He was an interpreter and then a teacher.
  • El viernes estuve en casa de la abuela. On Friday I visited grandmother’s house.

For events that lasted for a specific period of time and then ended:

  • Fue presidente durante ocho años. He was President tor eight years.
  • Su enfermedad duró varios meses. Her/his illness lasted several months.
  • Estuve esperando varias horas. or Esperé varias horas. I waited several hours.(the Continuous stresses the action as long drawn-out)

English speakers often have difficulty in distinguishing between the Preterit and the Imperfect, especially in sentences of the following kind:

  • Tuve que decírselo. I had to tell it to him.(and I did)
  • Tenía que decírselo. I had to tell it to him.(I may or may not have done)
  • Fue un día magnifico. It was a magnificent day.(all day)
  • Era un día magnífico. It was a lovely day.(at the time, but perhaps it rained later during the day)

The last example shows how the Preterit of serfue— indicates a different point of view compared with the Imperfect era. The Preterit looks back on the event after it finished, whereas the Imperfect describes an event while it was still going on. This is clear in English with most verbs other than to be. Compare what did you do in the garden yesterday? (looks back on the event as finished, therefore Preterit: ¿qué hiciste ayer en el jardín? and what were you doing in the garden yesterday? (the action is described as not yet finished at the time, therefore Imperfect: ¿qué hacías ayer en el jardín?.

The Imperfect Tense

To show that an event was not yet completed. The Imperfect is therefore used for events that were continuing when something else happened:

  • Ignacio estaba en la habitación cuando se hundió el techo. Ignacio was in the room when the roof caved in
  • Llovía muy fuerte, así que cerré la ventana. It was raining very hard, so I shut the window.
  • Esta puerta era azul. This door was blue. (i.e. at the time)
  • Ana tenía diecinueve años cuando se casó. Ana was nineteen when she got married.
  • Cuando yo era pequeño yo adoraba a mi madre. When I was little I adored my mother.

As these examples show, the Imperfect gives us no clear information about whether the event continued or when it ended: Ignacio probably left the room after the roof collapsed, but the point is that he was still there when it happened. As a general rule, if an English verb can be rewritten using was and the -inform, Spanish will use the Imperfect: Ana llevaba una falda azul cuando la vi Ana was wearing a blue skirt when I saw her. But, as the examples above show, this rule does not usually apply to the verb to be.

To express habitual or timeless events in the past, i.e. events that had no deadly defined end even though they may no longer be happening now:

  • De niño yo tenía ojos azules. I had/used to have blue eyes as a child.
  • Mi madre era vegetariana. My mother was/used to be a vegetarian.
  • Yo iba todos los días a casa de mi amigo. I went/used to go to my friend’s house every day.
  • Londres era más grande que Nueva York. London was/used to be bigger than New York.

As a general rule, if the meaning of the English verb can be expressed by the formula used to... Spanish will use the Imperfect Tense.

To denote something that was just going to happen (usually the same as iba a... was going to.)

Yo me marchaba cuando sonó el teléfono I was leaving when the phone rang

The Perfect Tense

Spanish distinguishes between the Perfect Tense and the Preterit, much the same as English does between the Perfect I have seen and the Simple Past I saw. The Perfect Tense is common in written styles everywhere and it is constantly heard in speech in Spain, but in some Latin-American varieties of spoken Spanish the Preterit may more or less completely replace the Perfect, although practice varies from country to country. The Perfect Tense is used:

For past events that have happened in a period of time that has not yet ended. Compare fui dos veces el año pasado I went twice last year and he ido dos veces este año I have been twice this year (this year hasn’t ended yet):

  • La bolsa ha subido mucho hoy. The stock market has gone up a lot today.
  • Ha llovido menos durante este siglo. It has rained less this century.
  • No han contestado todavía. They haven’t replied yet.
  • Hemos estado trabajando toda la mañana. We’ve been working all morning.

Latin Americans often use the Preterit in this contract:

  • la bolsa subió mucho hoy, no contestaron todavía, estuvimos trabajando..., etc.

To show that the effects of a past event linger in or are relevant to the present. Compare estuvo enfermo he was unwell (in the past, but now he's recovered) and ha estado enfermo he’s been unwell (that’s why he’s pale, late for work, irritable, etc.):

  • Alguien ha fumado/ha estado fumando en esta habitación. Huele a humo. Someonehas smoked/been smoking in this room. It smells of smoke.
  • Está contento porque lo/le han ascendido. He’s pleased because they’ve promoted him.

Latin Americans may also prefer the Preterit tense in these cases.

In Spain, optionally, to show that an event happened today (i.e. since midnight). This is the Perfect of Recency:

  • Me he levantado temprano. I got up early (today).
  • Quién ha llamado? Who phoned (just now)?
  • Perdona, no he podido hacerlo. Sorry, I couldn’t do it (today).
  • Hemos ido al parque esta mañana. We went to the park this morning.

If the event is very recent, the Perfect is usual in Spain, but for events earlier in the day the Preterit or the Perfect may be used. Latin Americans use the Preterit: me levanté temprano, ¿Quién llamó?, etc.

The Pluperfect Tense

In general, the same as the English Pluperfect form (had + Past Participle), i.e. to show that an event in the past had finished before the next one started:

  • Ya habían dejado dos mensajes en el contestador cuando yo llegué. They had already left two messages on the answering machine when I arrived.
  • La policía encontró el revólver que el asesino había comprado dos días antes. The police found the revolver that the murderer had bought two days before.

The Future Tense

As was mentioned earlier, future time can be expressed by the simple Present Tense when the event is felt to be prescheduled or pre-arranged: la película empieza a las ocho The film starts at eight. Furthermore, the Future Tense forms shown here are often replaced by ir a + the Infinitive in informal styles, especially in Latin-American speech, e.g. si me habla de esa manera, me enojaré if he talks like that to me I’ll get angry becomes si me habla de esa manera, me voy a enojar/voy a enojarme.

The Future Tense is used:

For future events that are not pre-scheduled or fixtures:

  • Algún día se casará con ella. He'll marry her one day.
  • Ya te cansarás. You’ll get tired eventually/in the end.
  • Para entonces yo ya no estaré aquí. By then I won’t be here any more.

For approximations, guesses and suppositions:

  • Miguel tendrá unos cincuenta años. (I guess) Miguel’s about fifty.
  • Estará durmiendo a estas horas. (I guess) he’ll be sleeping at this time.

Latin Americans tend to prefer the construction deber or deber de + Infinitive (which is also used in Spain): debe (de) tener unos cincuenta años, debe (de) estar durmiendo... The de is often dropped, but learners should retain it so as to distinguish between suppositions and obligations. Compare debes hacerlo you’ve got to do it (obligation).

In questions, to express wonder or amazement:

  • ¿Qué habrá sido de él? What (on earth) can have happened to him?
  • ¿Quito será éste? I wonder who this is?

The Conditional Tense

As an equivalent of the English would form in conditions:

  • En ese caso te dejarían en paz. In that case they would leave you in peace.
  • El pastel estaría mejor con menos azúcar. The cake would be better with less sugar.
  • Eso sí costaría más. That would cost more.

With poder, querer, to make polite requests or express polite wishes:

  • ¿Podría usted abrir la ventana un poquito? Could you open the window a bit?
  • Querría terminarlo antes de las ocho. I’d like to finish it before eight.

To express the future in the past (i.e. the same as iba a + Infinitive):

  • Aquel día empezó la que sería su última película. That day he began what would be his last film.
  • Yo sabía que no me devolvería el dinero. I knew he wouldn’t/wasn’t going to give the money back to me.

To express guesses or suppositions about the past:

  • Aquella semana la habríamos visto más de cinco veces. That week we must have seen her more than five times.
  • Pesaría unos cien kilos. It must have weighed about 100 kilos.

Deber or (preferably) deber de + Infinitive is more usual in this construction: debía de pesar más de cien kilos.

Note: the -ra form of the Imperfect Subjunctive is constantly found as an alternative for the Conditional of haber and querer:

  • Te hubiera/habría ayudado antes. I would have helped you sooner.
  • Quisiera/querría verte mañana. I’d like to see you tomorrow.

Continuous Forms of the Tenses

Spanish Continuous forms of the tenses (all formed with estar + the Gerund) either (a) stress that an event is, was or will be actually in progress at the time spoken of, or (b) in the case of the Preterit and Perfect Tenses, show that it continued for a certain amount of time in the past before ending.

As far as the Present, Imperfect and Future Continuous Tenses are concerned, English-speakers must remember to use the Continuous only for events actually in progress. The following is definitely not good Spanish: mañana estoy viajando a Los Angeles tomorrow I’m (in the middle of) traveling (British travelling) to Los Angeles, correctly mañana viajo a Los Angeles.

The Continuous is used:

In all tenses except the Preterit, Perfect and Pluperfect, to stress that an event is, was or will be actually in progress. Usually the non-Continuous tenses can also be used, but the Continuous is preferred nowadays when the event is actually in progress at the time:

  • Esto se está convirtiendo en una pesadilla. This is turning into a nightmare.
  • Yo estaba durmiendo cuando sonó el despertador. I was sleeping when the alarm clock went off.
  • Miguel está leyendo. Miguel’s reading.
  • Lo que pasó fue que ella estaba deseando irse. What happened was that she wanted/was wanting to leave.
  • No puedes ir a las cinco porque estarás haciendo tus deberes. You can’t go at five o’clock because you’ll be doing you’re homework.

To show that an event is surprising or temporary:

  • ¡¿Pero qué tonterías le has estado contando?! But what nonsense have you been telling him?!
  • Es una zapatería, pero últimamente están vendiendo periódicos. It’s a shoe-shop, but lately they are selling newspapers.
  • María estaba trabajando de intérprete. Maria was working as an interpreter.(at the time, temporarily)

To emphasize the idea of repetitive actions that are or were still continuing:

  • Está bebiendo mucho últimamente. He’s drinking a lot lately.
  • Siempre estaba pensando en ella. He was always thinking of her.

In the Preterit, Perfect or Pluperfect Tenses, to show that an event (a) lasted a certain length of time and (b) that it finished:

  • Anoche estuvimos viendo la televisión. We watched TV last night.
  • Te he estado esperando toda la mañana. I’ve been waiting for you all morning.
  • Había estado leyendo durante horas. He had been reading for hours.

Here the non-Continuous forms vimos, he esperado, había leído would not emphasize the long drawn-out nature of the events.

The Spanish Continuous cannot be used (at least in standard forms of the language):

For events that are not actually in progress:

Yo creo que este libro defiende una postura revolucionaria I think that this book is defending/defends a revolutionary position (not está defendiendo, which means is in the middle of defending)

  • Yo iba a verme con ella al día siguiente. I was seeing her the following day. (it hadn’t happened yet)
  • Vamos mañana. We’re going tomorrow.(it hasn’t happened yet)
  • Su padre está enfermo de muerte. His father is dying(i.e. he is fatally ill. Está muriendo would mean that he is actually dying at this moment)
  • Está sentado. He’s sitting down.(está sentándose has the unlikely meaning he’s in the middle of sitting down)

Normally, for events that are not really actions but conditions or states:

  • Llevaba una pajarita de seda. He was wearing a silk bow-tie.
  • Parecías más joven aquella noche. You were looking younger that night.
  • Un aroma delicado flotaba en el aire. A delicate smell was floating in the air.

Never with the verb estar. One cannot say estar estando’, although estar riendo occasionally occurs:

  • Está siendo debatido en este momento. It’s being debated at this moment.

In standard varieties of Spanish, the Continuous is not used with the verbs ir to go and venir to comer:

  • ¿Adónde van ustedes? Where are you going?
  • Ya vienen. They’re coming.

Less Common Spanish Tense Forms

The following forms are occasionally found, all of them (except for tengo hecho, etc.) being more common in writing than in speech:

ü Tener to have’ is sometimes used to form compound tenses instead of haber. This is only possible if the verb has a direct object, and the difference between lo he terminado and lo tengo terminado is about the same as between I’ve finished it and I've got it finished: the latter emphasizes successful completion or acquisition of something:

  • Ya tengo pintadas tres de las paredes. I’ve got three of the walls painted.
  • Ya tenemos compradas las flores. We’ve got the flowers bought/We’ve bought the flowers.

As the examples show, the past participle agrees in number and gender with the direct object of the verb.

The -ra form, used for the Imperfect Subjunctive in normal styles, is often found in flowery writing, but not in spoken Spanish, as an alternative for the Pluperfect in Relative Clauses. This is especially common in Latin America but is gaining ground in Spain:

Se casó con la que fuera la esposa de su padre He married the woman who had been his father’s wife(everyday style... había sido la esposa...)

The -ra forms (and sometimes also -se forms) of verbs frequently appear after después de que after and desde que since instead of the Preterit tense:

  • Este es el primer discurso que pronuncia desde que lo/le nombraran presidente. This is the first speech he has delivered since he was appointed President.

This use of the -ra forms rather than the Preterit after desde que and después de que is the preferred construction in Spain, but the Preterit is possible, as this example from the Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez shows:

  • ... su simple evocación le causaba un estremecimiento de pavor hasta mucho después de que se casó, y tuvo hijos...the mere mention of him caused her a shudder of fear until long after she had married and had children

However, the Subjunctive is obligatory after después de que and desde que when they point to events that are or were still in the future.

The Preterit of haber + the Past Participle is occasionally used to form the Anterior Preterit tense (Pretérito anterior). This is found only in literary styles before words meaning as soon as or when, to emphasize that an event had just finished before the next started. It can be replaced by the Pluperfect or, much more commonly, by the Preterit:

Apenas hubo terminado lacena, todos los invitados se fueron Scarcely had supper finished when all the guests departed (more usually apenas terminó... )

Spanish Verbs and Mood

There are 3 types of mood used in Spanish verbs:

  1. The Indicative Mood
  2. The Subjunctive Mood
  3. The Imperative

The Indicative Mood

The Indicative Mood is overwhelmingly the most commonly used verbal mood: in most types of Spanish well over 85% of the verbs are in the Indicative mood.

The Indicative is used:

In all Main Clauses other than those that give orders (which require the Imperative mood):

  • En invierno no hacía mucho frío. It wasn’t very cold in Winter.
  • No me gusta el sabor de la cerveza. I don’t like the taste of beer.
  • Me voy a comprar unos zapatos. I’m going to buy some shoes.

In Subordinate Clauses after statements meaning it is true/correct/a fact/certain that...

  • Es verdad/cierto/correcto/un hecho que los limones son agrios. It’s true/certain/correct/a fact that lemons are sour.

But the Subjunctive is normally used when such statements are negated or denied: no es cierto que los limones sean dulces It isn’t true that lemons are sweet.

After statements that express beliefs or opinions:

  • Creo que llegan el martes. I think that they’re coming on Tuesday.
  • Parece que no pudo solucionarlo. It seems he didn’t manage to solve it.

Again, the Subjunctive is normally used when such statements are denied:

  • No creo que lleguen el martes. I don’t think they’re coming on Tuesday.

When the clause is introduced by a Subordinator that refers to a time when the action has or had happened: compare yo estaba viendo la televisión cuando llegaron I was watching TV when they arrived.

In Relative Clauses, when the antecedent (the thing referred to by the Relative Pronoun) is known to exist:

  • Conozco una cafetería donde sirven tó inglés. / I know a café where they serve English tea.
  • After si if 'open’ conditions: si llueve me quedo en casa if it rains I’m staying at home.

The Subjunctive Mood

The basic function of the Subjunctive is not to make statements of fact, but either (a) to show that the speaker is reacting emotionally in some way to the event referred to or (b) that the event mentioned in a Subordinate Clause is still not a reality (e.g. because it hasn’t happened yet). Most learners of Spanish postpone the Subjunctive until the last moment, but there are good reasons for tackling it early, since it is common in all styles of language.

The Subjunctive can be explained under five headings:

(a) Cases in which it appears in Subordinate Clauses introduced by que, following some statement indicating want, necessity, possibility, emotional reaction, fear, doubt, etc.

(b) Cases in which it appears after a number of words which are mostly Subordinators, for example cuando when, apenas scarcely, quizá perhaps, posiblemente possibly, antes de que before, después de que after, con tal de que provided that, etc...

(c) Cases in which it appears in Relative Clauses, e.g. quiero comprar una casa que tenga muchas ventanas I want to buy a house that has a lot of windows.

(d) Cases in which the Subjunctive can appear in the Main Clause of a sentence, i.e. cases in which the Subjunctive could stand as the first word in a sentence (rare—the Imperative excepted).

(e) Cases in which it appears in the if-clause of Conditional Sentences, e.g. si tuviera más tiempo lo

haría mejor if I had more tíme I’d do it better.

Forms of the Subjunctive

The Subjunctive has three simple tense forms (the fourth tense form, the Future Subjunctive, is virtually obsolete. See below).

Present:

  • (que) yo hable that I should speak...
  • (que) él diga that he should say...

-ra Past:

  • (que) yo fuera thatI should have been...
  • (que) usted pensara that you should have thought...

-se Past:

  • (que) yo fuese that I should have been
  • (que) usted pensase that you should have thought..

The Subjunctive can also appear in compound tenses:

Perfect:

  • (que) yo haya hablado that I should have spoken...
  • (que) él haya dicho that he should have said...

Pluperfect:

  • (que) yo hubiera/hubiese hablado that I should have spoken(before then)
  • (que) él hubiera/hubiese dicho that he should have said(before then)

Continuous forms are also possible, e.g. (que) yo esté hablando that I should be (in the middle of) speaking, etc.

These are formed from the appropriate tense of the Subjunctive of estar + the Gerund.

The English translations shown above are very approximate and misleading. The Spanish Subjunctive cannot usually be translated clearly into English since the latter language has lost most of its Subjunctive forms.

The Future Subjunctive

This is virtually obsolete. It is formed by replacing the last a in the -ra Imperfect Subjunctive by e: hablare hablares hablare hablâremos hablareis hablaren, comiere, comieres, comiere, comiéremos, comiereis, comieren, etc.

It is nowadays rarely seen outside legal documents and similar very formal texts. In all other cases it is replaced by the Present or Imperfect Subjunctive, so foreign learners will not need to use it.

Equivalence of the -ra and -se Subjunctives

When they are used as Subjunctives, the -ra forms and the -se forms are interchangeable, the -ra forms being nowadays much more frequent than the -se forms:

  • Yo quería que me llamaras = Yo quería que me llamases I wanted you to call me

Whenever the -ra form appears the -se form could have been used, and vice-versa.

Replacement of a finite verb by an infinitive

When the subject of the Main Clause in a sentence and the subject of the Subordinate Clause refer to the same person or thing, the Infinitive is often used and not the Finite verb form: quiero hacerlo I want to do it (yo is the subject of both querer and hacer), but quiero que él lo haga I want him to do it.

In this respect English differs sharply from Spanish in allowing the Infinitive to refer to a new subject: I prefer him to go. The fact that Spanish does not allow this (with the few exceptions mentioned below) is the chief reason why it constantly uses the Subjunctive: yo prefiero que él vaya.

The use of the Infinitive is also found after certain Subordinators (note the appearance of que when the Infinitive is not used):

  • ¿Te voy a ver antes de irme? Will I see you before I go?
  • ¿Te voy a ver antes de que te vayas? Will I see you before you go?
  • Lo hizo sin darse cuenta. He did it without realizing.
  • Lo hizo sin que yo me diera cuenta. He did it without my realizing.

Other Subordinators that allow this are:

  • con tal de (que) provided that
  • después de (que) after
  • en caso de (que) in the event of
  • hasta (que) until
  • para (que) ya (que) in order to
  • a pesar de (que) in spite of

But most Subordinators require a Finite verb form (Subjunctive or Indicative) whether the subjects are the same or not:

  • Lo haré cuando termine esto. I’ll do it when I finish(or he/she/you finish(es)) this.(never lo haré cuando terminar esto)
  • Nos vamos en cuanto/apenas terminemos esto. We’re going as soon as we finish this.
  • No digo nada, aunque sé la verdad. I’m saying nothing although I know the truth.
  • Lo hace bien porque sabe mucho. He does it well because he knows a lot.

The rules that determine whether the Finite verb is in the Indicative or Subjunctive are discussed below.

Subjunctive in clauses introduced by que:

The Subjunctive is required in Subordinate Clauses after the word que when this word is introduced by a statement meaning:

Wanting, wishing, requesting:

  • Quiero que me contestes. I want you to answer.
  • Estaba deseando que se fueran. He was wanting them to go.
  • Mi sueño de que mi hijo fuera médico. My dream that my son would be a doctor.
  • Pidió que lo/le dejaran en paz. He asked them to leave him in peace.
  • Prefiero que ustedes me lo entreguen a domicilio. I prefer you to deliver it to me at home.

Ordering, obliging, causing, recommending, insisting:

  • Le dijeron que se quedara. Theytold him to stay.
  • Les ordenó que cargasen sus fusiles. He ordered them to load their rifles.
  • El médico le recomendó que dejara de fumar. The doctor recommended him to stop smoking.
  • Hizo que se quedaran en casa. He made them stay at home.
  • Insistió en que se hiciera así. He insisted that it should be done like this.

The verbs ordenar, mandar, hacer, recomendar, aconsejar to advise, obligar to oblige can optionally take the Infinitive: les ordenó/mandó apagar las luces or ordenó/mandó que apagaran las luces he ordered them to put out the lights; los hizo quedarse en casa he made them stay at home', te recomiendo no hacerlo I recommend you not to do it.

Decir que with the indicative mood means to tell (i.e. inform) someone that, le dijeron que se quedaba they told him he that he was staying.

Allowing and forbidding:

  • No permito que mi hija viaje sola. I don’t allow my daughter to travel atone.
  • Les prohíbe que fumen en casa. He forbids them to smoke at home.

And similarly dejar to let, tolerar/aguantar to tolerate, oponerse a que to oppose. However, permitir, prohibir and dejar also allow the infinitiveconstruction: no le permito/dejo a mi hija viajar sola, les prohíbe fumar encasa

Needing:

  • Es necesario/preciso que nos pongamos en contacto con ellos. Its necessary that we contact them.
  • Hace falta que trabajen más. They need to work more.

Possibility and impossibility:

  • Es posible/probable/previsible que no lo terminen a tiempo. It’s possible/probable/likely that they won’t finish it on time.
  • No puede ser que tenga tanto dinero. It can’t be (possible) that he’s got so much money.

Use of the subjunctive with words meaning perhaps is discussed later in this section.

Emotional reactions, e.g. surprise, pleasure, displeasure, puzzlement:

  • Me irrita que tengas esa actitud. It irritates me that you have that attitude.
  • Fue increíble que no se diesen cuenta. It was incredible that they didn’t realize.
  • Estoy hasta la coronilla de que siempre tengamos tanto trabajo. I’m sick to death of the fact that we have so much work.
  • Siento mucho que no puedan venir. I’m sorry you/they can’t come.
  • Nos extrañaba que no hubiese escrito. It puzzled us that he hadn’t written.

The verb quejarse de que to complain that usually takes the Indicative: siempre se queja de que tiene frío he's always complaining that he feels cold.

Value judgments, i.e. any phrase meaning it's good/bad that…, it’s natural/logical/preferable/undesirable/satisfying that..., etc.:

  • Conviene que llueva de vez en cuando. It’s good that it rains from time to time.
  • Era absurdo que lo dejasen sin pintar. It was absurd tor them to leave it unpainted.
  • Es natural que usted se sienta cansado. It’s natural that you should feel tired.
  • Es importante que sepamos la verdad. It’s important for us to know the truth.

The expression menos mal que... it’s a good thing that... takes the Indicative: menos mal que lo hiciste ayer it’s a good thing you did it yesterday.

Denial of truth, opinion, appearance or knowledge:

  • No es verdad qué la haya llamado. It isn’t time that he called her.
  • No parece que esté dispuesta a hacerlo. It doesn’t seem that she’s prepared to do it.
  • No creo que sea posible. I don’t think it’s possible.
  • No sabía que fueras tan Inteligente. I didn’t know you were so intelligent.
  • No es que sea incorrecto, sino que es increíble. It isn’t that it’s incorrect but that it’s incredible.

But these verbs take the indicative when they are positive: es verdad que la ha llamado It’s true that he called her, etc. The indicative is also possible with no saber que when the thing referred to is not an opinion but afact:

  • No sabia que ya había pagado. I didn’t know that he’d already paid.

Doubt:

  • Dudo que sepas hacerlo. I doubt you know how to do it.

Fear:

  • Temo que la paz no sea posible. I fear peace isn’t possible.
  • Tengo miedo de que me muerda ese perro. I’m scared that dog’s going to bite me.

The indicative is usual after tenerse when it expresses a regret: me temo que he cometido un error I fear I’ve made a mistake.

Hoping, depending on, sympathizing with, avoiding, explaining the cause of something:

  • Espero que ustedes estén bien. I hope you’re well.
  • Dependo de que me dé dinero periódicamente. I depend on him giving me money regularly.
  • Esto sólo hacía que él se riera más. This only made him laugh more.
  • Comprendo que no quieras hablar de ello. I understand you not wanting to talk about it.
  • Intentaba evitar que su suegra se enterase. He was trying to avoid his mother-in-law finding out.
  • Esto explicaba el que prefiriera quedarse en casa. This explained the fact that he preferred to stay at home.

The fact that...:

Use of the Subjunctive is common after el hecho de que... the fact that, and also after él que... or que... when they mean the same as el hecho de que. The question of when the Subjunctive is used after these words is complex, but the general rule is that the Subjunctive is usual except when el hecho de que is preceded by a preposition:

  • El hecho de que los gramáticos no siempre estén de acuerdo deja perplejos a muchos estudiantes. The fact that the grammarians aren’t always in agreement leaves many students perplexed.
  • El que lo hayamos visto tres veces no puede ser una coincidencia. The fact that we’ve seen him/it three times can’t be a coincidence.
  • Que fuera él quien lo hizo no debería sorprender a nadie. The fact that he was the one who did it should surprise no one.

but

  • No quiso contestar por el hecho de que no se fiaba de la policía He refused to answer due to the fad that he didn’t trust the police

Use of the subjunctive after subordinators:

The Subjunctive is required in certain cases after clauses introduced by Subordinators, e.g. words that introduce clauses and mean when, as soon as, in order to, after, without, as long as, etc. Most, but not all, of these are phrases that include the word que.

The Subjunctive is used after these words whenever the action that follows them has not or had not yet happened at the time referred to in the Main Clause. Compare me acosté cuando llegó mamá I went to bed when (i.e. after) mother arrived and me acostaré cuando llegue mamá I’ll go to bed when mother arrives (she hasn’t arrived yet).

With some subordinators the Subjunctive is always necessary: these include antra de que before, sin que without, para que and a que in order to, con tal de que and a condición de que provided that. In a few cases the Indicative is always used, but with most subordinators either the Indicative or the Subjunctive is used, according to whether the event has or has not happened at the time:

  • Te llamaré en cuanto/apenas llegue. I’ll call you as soon as I arrive/he arrives.
  • Te llamó en cuanto/apenas llegó. I called you as soon as he arrived
  • Bebíamos champán siempre que nos traía una botella. We drank champagne whenever he brought us a bottle.
  • Beberemos champán siempre que nos traigas una botella. We’ll drink champagne whenever/provided you bring us a bottle.
  • Lo compré después de que lo repararon. I bought it after they fixed it.
  • Lo compraré después de que lo reparen/hayan reparado. I’ll buy it after they’ve fixed it.

The following list includes the most common subordinators. Those marked Variable” obey the rule just explained, while the others either always or never take the Subjunctive:

  • cuando when(variable)
  • antes de que before(always)
  • después de que after
  • desde que since, from the moment that
  • a partir del momento en que from the time that (variable)
  • según as(as in he answered the letters as they arrived contestaba a las cartas según Iban llegando) (variable)
  • a medida que as(as según, but implies without delay,variable)
  • tan pronto como, nada más, en cuanto, nomás (the latter in Lat. Am.only), apenas all meaning as soon as, scarcely(variable)
  • a que, para que, a fin de que, con el objeto de que in order to(always)
  • no sea que, no fuera que lest, in order that... not (always)
  • de ahí que hence the fact that(always)
  • sin que without (always)
  • de manera que, de modo que, de forma que in such a way that, so(indicating manner or result) (variable)
  • en caso de que in tíre event of...(always)
  • por si in case(usually indicative)
  • suponiendo que supposing that(always)
  • hasta que until(variable)
  • siempre que whenever, every time that(variable)
  • mientras (que) when it means provided that, as long as,always takes the Subjunctive. When it means whileand refers to some future event it optionally takes the Subjunctive tú puedes descansar mientras que yo trabajo/trabaje you can rest while I work;otherwise it takes the Indicative
  • con tal de que, siempre que, a condición de que provided that(always)
  • salvo que, excepto que, a menos que unless (nearly always take Subjunctive).
  • aunque althoughtakes the Subjunctive when it refers to an uncertainty: dite que venga aunque esté enfermo tell him to come even if he is sick. it takes the indicative when it refers to past events: fuimos al parque, aunque llovia a cén- taros we went to the park although it was pouring with rain
  • a pesar de que, pese a que despite the fact that (variable)
  • puesto que, ya que, eoi vista de que, debido a que seeing that, in view of the fact that, due to the fact that(never)
  • pues because(literary styles only), well..., in that case (never)
  • como si as if (always)
  • porque because.Only takes Subjunctive after the phrase no porque, ot because...and also when it means an emphatic simply becauseor just because: no voy a quedarme en casa sólo porque tu me lo digas I’m not staying at home simply because you tell me to(you may not have said it yet, but even if you do... ). Porque plus the subjunctive occasionally means in order that aftera few verbs, especially those meaning to make an effort: se esforzaba para que/porque todo el mundo lo aceptara he was making an effort to get everyone to accept it/him

Subjunctive after words meaning ‘perhaps’:

After a lo mejor, which is colloquial (like maybe in British English), the appropriate tense of an Indicative verb form is used:

  • A lo mejor pensaba que no estabas en casa. Maybe he thought you weren’t at home.
  • A lo mejor es ella. Maybe it’s her.

After quizá, tal vez (Lat. Am. talvez), acaso (literary style) and posiblemente possibly, the Subjunctive is always correct. However, modem Spanish increasingly prefers the Indicative in certain circumstances, and the following remarks reflect current tendencies:

The Present Subjunctive must be used if the event refers to the future:

  • Quizá/tal vez/acaso llegue mañana. Perhaps I'll arrive tomorrow. (not quizá llega mañana.)
  • Quizá/tal vez/posiblemente sea mejor... Perhaps/possibly it would be better...

Either the Present Subjunctive or Present Indicative can be used if the verb refers to the present, the Subjunctive being more formal or rather more hesitant or hypothetical:

  • Quizá/tal vez sea/es verdad que... Perhaps it’s true that...

An Indicative past tense or the Imperfect Subjunctive may be used if the event is in the past, the Subjunctive being slightly more hesitant:

  • Quizá pensaba/pensara/haya pensado que nadie se enteraría. Perhaps he thought no one would find out.

The Imperfect Subjunctive or the Imperfect of ir a... is used for a future in the past:

  • Quizá/posiblemente me lo diera/iba a dar cuando llegase al día siguiente. Perhaps/possibly he would give it to me when he arrived the next day. (not Quizá me lo daba)

The word igual is nowadays constantly heard In Spain with the meaning maybe or probably, but it is not used in writing or formal speech. It always takes the Indicative mood.

The subjunctive in relative clauses

The Subjunctive must be used in relative clauses when the thing referred to by the relative pronoun does not exist or is not yet known to exist. Compare quiero vivir en un pais donde nunca haga frio I want to live in a country where it’s never cold (we don’t know yet which country) and los guatemaltecos viven en un pais donde nunca hace frio the Guatemalans live in a country where it’s never cold. Further examples:

  • Nunca hubo guerra que no fuera un desastre. There was never a war that wasn’t a disaster.
  • Tienes que hablar con alguien que te comprenda. You have to talk to someone who understands you.
  • Dame algo que no tenga alcohol. Give me something/anything that doesn’t have alcohol in it.

This construction requires practice since English does not make the distinction clear. Compare va a casarse con una mujer que tiene mucho dinero he’s going to marry a woman who has a lot of money (Indicative, because he has found her) and quiere casarse con una mujer que tenga mucho dinero he wants to marry a woman who has a lot of money (Subjunctive: he’s still looking for her).

There are a number of words and phrases that correspond to English words ending in -ever, e.g. whatever, whenever, however, whoever, wherever. These take the Subjunctive and can be conveniently included under discussion of the Subjunctive in relative clauses:

  • sea lo que sea whatever it is
  • Tome lo que usted quiera Take whatever you like
  • Pueden comer cuando quieran You can eat whenever you like
  • Hazlo como quieras Do it however you like
  • sea quien sea/quienquiera que sea whoever it is
  • sea cual sea whichever it is
  • esté donde esté/dondequiera que esté wherever he is

The Subjunctive is also found in relative clauses—at least in formal styles—after a superlative when the idea of ever is stressed:

  • la temperatura más alta que se haya registrado en treinta años the highest temperature that has ever been recorded in thirty years

but

  • Éstos son los mejores zapatos que tengo These are the best shoes I’ve got

The subjunctive in main clauses

The Subjunctive can also appear in Main Clauses, i.e. it is possible for a Subjunctive verb to be the only verb in the sentence. This occurs:

  • In all forms of the usted/ustedes imperative: digame tell me, dénmelo give it to me, no me diga don’t tell me.
  • In the negative form of the and vosotros imperatives: no me digas (tú), no me digáis (vosotros) don’t tell me.
  • In third and first-person imperatives: que pasen let them come in, pensemos let’s think.
  • After ojalá let’s hope that... and after quién when it means if only: ¡Ojalá no llueva! Let’s hope it doesn’t rain!, ¡Quién tuviera tanto dinero como tú! If only I had as much money as you!

The imperative

The Imperative mood is used for orders and requests.

There are four second-person forms of the Imperative corresponding to the four pronouns meaning you: tú, usted, vosotroa/vosotras and ustedes. There are also first-person plural imperatives (let’s go, let’s took) and third-person imperatives (let him go, let it be). These are discussed below.

Vosotros/vosotras is not used in Latin America, where the only form used for you in the plural, whether one is speaking to intimate friends, little children, strangers or even animals, is ustedes.

The imperative is formed by removing the -s of the second-person singular of the present indicative: habla speak, cuenta count/tell (from contar), escribe write. There are eight common exceptions:

  1. decir to say di
  2. hacer to make haz
  3. ir togo ve
  4. poner to put pon
  5. salir to go out sal
  6. ser to be
  7. tener to have ten
  8. venir to come ven

The imperative of estar to be is usually formed (but not in every Latin-American region) from the Pronominal Form of the verb : ¡Estate quieto! Sit still!

These forms of the imperative are used only for post- live orders. All negative orders in Spanish are based on the Present Subjunctive: no hables don’t speak!, no escribas don't write!, sal leave!/get out!, no salgas don't leave/don’t go out.

In Argentina and in most of Central America (but not in Mexico) the pronoun vos replaces in ordinary speech. The imperative forms used vary from country to country, but in Argentina and in most other places they are created by dropping the -d from the standard Spanish vosotros imperative : decí, veni, contéstame (standard forms di, ven, contéstame). In the negative the standard Subjunctive forms should be used: no digas, no vengas, no me contestes.

The vosotros/vosotras Imperative is considered archaic in Latin America (and in the Canary Islands) and it is replaced by the ustedes form; but it is constantly heard in Spain. It is used for two or more close friends, children, family members or animals. It is formed by replacing the -r of the Infinitive by -d: hablad speak!, venid come!, id go! This form ending in -d is often nowadays replaced in familiar styles by the Infinitive: hablar, venir, ir, etc. However, careful speakers may consider this slovenly, so foreigners should use the -d forms.

All negative imperatives are based on the present Subjunctive, so one says no habléis don’t speak!, no vengáis don’t come!, no vayáis don’t go!

The usted imperative is used when addressing a stranger (other than a child or another young person if you are also young), and the ustedes form is used for addressing more than one stranger (in Spain) or for more than one person, friend or stranger, in Latin America. All the usted and ustedes imperative forms, positive and negative, are identical to the third-person Present Subjunctive: venga (usted) come!, contesten (ustedes) answer!, ¡No se queden atrás! Don’t fall behind!

Object pronouns with the imperative

In the case of positive imperatives, Object Forms of Personal Pronouns are attached to the imperative as suffixes.

  • Dime la verdad. Tell me the truth. (tú)
  • Llámala ahora. Call her now. (tú)
  • Siéntate. Sit down. (tú)
  • Decídnoslo. Tell it to us. (vosotros)
  • Deme. Give me. (usted)
  • Déselo. Give it to him/her/them. (usted)
  • Enviénmelos. Send them to me. (ustedes)

Note that an accent is often necessary to show that the stress is not shifted when the pronouns are added: da give (form), dame give me, dámelo give me it/give it to me.

When the pronoun os is added to a vosotros imperative, the d is dropped: lavad+os = lavaos get washed; also callaos be quiet, decidíos make up your minds (from decidid + os; note accent). There is one exception: idos go away (instead of íos). Familiar speech nowadays usually avoids these forms by using the Infinitive— lavaros, callaros, decidiros, Ires—although non-fluent foreigners should not do this. The vosotros form is replaced by the ustedes form in Latin America: lávense, cállense, decídanse, váyanse, etc.

Personal pronouns are put before negative imperatives in the same order as above:

  • No me digas la verdad. Don’t tell me the truth. (tú)
  • No la llames ahora. Don’t call her now.(tú)
  • No te sientes. Don’t sit down. (tú)
  • No nos lo digáis. Don’t tell it to us. (vosotros)
  • No se lo dé. Don’t give it to him/her/them. (usted)
  • No nos los envíen. Don’t send them to us. (ustedes)

Third-person imperatives

These translate English forms like let him..., tell him/her to etc. They consist of que plus the third-person present Subjunctive:

  • Que diga quién es. Tell him to say who he is.
  • Que vuelvan más tarde. Tell them to come back later.

The Passive se construction used with the Subjunctive forms an imperative often used in recipes, instructions and official forms to give impersonal orders:

Pónganse en una cacerola las patates (Lat.-Am. papas) y los tomates. Put the potatoes and tomatoes in a saucepan.

Ponga en una cacerola las patatas, etc. would have meant the same thing.

First-person imperatives

The first-person plural of the Present Subjunctive translates the English let’s...,let us... :

  • Pensemos un poco antes de hacerlo. Let’s think a bit before doing it.

When the pronoun nos is added to this imperative form, the final -s of the verb is dropped:

  • Sentémonos. Let’s sit down.

The verb ir is unusual in that the Present Indicative is used for let’s go: vamos, vámonos

Other forms of the imperative

There is a tendency to use the Infinitive for second-person Imperatives, singular and plural, especially in written instructions but also sometimes in speech: rellenar el cupón y enviarlo a...fill in the coupon and send it to,… no filmar no smoking, tirar putsh! Grammarians and schoolteachers disapprove of this, but it is becoming increasingly frequent.

The ordinary Present Indicative is often used for the Imperative, but it can sound angry: ¡Te duermes en seguida o me voy a enfadar! (Lat-Am. me voy a enojar) you're going to sleep right now or I’m going to get mad!

The Imperative may be softened or replaced in polite speech by one of the following constructions, which are more friendly in tone:

  • ¿Podría usted guardar mi maleta? Could you look after my suitcase?
  • ¿Le Importaría llamar a mi mujer? Would you mind phoning my wife?
  • ¿Quisiera hacerme el favor de llamarme cuando sepa algo? Would you call me when you know something?
  • Hagan el favor de permanecer sentados Please remain seated
  • ¿Me da una cerveza? Would you give me a beer, please? (Question form used for polite request)

Conditions

There are three basic kinds of Conditional Sentence in Spanish:

(1) Conditions that do not require the Subjunctive in the if- clause. These are conditions in which the condition is equally likely or unlikely to be fulfilled. The verbs are in the Indicative Mood, and their tense is the same as in their English equivalents:

  • Si me das dinero, te compraré un helado. If you give me some money l’ll buy you an ice-cream.
  • Si te pones esa corbata, no voy contigo. If you put that tie on, I’m not going with you.

The Imperfect Indicative is used if these conditions are reported by someone, but the Imperfect Indicative is not used in any other kinds of Conditional Sentence:

  • Me dijo que no iría conmigo si me ponía esa corbata. She said she wouldn’t go with me if I put that tie on.

Como + Subjunctive is sometimes used instead of si in this kind of condition. This is particularly common in threats and apparently more frequent in Spain than Latin America:

  • Como vuelvas a hacerlo, llamo a la policía. If you do it again, I’m calling the police.

(2) Conditions that require the Imperfect Subjunctive in the if-clause and the Conditional in the other clause. The condition is less likely to be met or impossible to meet:

  • Si yo tuviera veinte años menos, sería feliz. If I were twenty years younger, I’d be happy.(imposible)
  • Si trabajaras más te darían mejores notas. If you worked harder they’d give you better grades/ marks.(some doubt about whether it’s possible)

The best styles of Spanish prefer the -ra form of the Imperfect Subjunctive in the if-clause of these sentences, although the -se form is common in speech.

(3) Conditions that requite the Pluperfect Subjunctive in the clause and the Pluperfect Conditional in the other clause. In this case the condition was not fulfilled:

  • Si se hubiera casado con ella, habría sido rico. If he had married her he would have been rich. (but he didn’t)
  • Si te hubiera visto, te habría saludado. If I had seen you I would have said hello to you. (but I didn’t)

Either the Conditional or the -ra form of haber can be used in the second clause (e.g. hubiera saludado or habría saludado).

The si and the Subjunctive in this kind of clause are occasionally replaced by de + Infinitive, but only if the verbs in each clause are in the same person:

  • De haberte visto, te habría saludado. Had I seen you, I’d have said hello.

Non-finite Verb Forms In Spanish

The infinitive

This non-finite form always ends in -ar, -er, -ir or -ir: andar to walk, convencer to convince, insistir to insist, reír to laugh.

It is used:

After Modal Verbs, e.g. poder to be able, deber must, tener que to have to, hay que it’s necessary to, saber to know how to:

  • No puedo salir hoy. I can’t go out today.
  • Debiste llamarla. You should have called her.
  • Tenemos que esperar. We’ve got to wait.
  • Habrá que hacerlo. It’ll be necessary to do it.
  • No sé nadar. I don't know how to swim.

After prepositions and prepositional phrases:

  • Ha ido a América a estudiar. He's gone to study in America
  • Tosía por haber fumado demasiado. Hewascoughing from having smoked too much.
  • Corrió hasta no poder más. He ran until he could (run) no more.
  • Roncaba sin darse cuenta. He was snoring without realizing.
  • lejos de pensar que.....far from thinking that...
  • En lugar de ir a España... Instead of going to Spain...

If the subject of the Infinitive and the subject of the Main Clause do not refer to the same thing or person, the Infinitive cannot be used (at least in careful Spanish): tosía porque ella había filmado demasiado he was coughing because she had smoked too much (not por ella haber fumado demasiado’).

After some prepositions, the Spanish Infinitive may have a passive meaning: una carta sin terminar an unfinished letter, cosas por hacer things to be done.

After many other verbs:

With some verbs no preposition is required before the Infinitive, and with other verbs a preposition is necessary. This list shows the construction with some of the most common verbs. Where no preposition is shown none is required, e.g. quiero hacerlo I want to do it.

  • abstenerse de to abstain from
  • acabar de: acabo da verla I've just seen her
  • acabar por to end by
  • acercarse a to approach
  • aconsejar to advise
  • acordarse de to remember
  • acostumbrar a to be accustomed to
  • acusar de to accuse of
  • admitir to admit
  • afirmar to claim/state
  • alegrarse de to be happy to
  • amenazar or amenazar con to threaten
  • anhelar to yearn to
  • animar a to encourage to
  • aparentar to seem to, to have the look of...
  • aprender a to learn to
  • arrepentirse de to regret/repent
  • asegurar to assure
  • asombrarse de to be surprised at
  • asustarse de to be frightened by
  • atreverse a to dare to
  • autorizar a to authorize to
  • avergonzarse de to be ashamed of
  • ayudara to help to
  • buscar to seek to
  • cansarse de to tire of
  • cesar de to cease from
  • comenzar a to begin to
  • comprometerse a to undertake to
  • condenar a to condemn to
  • conducir a to lead to
  • confesar to confess
  • conseguir to succeed to
  • consentir en to consent to
  • consistir en to consist of
  • contar con to count on
  • contribuir a to contribute to
  • convenir en to agree to
  • convidar a to invite to
  • cuidar de to take care to
  • deber must
  • decidir to decide to
  • decidirse a to make up one’s mind to
  • declarar to declare
  • dejar to let/allow e.g. me dejó hacerlo he let me do it
  • dejar de to stop/leave off, e.g. dejó de fumar he stopped smoking
  • demostrar to demonstrate
  • depender de to depend on
  • desafiar a to challenge to
  • desear to desire/wish to
  • desesperarse de to despair of
  • dignarse to deign to
  • disponerse a to get ready to
  • disuadir de to dissuade from
  • divertirse en to amuse oneself by
  • dudar to doubt
  • dudar en to hesitate over
  • echar(se) a to begin to
  • empeñarse en to insist on
  • empezar a to begin to
  • empezar por to begin by
  • enfadarse de to get angry at
  • enojarse de to get angry at
  • enseñar a to show how to/teach how to
  • escoger to choose to
  • esforzarse por to strive to
  • esperar to hope/expect/wait
  • evitar to avoid
  • fingir to pretend to
  • forzar a to force to
  • guardarse de to take care not to
  • habituarse a to get used to
  • hartarse de to get tired of
  • imaginarse to imagine
  • impedir to prevent from
  • incitar a to incite to
  • inclinar a to incline to
  • insistir en to insist on
  • intentar to try to
  • interesarse en to be interested in
  • invitar a to invite to
  • Jactarse de to boast of
  • jurar to swear to
  • juzgar to judge
  • limitarse a to limit one self to
  • luchar por to struggle to
  • llevar a to lead to
  • lograr to succeed in
  • mandar to order to
  • mandar a to send to
  • maravillarse de to marvel at
  • merecer to deserve to
  • meterse a to start to
  • mover a to move to
  • necesitar to need to
  • negar to deny
  • negarse a to refuse to
  • obligar a to oblige to
  • ofrecerse a to offer to
  • olvidar, olvidarse de, olvidársele a uno to forget
  • oponerse a to oppose/resist
  • optar por to opt to/for
  • ordenar to order to
  • parar de to stop
  • parecer to seem to
  • pasar a to go on to
  • pasar de to pass from, to be uninterested in
  • pedir to ask to
  • pensar: pienso hacerlo to plan, I plan to do it
  • pensar en to think about
  • permitir to allow to
  • poder to be able to
  • preferir to prefer to
  • prepararse a to get ready to
  • pretender to claim to
  • procurer to try hard to
  • prohibir to prohibit from
  • prometer to promise to
  • quedar en to agree to
  • querer to want to
  • recordar to remember'
  • renunciar a to renounce
  • resignarse a to resign oneself to
  • resistirse a to resist
  • resolver to resolve to
  • sentir to regret/be sorry for
  • soler: solía ir he used to go
  • solicitar to apply to
  • soñar con to dream of
  • sorprenderse de to be surprised that
  • tardar en to be late in/be a long time
  • tamer to fear to
  • tender a to tend to
  • tener que to have to
  • terminar de to finish
  • terminar por to finish by
  • tratar de to try to
  • vacilar en to hesitate over
  • venir de to come from
  • volver a (hacer) to (do) again

The Infinitive is normally only possible with the above verbs when the subject of both verbs is the same.

Compare:

  • Soñaba con ser bombero. He dreamt of being a fireman.

and

  • Soñaba con que su hijo fuese bombero. He dreamt of his son being a fireman.

Verbs of permitting and forbidding allow either construction:

  • Te permito hacerlo/Te permito que lo hagas. I allow you to do it.
  • Te prohibía ir/Te prohibía que fueses. He forbade you to go.

With verbs of stating, believing, claiming:

In this case the Infinitive construction is optionally allowed when both verbs share the same subject:

  • Dice ser de Madrid/Dice que es de Madrid. He says he’s from Madrid. (he is talking about himself)
  • Afirmaba haberlos visto/que los habla visto. He claimed to have seen them.
  • Parecía conocerla/Parecía que la conocía. He seemed to recognize her/it seemed that he recognized her.

Similarly with pretender to claim, imaginar to imagine, creer to believe, recordar/acordarse de to remember, reconocer to recognize, admitir to admit, confesar to confess.

After ver to see and oír to hear:

  • Le oí decir que tenía mucho dinero. I heard him say that he had a lot of money.
  • Te vi entrar en su casa. I saw you enter his/her house.

In the common construction al + Infinitive, which translates on doing something..., when... :

  • al llegar a Madrid... on arriving at Madrid...
  • al levantarse... on getting up...

After Subordinators (other than cuando when, en cuanto, as soon as, apenas as soon as/scarcely and a few others when the subject of the first verb is identical to the subject of the second verb: Compare comí antra de salir de casa I ate before leaving home and comí antes de que tú salieras de casa I ate before you left home:

  • Entró sin hacer ruido. He entered without making any noise.
  • Redecoraremos la casa en lugar de venderla. We’ll redecorate the house instead of selling it.

In combination with an adjective, and with noun phrases:

  • Es difícil hacerlo. It’s difficult to do it.
  • Parecía imposible equivocarse. It seemed impossible to make a mistake.
  • Cuesta trabajo pensar eso. It’s hard to think that.

If the Infinitive has no object and is not followed by que, de is required:

  • Es que ella es difícil efe olvidar. The fact is she’s difficult to forget.
  • Sería imposible de probar. It would be impossible to prove.

But this construction is usually avoided and es que es difícil olvidarla, sería difícil probarlo, etc. are used instead.

As a noun. In this case it often corresponds to the English form ending in -ing. When used as a noun, the Spanish Infinitive is masculine and singular:

  • No me gusta esperar. I don’t like waiting.
  • Cansa mucho viajar en avión. Traveling in planes makes one very tired.
  • Sería mejor dejarlos aquí. It would be better to leave them here.

This kind of sentence must never be translated using the Spanish Gerund: hablando da sed is definitely not possible for (el) hablar da sed talking makes you thirsty.

Use of the Definite Article with the Infinitive in such sentences is more or less optional, although it is common in literary styles at the head of a sentence or clause:

  • (El) decir esto le iba a causar muchos problemas. Saying this was to cause him many problems.
  • Los médicos afirman que (el) comer mucho ajo es bueno para el corazón. Doctors claim that eating a lot of garlic is good for the heart.

To make a quick answer to a question: —¿Qué hacemos? —PensarWhat are we going to do?’ Think. ’

In familiar speech, as an alternative for the Imperative.

In combination with que, or with the prepositions por or a, as an alternative for a relative clause.

The construction with a is commonly seen, but foreigners should use it only in set phrases like the ones shown:

  • Tengo mucho que hacer. I’ve got a lot to do.
  • Queda mucho que/por hacer. There's a tot left to do.
  • total a pagar total to pay/payable
  • asuntos a tratar matters to be discussed

Para is used after verbs of wanting, needing:

  • Quieren algo para comer. They want something to eat.
  • Necesito dinero para vivir. I need money to live.

The gerund

The Gerund always ends in -ndo. It is formed:

  • In the case of all -ar verbs, by replacing the -ar by - ando: hablar - hablando talking, andar - andando walking.
  • In the case of most -er and -ir verbs, by replacing the Infinitive ending by -iendo: comer - comiendo, vivir - viviendo, ser -siendo, etc.
  • -iendo is written -yendo when it follows another vowel: destruir - destruyendo destroying, creer - creyendo believing, caer - cayendo falling, oir - oyendo hearing. The Gerund of ir is regularly formed: yendo going:
  • -iendo becomes -endo after ñ or ll: gruñlir - gruñendo growling, refiir - riflendo scolding, engullir - engullendo gobbling up, swallowing whole.

Poder, venir, morir and dormir, and all verbs conjugated like pedir, sentir and reir base their Gerund on the stem of the third-person Preterit:

Infinitivo 3rd-person Gerund Meaning
poder pudo pudiendo being able
venir vino viniendo coming
repetir repitió repitiendo repeating
pedir pidió pidiendo asking for
sentir sintió sintiendo feeling
corregir corrigló corrigiendo correcting
freír frió friendo frying
dormir durmió durmiendo sleeping
morir murió muriendo dying

The gerund of decir is not based on the preterite form (dijo): diciendo saying.

The Gerund is used:

To show that an action is simultaneous with another:

  • Entró riendo He came in laughing
  • Se lo diré, pero no estando aquí este señor I’ll tell you, but not while this gentleman is here

To show the method by which something is done:

  • Se hizo rico vendiendo vídeos ilegales. He got rich selling illegal videos.
  • Veráa el jardín asomándote al balcón. You’ll see the garden by looking out of the window.
  • Me molestaba cada cinco minutos diciéndome que no tenía dinero. He bothered me every five minutes saying that he didn’t have any money.

With estar to make the Continuous Form of verbs:

  • está trabajando he’s (in the middle of) working.

With verbs meaning see, imagine, paint, draw, photograph meet, find, catch, surprise, remember:

  • Los cogieron robando manzanas. They caught them stealing apples.
  • Le sacaron una foto cenando con el presidente. They took a photo of him/her having dinner with the President.
  • La vi jugando en el parque. I saw her playing in the park.

Other verbs found with this construction are recordar to remember, describir to describe, dibujar to sketch, pintar to paint, mostrar to show, representar to represent.

With the verb ver to see the Infinitive is used if the action is complete:

  • lo/le vi bajarse del autobús I saw him get out of the bus but la vi jugando en él jardín I saw her (while she was) playing in the garden.

The Infinitive is used after oír to hear, te oyeron entrar they heard you come in. The Infinitive is also always used with the verbs venir to come and ir to go: la veíamos venir we could see her coming, lo/le vi ir hacia la puerta I saw him go towards the door.

With ver and oír the idea of ongoing action can be stressed in colloquial language by using que + Imperfect Indicative: la vi que iba en bicicleta I saw her riding a bicycle.

With venir and ir to show that an event is drawn out over a period of time:

Iba apuntando todo lo que decían He was noting down everything they were saying

Los problemas vienen siendo cada vez más complicados The problems are getting more and more complicated

With llevar to carry to translate the idea of to do something for n days/months/years, etc.

  • Lleva varios días pintando la casa. He’s been painting his house for several days.

Occasionally as alternative for aunque although or a pesar de que despite

  • Un día se confesó que, amando inmensamente a su hija, le tenía envidia. One day she admitted to herself that, despite loving her daughter immensely, she envied her.

As an alternative to porque because or ya que since:

  • Calló, viendo que el otro no le hacía caso. He fell silent, seeing that the other was paying attention to him.

In combination with como, as an alternative to como si as if:

  • Se agachó como preparándose para saltar. He squatted down, as if preparing to jump.
  • Emitió una tosecilla, como llamándonos al orden. He made a slight cough, as if calling us to order.

The gerund as a participle:

English regularly uses the -ing form of verbs to form an adjective: an exhausting task, a surprising attitude, a freezing wind. The Spanish Gerund is not possible in these cases: an adjective or a participle in -nte must be used (if one exists: see below): una tarea agotadora, una actitud sorprendente, un viento helado. The only exceptions are the two invariable adjectives hirviendo and ardiendo - agua hirviendo boiling water, un árbol ardiendo a burning tree.

English also constantly uses the -ing form to replace a relative pronoun plus a finite verb: passengers waiting for the tram, a woman driving a car. In Spanish a Relative Pronoun and a Finite Verb must be used: los pasajeros que esperan él tren, una mujer que conduce/conducía un coche. The only exception that need concern beginners is captions to pictures: una foto de una mujer dando de comer a un niño a photo of a woman feeding a child.

In general, foreign students should respect the rule that the Spanish Gerund is basically a kind of adverb and must therefore modify a verb. If there is no verb, as in the phrase a plane carrying passengers there can be no Gerund: un avión que lleva/llevaba pasajeros - not un avión llevando pasajeros’.

The past participle

Forms

from -ar verbs by replacing the -ar by -ado

from -er and -ir verbs by replacing the ending by -ido

  • hablar to speak hablado spoken
  • comer to eat comido eaten
  • ser to be sido been
  • vivir to live vivido lived
  • ir to go ido gone

When the Infinitive ends in -ir, -aer or -eer the Past Participle ending is written with an accent: reír—reído to laugh, traer—traído to bring, creer - creído to believe. Verbs whose Infinitive ends in -uir do not have an accent: construir—construido to build.

The following forms are irregular:

Infinite English Past Participle English
abrir to open abierto opened
absolver to absolve absuelto absolved
cubrir to cóver cubierto covered
decir to say dicho said
descomponer to put out of order descompuesto disordered
describir to describe descrito described
descubrir to discover descubierto discovered
devolver to give back devuelto given back
encubrir to cover up encubierto concealed
envolver to wrap up envuelto wrapped up
escribir to write escrito written
freír to fry frito fried
hacer to make/do hecho made/done
imponer to impose impuesto imposed
inscribirse to sign on inscrito signed on
morir to die muerto dead/died
poner to put puesto put
posponer to postpone pospuesto postponed
prever to predict previsto foreseen
resolver to resolve resuelto resolved
revolver to turn over revuelto turned over
romper to break roto broken
suponer to suppose supuesto supposed
ver to see visto seen
volver to return vuelto returned

Another kind of irregularity involves a distinction between the verbal past participle and the past participle used as an adjective. The forms in the second Spanish examples below are used to form the Compound Tenses (e.g. ha absorbido it has absorbed, hablan soltado they had set free), while the words in the third examples form adjectives: estaba absorto en su trabajo he was engrossed/absorbed in his work, unos papeles sueltos some loose sheets of paper.

Infinitive Verbal Adjectival English
absorber absorbido absorto absorbed
bendecir bendecido bendito blessed
confesar confesado confeso confessed
confundir confundido confuso confused
despertar despertado despierto woken up
elegir elegido electo chosen/elect
imprimir imprimido impreso printed
maldecir maldecido maldito cursed
prender prendido preso taken prisoner
presumir presumido presunto presumed
proveer proveído provisto equipped with
soltar soltado suelto let out
suspender suspendido suspenso failed

Uses of the past participle

The uses of the Spanish Past Participle resemble that of the English past participle. The main uses are:

In combination with the appropriate form of haber, to form Compound Tenses (e.g. the Perfect, Pluperfect, etc.):

  • Los científicos han descubierto una nueva droga. Scientists have discovered a new drug.
  • No se habían dado cuenta. They hadn’t realized.

In these tenses the participle is invariable in form: it does not agree with either the subject or the object of the verb.

In combination with the verb ser, and also sometimes with the verb estar, to form the Passive Voice of verbs:

  • El nuevo proyecto será presentado por el ministro de Obras Públicas. The new project will be presented by the Minister for Public Works.

As In English, the passive participle frequently appears without the verb to be:

  • Han encontrado a las niñas perdidas. They’ve found the lost girls. (i.e. the girls that were lost)
  • Preguntados sobra el aumento a los mínimos para este año, los portavoces contestaron que... Asked about the increase in minimum salaries for this year, the spokespersons replied that...

As the examples show, the participle must agree in number and gender with the noun it refers to.

To form adverbial phrases which describe the manner or appearance of the subject of a verb. As the examples show, this construction is used with a much wider range of participles than in English:

  • Gritó alborozado. He shouted in glee/gleefully.
  • Me miraba fascinada. She looked at me in fascination.
  • Salió contrariado del cuarto. He came/went out of the room In an upset state.
  • Llegados a este punto, podríamos preguntamos si... Having got this far, we might ask ourselves whether...
  • un autor nacido en España y muerto en Francia. an author who was born in Spain and died in France.

To form absolute participle clauses, i.e. ones that do not depend on the finite verb in the sentence:

  • Cometido este acto de vandalismo, se guardó la navaja. Having committed this act of vandalism, he put away his knife.
  • Pero, una vez compradas las flores y la tarjeta, me di cuenta de que me había olvidado de su dirección. But, having bought the flowers and the card, I realized that I’d forgotten her address.

Adjectival participles

Many Spanish verbs have an adjectival participle formed by adding -ante to -ar verbs, and -iente (or, in some cases, -ente) to -er and -ir verbs:

Insert table here

Infinitive English Adjectival participle English
preocupar to worry preocupante worrying
cambiar to change cambiante changing/fickle
excitar to arouse excitante arousing
crecer to grow creciente growing
sorprender to surprise sorprendente surprising
conducir to lead/drive conducente a leading to
consistir en to consist of consisente en consisting of
existir to exist existente existing

Spanish Modal Verbs

These are poder to be able, deber must, querer to want, tener que to have to, haber que to be necessary, saber to know how to, soler to be accustomed to. They are followed by an Infinitive, although poder + que + Subjunctive is used to mean it is possible that and querer requires the Subjunctive when its subject is not the same as that of the following verb. Saber is also followed by que and an indicative tense when it means to know rather than to know how to.

Poder

This differs little in meaning and use from the English can, may:

  • No puedo ir hoy. I can’t go today.
  • Podría llover. It might rain.
  • Puede que la situación mejore. It may be that the situation will improve. (Lat. Am. also pueda que...)

The Preterit often means managed to (i.e. could and did) whereas the Imperfect means was able (but may not have):

  • No pudo abrir la puerta. He didn't manage to get the door open.
  • Como no podía hacerlo, pidió ayuda. Since he couldn’t do it, he asked for help.

The Preterit can also refer to something that could have happened but definitely did not:

  • Tuviste suerte. Te pudiste matar. You were lucky. You could have got killed.

Deber

This translates must. As in English, it may indicate obligation or likelihood: you must do it/you've got to do it, he must be fifty. The strict rule is that when it refers to likelihood it should be followed by de:

  • Debe de tener cincuenta años. He must be fifty. (guess)
  • Debían de pensar que no era verdad. They must have been thinking that it wasn’t true. (guess)
  • Debes hacerlo ahora. You’ve got to do it now. (obligation)
  • Deberías llamarlos ahora mismo. You ought to call them right now. (obligation)

The form deber de is never used for obligations, but the form without de is constantly used nowadays for both meanings, which can be confusing for learners. When it is used for suppositions, deber (de) does not appear in the Future or Conditional tense: deben (de) ser las cinco (I guess) it must be five o’clock, not deberán (de) ser... or deberían (de) ser...

The Imperfect of deber either implies was/were supposed to... or it may be a familiar alternative for the Conditional: ought to do it. Debías hacerlo tú. You were supposed to do it/you ought to do it (i.e. deberías hacerlo tú). The Preterit of deber may mean should have done it but didn’t, or must have done it.

  • Debí haberme ido, pero me quedé. I should have left, but I stayed.
  • Debió de pensar que estamos todos locos. He must have thought we’re all mad.

The idea of had to (i.e. was obliged to and did) is translated by the Preterit of tener que:

  • Tuve que ponerme un suéter porque tenía frío. I had to put on a sweater because I was cold.

Tener que

Tener que implies a strong obligation:

  • Tienes que decimos la verdad. You’ve got to tell us the truth.
  • Tuve que dárselo. I was obliged to give it to him. (and did)

Haber que

Haber que (Present Indicative hay que ) is an impersonal verb followed by the Infinitive and meaning it is necessary to:

  • Hay que añadir un poco de agua. It’s necessary to/We’ll have to add a bit of water.
  • Hubo que encerrar al perro. it was necessary to shut the dog in.

Haber de

Haber de is much used in Mexico for suppositions, where standard Spanish uses deber de, e.g. ha de tener más de cincuenta años for debe de tener más de cincuenta años or tendrá más de cincuenta años he must be more than fifty. In Spain haber de is a rather old-fashioned form that usually expresses a mild obligation: si viene has de decirle lo que ha pasado. if he comes you must tell him what has happened. Debes/tienes que decirle... are more usual.

Querer

This verb translates to want. It also means to love, but in the latter sense it can refer only to human beings and animals: quiero a mis padres, a mi perro I love my parents, my dog but adoro las novelas de amor I love novels about love.

The conditional form, querría or, more commonly, quisiera, is used to make polite requests:

  • Quisiera/querría expresar mi agradecimiento a los organizadores. I’d like to express my gratitude to the organizers.

The Imperfect means wanted to. The Preterit has two mutually exclusive meanings that can only be clarified by context It usually implies tried to... (i.e. wanted to but couldn’t):

  • Quiso acercarse al Rey, pero no pudo. He tried to get close to the King was, but he couldn’t manage it.

However, it may imply wanted to and did when some idea of getting one’s own way is involved: lo dije porque quise, nada más I said it because I felt like it, and that’s that. The negative of the Preterit means refused (i.e. didn’t want to and didn’t): no quiso decir su nombre he refused to give his name.

Saber

The basic meaning of saber is to know (a fact); it must be distinguished from conocer to know (a person or place). Combined with an Infinitive it means to know how to, as in

  • Casi me ahogué por no saber nadar. I nearly drowned because of not knowing how to swim.
  • Me despidieron porque no sabía escribir a máquina. They tired me because I couldn’t type.

Soler

This basically means to be accustomed to usually. It is not used in the future or conditional tenses:

  • Solía limpiar mi coche (Lat. Am. carro/auto) todos los días. I used to clean my car every day.
  • Suele hacer menos calor en septiembre. It’s usually less hot in September.

The Passive

The Passive construction makes the Direct Object of an Active sentence into the Subject of a Passive one. Active: I chose the red one. Passive: the red one was chosen by me.

The Spanish Passive is formed in one of two ways:

(a) In a way similar to English, by using the verb meaning to be (ser, or occasionally estar) + the Past Participle, which must agree in number and gender:

  • Mis dos novelas fueron publicadas el año pasado. My two novels were published last year.
  • El proyecto fue rechazado por el comité. The project was rejected by the committee.

(b) By using the Passive se construction:

  • Mis dos novelas se publicaron el año pasado My two novels were published last year

Construction (a) and construction (b) are usually interchangeable, but only if the preposition por does not appear. In other words, if se is used we cannot go on to say by whom or what the action was done. For this reason one should not say el proyecto se rechazó por el comité.

The following points about the Spanish Passive with ser should be noted:

  • It is only used in written Spanish (where it is common, especially in newspapers)

This is a bold generalization, but English-speaking learners of Spanish will do well to avoid the Passive with ser when speaking Spanish and to master first the use of the much more common Passive se. Usually a simple active construction produces the best and most idiomatic Spanish: passive sentences like estoy muy contentó porque fui besado por una actriz muy famosa I’m really happy because I was kissed by a famous actress sound natural to English-speakers but they are very clumsy in Spanish. The active construction is more normal:... porque me besó una actriz muy famosa... because a very famous actress kissed me.

Examples of the passive from written Spanish:

  • El derrumbamiento del edificio fue causado por un terremoto. The collapse of the building was caused by an earthquake.
  • Los hechos serán investigados por las autoridades. The facts will be investigated by the authorities.
  • Varias personas han sido expulsadas del partido. Several people have been expelled from the party.

It must never be used when the subject of the verb ser would be the Indirect Object.

English allows two passive versions of sentences like they gave fifty dollars to me: fifty dollars were given to me or I was given fifty dollars. The second of these two construction is never possible in Spanish and the best translation in both cases is me dieron cincuenta dólares they gave me fifty dollars. Fui dado cincuenta dólares is definitely not Spanish. Further examples:

  • Nunca me contaban la verdad. I was never told the truth/They never told me the truth.
  • Me preguntaron varias cosas. I was asked several things/They asked me several things.
  • Le enviaron una carta. He/She was sent a letter/They sent him/her a letter.
  • Fue enviada una carta. can only mean a letter was sent.
  • Never with verbs combined with a preposition. Compare this bed has been slept in and alguien ha dormido en esta cama (someone has slept in this bed), never esta coma ha sido dormido en which is emphatically not Spanish.

Usually only with the Preterit, Perfect and Future tenses of ser:

Sentences like fue interrogado por la policía he was interrogated by the police, ha sido interrogado... and será interrogado... sound more natural than es interrogado por la policía he is interrogated or era interrogado por la policía he was being interrogated... (although estaba siendo interrogado... is not unusual). Use of the Present or Imperfect of ser with the Passive is rather more common in Latin America than in Spain.

Use of estar to form the passive

A passive construction may be formed with estar.

Use of estar draws attention to the state something is in, whereas use of ser describes the event that caused the state. Compare:

  • La ciudad estaba inundada por las lluvias The city was covered in water as a result of the rains (describes the state the city was in)
  • La ciudad fue inundada por las lluvias The city was fíooded by the rain (describes an event)

Pronominal (Reflexive) Verbs

Pronominal verbs are verbs like llamarse to be called, defenderse to defend oneself/to get by, inhibirse to be inhibited, irse to go away. These verbs are often called ‘reflexive verbs’, but the name is inaccurate. ‘Reflexive’ refers to only one of the various meanings of the Pronominal forms of verbs.

Pronominal verbs have an object pronoun that is of the same person and number as the subject of the verb:

  • (Yo) me lavo I wash (myself)
  • (Tu) to vas You go away
  • (Él/ella/usted) se cayó He/she/you fell over
  • (Nosotros) nos queremos We love one another
  • (Vosotros) os arrepentisteis You repented
  • (Ellos/ellas/ustedes) se Imaginan They/you imagine

As the examples show, the third-person pronoun used for singular and plural is se. This pronoun may variously be translated himself/herself/itself/yourself/themselves/yourselves, but it also has several other uses.

Pronominal verbs have many uses in Spanish—far more than in French—and some of them are rather subtle. The picture is made more complicated by the fact that, the pronoun le becomes se before lo/la/los/Ias, as in se lo dije a mi madre I told it to my mother (instead of the impossible le lo dije a mi madre). This is an entirely different use of se not related to the issues discussed in this section.

The various uses of Pronominal verbs are best clarified by considering cases in which the subject of the verb is animate (human or some other animal) and cases in which the subject is inanimate.

Pronominal verbs with animate (human or animal) subjects

In this case the Pronominal form of verbs is used:

To show that the action is not done to someone or something else. Compare asustas you frighten/you ’re frightening (i.e. for someone else) and te asustas you get frightened (no one else involved). English often requires translation by get... + adjective or by become. Further examples:

  • Casó a su hija con un abogado. He married his daughter off to a lawyer.
  • Su hija se casó con un abogado. His daughter married/got married to a lawyer.
  • Convence cuando habla así. He’s convincing (to others) when he talks like that.
  • Se convence cuando habla así. He gets convinced when he talks like that.
  • Se divorciaron al cabo de tres años. They got divorced after three years.
  • Me matriculé para el curso de inglés. I registered for the course of English.
  • Me canso fácilmente. I get tired easily.
  • Se irrita por nade. He gets irritable over nothing.
  • No te enojes/enfades. Don’t get cross.

Simply to give the verb a different meaning altogether:

  • admirer to admire admirarse to be surprised
  • despedir to fire despedirse to say goodbye
  • dormir to sleep dormirse to go to sleep
  • guardar to guard guardarse de to refrain from

Some verbs are only found in the pronominal form. The following are common:

  • abstenerse to abstain
  • acatarrarse to get a cold
  • arrepentirse to repent
  • atreverse a to dare
  • enfermarse to get ill (but enfermar is used in Spain with the same meaning)
  • quejarse de to complain about
  • suicidarse to commit suicide

There are also certain commonly occurring verbs in which the pronominal form merely has a special nuance that needs separate explanation for each verb.

To show that an action is done to or for oneself: this is the ‘reflexive’ use of pronominal verbs. The action can be accidental or deliberate. The subject is human or animal for the obvious reason that cups, doors etc. don’t usually do things to themselves:

  • Me rasqué. I scratched myself.
  • Te peinaste. You did your hair. (literally you combed yourself)
  • Mario se ensució. Mario got himself dirty.
  • Ustedes se van a matar haciendo eso. You’re going to kill yourselves doing that.
  • Se quitó el sombrero. He took off his hat.
  • Se sacó el dinero del bolsillo. He took the money out of his (own) pocket.

When the verb is plural, to mean to do something to or for one another.

This is the ‘reciprocal’ use of the pronominal form, and again the subjects are usually humans or other animals since doors or bricks don’t usually do things to one another:

  • Se escriben todas las semanas. They write to one another every week.
  • Se daban golpes. They were hitting one another.
  • Nos respetamos el uno al otro. We respect one another.

The phrase el uno al otro or (when more than two subjects are involved) los unos a los otros one another may be added to clarify the meaning. La una a la otra and las unas a las otras are used only when only females are involved.

To give the sentence a passive meaning. This is rare with animate subjects because of the clash of meanings with the other uses of the Pronominal form listed above. However, it occurs when the noun does not refer to specific individuals, as in se ven muchos turistas en agosto a lot of tourists are seen in August. This construction is very common with inanimate subjects.

When the noun refers to specific individuals, a special construction exists which makes Passive se unambiguous with human subjects:

  • Se detuvo a un narcotraficante. A drug-pusher was arrested.
  • Se admiraba mucho a estos profesores. These teachers were much admired.

In this case the verb is always singular and the preposition a is put before the noun. This construction avoids the problem raised by estos profesores se admiraban mucho, which would mean these teachers admired themselves a lot or... admired one another a lot.

Students must not confuse this construction with Passive se used with nouns referring to inanimate things. It is possible to rewrite se admiraba mucho a estos profesores as se les admiraba mucho they were admired a lot. But this is not possible when the original sentence refers to an inanimate thing, as in se venden manzanas apples are sold, which can only be rewritten se venden they are sold, not se las vende.

With singular intransitive verbs (like to go, to arrive, to, be), as an equivalent of English impersonal sentences that have the subject one, people or you used impersonally:

  • En España se duerme por la tarde. In Spain people sleep in the afternoon.
  • Por esta carretera se llega al castillo medieval. Along this road one arrives at the medieval castle.
  • Se está mejor al sol. One’s better off in the sun.

This construction cannot be used with a verb that already has se attached for some other reason. In this case the pronoun uno one is required or, in less formal language, :

  • Si uno se levanta tarde, sepierdelo ritejor del día. If one gets up late one misses the best part of the day. (levantarse to get up is already a pronominal verb)
  • Uno se olvida de esas cosas/Te olvidas de esas cosas. One forgets such things/you forget such things. (olvidarse de to forget)

With singular transitive verbs which in English would have the pronoun people, one, you.

This construction is sometimes difficult to distinguish from the Passive use of se described later. If the sentence contains no noun or pronoun that could be understood as the subject, the impersonal meaning is intended. Thus, if we are talking about olive oil, the sentence en España se come mucho means a lot of it is eaten in Spain (passive: implied subject olive oil). But if the conversation is on general eating habits, the same sentence means people eat a lot in Spain (impersonal: the verb has no subject):

  • Se habla de ello, pero no lo creo. People talk about it, but I don’t believe it.
  • En este país se escribe y se lee poco. In this country people don’t write or read much.

With a few verbs, to give the meaning to get something done:

  • Me voy a hacer un traje. I’m going to get a suit made. (or I’m going to make myself a suit)
  • El rey se construyó un palacio de mármol. The king built (i.e. had himself built) a marble palace.
  • Me tuve que operar de apendicitis. I had to have an operation for appendicitis.
  • Me peino en Vidal Sassoon. I get my hair done at Vidal Sassoon’s.

This construction is not used in some parts of Latin America, where mandar plus the Infinitive is used to express the idea of ordering something to be done:

  • mandó construir un palacio he had a palace built (this construction is also possible in Spain).

With verbs meaning eat, drink or other types of consumption, know, see, leant and one or two others, to emphasize the quantity consumed, learned, seen, etc. This device is optional (but usual) and is only possible when a specific quantity is mentioned:

  • Me bebí tres vasos de ron. I drank three glasses of rum.
  • Te has comido una pizza entera. You’ve eaten a whole pizza.
  • Se leyó el libro entero. He read the whole book.
  • Se lo creyó todo. He believed every word of it.

Pronominal verbs with inanimate subjects (neither human nor animals)

In this case the verb can only be third-person (since stones, trees, etc. can’t speak for themselves). The Pronominal form of the verb shows that the verb has no outside subject (i.e. that the verb is Intransitive). Compare abrió la puerta he/she opened the door and se abrió la puerta the door opened.

  • Esta madera se está pudriendo. This wood is going rotten.
  • El agua se ha enfriado. The water’s got cold.
  • Se le hinchó la mano. His hand swelled up.

This construction does not apply to all verbs. Several non-pronominal verbs can also refer to more or less spontaneous actions (i.e. actions that have no external subject):

  • La situación ha mejorado. The situation has improved
  • El globo reventó. The balloon burst.
  • La hierba ha crecido. The grass has grown.
  • Las cantidades han aumentado. The quantities have increased.

To make the passive. This is much more common with inanimate than with human and other animal subjects:

  • Se rehogan la cebolla y el ajo en aceite caliente. The onion and garlic are sautéed/lightly fried in hot oil
  • Se compran libros de ocasión. Second-hand books bought.
  • Esas cosas no debieron decirse. Those things shouldn’t have been said.
  • Se acepta la propuesta de la oposición. The opposition’s proposal is accepted.

Three important points about this construction are:

(a) The verb should agree in number with the subject. Foreign students should respect this rule whatever they may hear or see: sentences like se compra libros de ocasión are usually considered incorrect.

(b) This construction should not be followed by por + the agent of the action. If the person or thing that performed the action must be mentioned, only the Passive with ser can be used: el programa fue diseñado por J. González the program (British programme) was designed by J. González is correct and el programa se diseñó por J. González is generally considered to be bad Spanish.

(c) The noun in this construction cannot be replaced by a pronoun. In other words one cannot change se solucionó el problema the problem was solved into ‘se lo solucionó’ for it was solved, which is se solucionó. Use of an object pronoun is only possible if the original sentence referred to a human being and included the preposition a. The following examples should make this clear:

  • Se admira mucho a Cervantes. Cervantes is admired a great deal.
  • Se le admira mucho. He is admired a lot.
  • Su novela se publicó el año pasado. His novel was published last year.
  • Se publicó el año pasado. It was published last year.
  • Se le puede ver. He/she can be seen.
  • Se puede ver (or) puede verse. It can be seen.

How The Verbs Ser And Estar Are Used In Spanish

Spanish has two words that both translate as to be: Ser and Estar. They can only rarely be used interchangeably.

How to use the verb estar

To indicate where an object or person is (but not where something is happening, in Which case use ser, as explained below):

  • Madrid está en España. Madrid’s in Spain.
  • Dile que no estoy. Tell him I’m not at home.
  • ¿Dónde está la piscina? Where’s the swimming pool?

With adjectives and participles to show the state or condition that something or someone is in, not an inherent characteristic. The condition or state is usually temporary—but not always, as the word muerto shows:

  • Estoy cansado/deprimido/contento. I’m ired/depressed/pleased
  • Está muerto/vivo. He’s dead/alive.
  • La ventana estaba rota. The window was broken.
  • Las manzanas están verdes. The apples are unripe. (las manzanas son verdes = apples are green)
  • Estoy con gripe. I’ve got the flu.
  • Estoy bien. I’m feeling fine.

Compare la nieve está negra the snow’s black (because of the soot, dirt) and la nieve es blanca snow is white (its natural state), or eres muy guapa you’re very attractive and estás muy guapa you’re looking very attractive.

To show that someone’s or something’s condition has altered (e.g. since you last saw it):

  • Manuel está calvo. Manuel has gone bald.
  • Me han dicho que estás casado. They tell me you’re married.
  • ¡Qué delgada está! Hasn’t she got thin!

Use of ser implies something more long-standing: es casado he’s a married man, es delgada she’s thin/a thin person.

To describe the taste or appearance of something:

  • Esta sopa está muy buena/rica. This soup tastes very good/appetizing.
  • Está muy vieja. She’s looking very old.

How To Use the verb Ser

To link two nouns or a pronoun and a noun:

  • La cebolla es una planta. The onion is a plant.
  • Mario es profesor. Mario is a teacher.
  • Yo soy psicólogo. I’m a psychologist.
  • Esto es un problema. This is a problem.

The pronoun may be implicit in the verb:

  • Era un hermoso día. It was a lovely day.
  • Son estudiantes. They’re students.
  • Son las ocho. It’s eight o’clock.

The verb estar + a Noun or Pronoun means to be at home, to be there:

  • Está Mario. Mario's there.
  • No está. He’s not at home.

Exceptions to this rule are so rare that beginners can ignore them, although the phrase está un día hermoso it’s a lovely day is commonly heard in Spain.

To indicate where or when an event is happening:

  • ¿Dónde es la fiesta/clase/conferencia? Where’s the party/class/lecture (being held)?
  • La Guerra Civil fue en 1936. The Civil War was in 1936.

But estar must be used for location of a thing: ¿Dónde está la habitación? Where’s the room?

With adjectives and participles, to show that a quality is an intrinsic part of something’s nature rather than its condition or state:

  • Soy americano. I’m American.
  • Eso es diferente. That’s different.
  • Son míos. They’re mine.
  • Son muy grandes. They’re very tall/big.
  • La Tierra es redonda. The earth is round.

It is true that in such cases ser usually refers to a permanent quality, compare soy rubio I’m blond and estoy irritado I’m irritated. But muerto dead takes estar and the following possibly temporary states take ser in standard Spanish:

  1. Soy feliz/desgraciado. I’m happy/unhappy.
  2. Soy rico/pobre. I’m rich/poor. (or estoy rico/pobre for a temporary condition)
  3. Soy consciente. I’m aware. (estoy consciente in Lat. America)

Note however the phrase estoy feliz y contento I’m happy and contented. Estar feliz/desgraciado is commonly heard in Latin America, but it is usually avoided in writing.

In the phrase ser de to be from, to be made from:

  • Soy de Madrid. I’m from Madrid.
  • Es de oro. It’s made of gold.

CHANGES OF MEANING WITH SER AND ESTAR

Some adjectives change meaning according to which verb is used:

Adjective Meaning with ser Meaning with estar
aburrido boring bored
bueno good tasty
cansado tiresome tired
consciente aware conscious (not knocked out)
despierto sharp-witted awake
interesado self-seeking interested
listo clever/smart ready
malo bad ill
orgulloso proud/haughty proud (of something)
rico rich delicious
verde green unripe
vivo alert alive

The Spanish "Hay": There is / There are

The Spanish for there is/are is hay. This is a special form of the verb haber, and the usual forms of this verb are used for the other tenses of hay. When used with this meaning, the verb is always third-person and always singular (although use of the plural for there were/will be, e.g. habían/habrán muchos for había/habrá muchos there were/will be a lot is extremely common in spoken Latin-American Spanish and also in Castilian as spoken by Catalans. It should be avoided in writing and it is not accepted in Spain). Examples:

  • Hay cinco árboles. There are five trees.
  • Había varias personas. There were several people.
  • Hubo una tremenda explosión. There was a tremendous explosion.

When haber refers back to some noun already mentioned in the sentence it normally requires an object pronoun:

  • Hay un error, o si no lo hay, entonces estas cifras son increíbles. There’s a mistake, or if there isn’t then these figures are incredible.

The basic meaning of haber is exist. If the meaning is is there (i.e. rather than somewhere else) the verb estar is used:

  • Está Antonio. Antonio is there/There’s Antonio.
  • Para eso está el diccionario. That’s what the dictionary is there for.

Compare

  • ¿Quién hay que sepa ruso? Who is there (i.e. who exists) who knows Russian?
Verb Quizzes

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