So, when you come to study Spanish here in Madrid, you’ll be able to say vivo en Madrid (I live in Madrid)! Well, you can if you know how to form the presente de indicativo (present tense) in Spanish. Read on to find out how to use this important basic structure and to see some examples of when things don’t quite follow the rules

Verb Types and Pronouns

As you may or may not know, in Spanish there are three endings of the infinitivo (infinitive). These are –ar, -er and –ir. For example, the verb hablar means to talk/speak, comer means to eat and vivir means to live. Why is this important? Well, the structure of all Spanish tenses revolves around the idea of changing the endings of the verbs and this is different depending on which type of verb it is. You’ll also need to know the pronombres personales (personal/subject pronouns) too. Here they are in Spanish and English.

Spanish English
Yo I
You (singular/informal)
Él/Ella/Usted He/She/You (singular/formal)
Nosotros We
Vosotros You (plural/informal)
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes They (male plural)/They (female plural)/You (plural/formal)

Presente de indicativo - -ar/-er/-ir

Now we have all that sorted, let’s look at the basic structure of the presente de indicativo (present simple) in Spanish. You simply take whichever verb you want, for example hablar, remove the ending so we are left with the stem which in this case would be habl- and then add on the correct person ending. Simple! Here’s a table to show you how it’s done.

Person -AR verbs
(Hablar > Habl)
-ER verbs
(Comer > Com)
-IR verbs
(Vivir > Viv)
Yo -o -o -o
-as -es -es
Él/Ella/Usted -a -e -e
Nosotros -amos -emos -imos
Vosotros -áis -éis -ís
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes -an -en -en

If we want to say He eats we can go to the Comer (to eat) column, look down at the él/ella/usted line and see that we need to add –e to the stem Com- which becomes come. There you go – you’ve just conjugado (conjugated) your first verb in Spanish! One thing we should say here is that in Spanish we often omit the personal pronouns as they are not really necessary unless we want to emphasise something. For instance, I live looks like it should be Yo vivo but really we would only say Vivo as the ending –o tells us who we are talking about. 

The table above applies for all regular –ar/-er/-ir verbs, so you can very easily make lots of phrases simply by using it and thinking about which person you want to talk about.

When the rules don’t apply

Like with any language, Spanish verbs don’t all follow the same rules, and many have either spelling changes or are stem-changing. What does that mean? Ok, so we said that the stem of hablar (to live) is habl-, so the verb comenzar (to start) should be comenz- for all forms of the present, right? Wrong! When we want to say I start we need to say Comienzo, not comenzo. This is an example of the sorts of changes we have to be careful with in the presente de indicativo (present simple) in Spanish. Let’s look at them in more detail.

Spelling Changes in the presente de indicativo

For some verbs (which you’ll just have to learn as you go along), in the Yo (I) form, the spelling changes so that we can preserve the right pronunciation. Here are the main groups of verbs which do this and an example for each one.

  • Verbs ending in –guir change to –go in the Yo form
    • Extinguir (to extinguish) > extingo (I extinguish)
  • Verbs ending in –ger or –gir, the g changes to j in the Yo form
    • Coger (to take) > Cojo (I take)
    • Dirigir (to direct) > Dirijo (I direct)

With this sort of verbs, all the other forms follow the normal spelling so it’s only for the Yo form we have to remember the exception.

Stem-changing Verbs

Although the terminology sounds a bit complicated, this really isn’t difficult to understand so don’t ever let big grammar words scare you! All this means is that we have to change the part of the verb we add the present endings to, and even then only in the yo (I), (you), él/ella/usted (he/she/you formal) and ellos/ellas/ustedes (they/you formal plural) forms. We never change the nosotros (we) or vosotros (you informal plural) forms.

The main changes we make are the following:

  • e in the last syllable of the stem becomes ie 
    • e.g. querer (to want) > quiero
  • e in the last syllable of the stem becomes i
    • e.g. pedir (to ask for/order) > pido
  • i in the last syllable of the stem becomes ie
    • e.g. adquirir (to acquire) > adquiero
  • o in the last syllable of the stem become ue
    • e.g. dormir (to sleep) > duermo
  • u in the last syllable of the stem becomes ue
    • e.g. jugar (to play) > juego

To make this all a bit clearer, here is the verb querer (to want) shown with all its changes. You can then apply the same idea to whichever stem-changing verb you need.

Person Spanish English
Yo Quiero I want
Quieres You want
Él/Ella/Usted Quiere He/She wants /You want (formal)
Nosotros Queremos We want
Vosotros Queréis You want (plural informal)
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes Quieren They want/You want (plural formal)

Irregular ‘Yo’ forms

As well as the spelling changes we’ve talked about, there are also some verbs which have an irregular ‘Yo’ form but the other forms are regular. Here’s a few of them to get you started.

Infinitive Spanish English
Caer (to fall) Caigo I fall
Conocer (to know) Conozco I know
Dar (to give) Doy I give
Hacer (to do/make) Hago I do/make
Saber (to know) I know
Ver (to see) Veo I see

Irregular verbs

Finally, we need to mention those verbs that seem to just do whatever they want and are almost totally irregular. These are often verbs we commonly use, so you’ll need to memorise them and accept that they are special and unique. A few you will need to know early on when learning Spanish are:

Person Ir (to go) Ser (to be) Tener (to have)
Yo (I) Voy Soy Tengo
(You informal) Vas Eres Tienes
Él/Ella/Usted (He/she/You plural) Va Es Tiene
Nosotros (We) Vamos Somos Tenemos
Vosotros (You plural informal) Vais Sois Tenéis
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes (They/You plural formal) Van Son Tienen

Wow, that’s a lot of information! You’ll need some time to take it all in, but that’s what learning a language is all about – practising and experimenting with the grammar and vocabulary until you get it right. Here at Hablamos your teachers can help you better understand all this and use it in an effective, communicative way. Why not come and try one of our courses and get speaking Spanish right away? Hablamos – full-on Spanish!