As ever, before we launch ourselves further into a complex subject, let’s see how Wikipedia defines a verb: A verb is a word that conveys an action (bring, read, walk, run, learn), an occurrence (happen, become), or a state of being (be, exist, stand).
In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle "to", is the infinitive.
In many languages, verbs are inflected (modified in form) to encode tense, aspect, mood, and voice. A verb may also agree with the person, gender or number of some of its arguments, such as its subject, or object.
Verbs have tenses: present, to indicate that an action is being carried out; past, to indicate that an action has been done; future, to indicate that an action will be done.
Whilst being an excellent definition, it covers rather a lot of ground. We’re only going to deal with a few aspects of this today. Remember: A verb is a “doing” or “action” word.
The following sentences show some verb examples (underlined) in different forms:
|English ||Spanish |
|I speak Spanish ||Hablo español |
|David is here ||David está aquí |
|Give me a break ||Dame un respire |
|She arrived late ||Ella llegó tarde |
|I want to learn Spanish ||Quiero aprender español |
The infinitive forms of verbs are called so because: like infinity itself, they are not limited to nor bound by the concept of time.
In English, infinitives are preceded by the particle word ”to”.
For example: "to be", "to eat", "to arrive", "to speak" etc…
In Spanish, infinitives end in -ar, -er
|Spanish ||English |
|estar ||to be |
|hablar ||to speak |
|comer ||to eat |
|creer ||to believe |
|escribir ||to write |
|dormir ||to sleep |
Conjugated verbs are also known as the finite
form. They are finite because unlike the infinitive forms, they are anchored in time (the tense) and by agreement. That is to say: the form changes depending on the tense and the subject (person) we are describing.
The following table gives us some examples of the verb "to speak"
in various forms:
|English ||Spanish ||Form |
|I want to speak Spanish ||quiero hablar español ||infinitive |
|I spoke Spanish today ||hablé español hoy ||conjugated past tense referring to oneself |
|I speak some Spanish ||hablo algo de español ||conjugated present tense referring to oneself |
|I will speak Spanish soon ||hablaré español pronto ||conjugated future tense referring to oneself |
In Spanish, there are a huge number of conjugations per verb. This is very different to English, where typically there are only a few.
Because of the vast number of conjugations found within the Spanish language, traditionally these are learnt in patterns (paradigms).
We tend to learn Spanish verb paradigms categorised into tenses (periods in time and mood). Each tense will contain six different conjugations that must agree with the subject. Let’s see an example of this, and look at hablar (to speak)
in the present tense:
| ||Singular ||Plural |
|1st Person (I or us) ||hablo ||hablamos |
|2nd Person (you or you all) ||hablas ||habláis |
|3rd Person (he/she/it or they) ||habla ||hablan |
Here are the same six conjugations in a very basic sentence construction, so that we can understand their meaning based on this pattern:
|Spanish ||Meaning |
|hablo español ||I speak Spanish |
|hablas español ||You speak Spanish |
|habla español ||He/she/it speaks Spanish |
|hablamos español ||We speak Spanish |
|habláis español ||You all speak Spanish |
|hablan español ||They speak Spanish |
Notice that the English verb “to speak” in this tense, only conjugates into two different forms: “speak” and “speaks”; whereas in the Spanish, all six conjugations are completely different to each other.
Also notice that in the Spanish, we don’t need any subject pronouns (I, you, she, we etc...) This is because in Spanish, the six conjugations within the paradigm will tend to be unique, therefore making the subject “built-in” to the conjugation.
For every tense within Spanish we must learn six new conjugations per verb, following this paradigm of: I, you, (he/she/it), us, (you all) and they.
If this is already starting to feel complicated, don’t worry, because it is.
The Spanish language has a lot more verb tenses than English. We will not make an attempt to learn them all today, but simply make ourselves aware they exist. Thus, we will leave verb conjugation and tenses here for the time being, as this is a vast topic, and something we will need to cover in more detail later on. Participles
Beyond learning six conjugations per verb tense. There are two other special verb forms we will introduce today. These are the past participle
and present participle
(also know as the gerund
Participles do not follow the same paradigm of six forms per tense. In fact there is only one form of each per verb.
Let’s see some examples of the past participle
and the gerund
, so we can start to understand how they are formed.
|Verb ||Past participle ||Gerund |
|hablar (to speak) ||hablado (spoken) ||hablando (speaking) |
|cantar (to sing) ||cantado (sung) ||cantando (singing) |
|dar (to give) ||dado (given) ||dando (giving) |
|tener (to have) ||tenido (had) ||teniendo (having) |
|correr (to run) ||corrido (run) ||corriendo (running) |
|aprender (to learn) ||aprendido (learned) ||aprendiendo (learning) |
|decidir (to decide) ||decidido (decided) ||decidiendo (deciding) |
|subir (to go up) ||subido (gone up) ||subiendo (going up) |
|vivir (to live) ||vivido (lived) ||viviendo (living) |
We have already seen that we can categorise our infinitives into three groups. Verbs ending in -ar, -er
If we remove these endings from the infinitive, we are left with what we call the stem. If an infinitive ends in -ar, then we can form a past participle by appending -ado to the stem.
Equally we can form the gerund of an -ar verb by appending -ando to its stem. If an infinitive ends in -er or -ir, a past participle is formed by appending -ido to the stem.
A gerund is form by appending -iendo to an -er or -ir verb stem.
These are some simple but very useful rules that will give us a great chance of working out the past participle and gerund from the infinitive. Any verb that follows these rules is considered to have "regular" participles.
Of course, like most things, there are always expections. Sadly, some verbs break these rules and thus have "irregular" participles. They might have changes in spelling to the stem, or end differently. These must be learned seperately as new vocabulary. We will look at these another time. Conclusion | En conclusión
Verbs are by far the largest grammatical concept to cover within the Spanish language. Today, we’ve only just scratched the surface. We are yet to talk about, auxiliary verbs, pronouns, several tenses that simply do not exist in English and so much more!
Do not worry if already it feels somewhat overwhelming. We are not attempting to learn everything today, but just to make ourselves aware of some basic concepts and to prepare ourselves for a lot more vocabulary to come.
It is true that Spanish verbs are extremely complicated in comparison to English. The sheer number of tenses that exist in the Spanish language, if nothing else, can make learning and remembering verbs extremely challenging.
But as we will see next time, there are patterns within the paradigms, that can be learnt. These will become more obvious over time, as we introduce more tenses and start to spot these patterns forming between the different verbs.