Introduction to Verbs


Verbs from the Spanish in Texas Corpus

verb may be defined as the action word of the sentence. To determine whether a word is a verb or not, consider its role in the sentence. How is the word access used in the following sentences?

Never give strangers access to your bank account.

If you can’t access the web pages during peak hours, try again.

In the first sentence, access is a thing (a noun) that you can give to somebody. In the second sentence, access is something you do (a verb) with your computer. Whether a word is considered a noun or a verb depends on how it is used in the sentence.

Infinitives and Conjugations

When you study verbs, you will need to know the difference between the infinitive form of the verb and the finite forms, or conjugated forms. In English, infinitives are verbs preceded by the word to. In Spanish, infinitives end in -ar, -er, or -ir.

to eat, to drink, to sleep

comer, tomar, dormir

These verbs are called infinitives because, like the concept of infinity, they are not bound by time. From the infinitive, we derive the conjugated forms of the verb, also known as the finite forms of the verb. They are called finite because they refer to events anchored in time, that is, to events that have a particular tense: past, present, future. Note the conjugated forms of the infinitive to study.

studied Spanish in high school. past tense conjugation
am studying Spanish in college this semester. present tense conjugation
will study Spanish next year overseas. future tense conjugation

Verb conjugations are traditionally presented in textbooks according to paradigms, a grammatical term for pattern. A paradigm always includes the infinitive followed by the conjugations according to person which is divided into first, second and third, as well as number, which is the distinction between singular and plural. Here is the paradigm for the present tense of the Spanish verb hablar, to speak.

singular plural
1st person hablo hablamos
2nd person hablas  
3rd person habla hablan

Spanish verbs fall into three classes based on the last two letters of the verb. Each class has a particular pattern of conjugation.


A participle is a special verb form that is derived from the infinitive, but is not conjugated. In other words, while conjugations come in paradigms of different forms according to different persons, participles have only one form. There are two types of participles: present participle (also called gerunds) and past participles.

Present Participles

Present participles are formed by adding ando to the stem of ar verbs and iendo to the stem of er and ir verbs.

Present participles are most commonly used with the verb estar to form the present progressive.

Si estoy hablando con mi familia, entonces yo soy la gringa, la americana. Pero si estoy hablando con gente… con americanos, siempre sale a relucir que soy mexicana.
If I am talking to my family, then I am the gringa, the American. But if I am talking to people… to Americans, the fact that I am Mexican always stands out.

Past Participles

The past participle is formed by adding ado to the stem of ar verbs and ido to the stem of er and ir verbs.

The past participle in Spanish has two main functions:

1) To form compound tenses, such as present perfect and pluperfect. When forming a compound tense, the participle is combined with the verb haber 

El programa de arquitectura había cerrado.
The architecture program had closed.

2) As an adjective.  When used as an adjective, the participle agrees in number and gender with the noun it qualifies. Note in the example below cerrados is plural and masculine to agree with the noun negocios.

Muchos negocios ya están cerrados.
Many shops are already closed.

There are several irregular past participles, which are listed in the table below.

Infinitive Translation Past Participle Infinitive Translation Past Participle
abrir open abierto escribir break escrito
morir die muerto resolver resolve resuelto
absolver absolve absuelto freír fry frito
poner put puesto satisfacer satisfy satisfecho
cubrir cover cubierto hacer do hecho
prender fasten or attach preso ver see visto
decir say dicho imprimir print impreso
romper break roto volver return vuelto

Common Auxiliaries and Modals

Auxiliaries, often called helping verbs, are verbs that combine with the main verb to form a verb phrase. There are two groups of auxiliary verbs: common auxiliaries and modals. The most common auxiliary verb in Spanish, haber to have is used to form many tenses. A verb tense that is composed of a main verb and its auxiliary is called a compound tense.

Mi mamá siempre ha trabajado con compañías que hacen libros.
My mom has always worked with companies that make books.

A tense that has only a main verb and no auxiliary is called a simple tense.

La gente trabaja mucho por muy poco dinero.
People work a lot for very little money.

Modals are special auxiliary verbs that express the attitude of the speaker. In short, modal verbs are moody verbs. For example, modal verbs indicate subtle shades of meaning concerning such things as the likelihood of an event or the moral obligation of an event. The most frequent modal verbs are : deber should, poder could, tener que to have to, soler use to

La gente debe entender, ver el mundo de otra manera.
People have to understand, see the world in a different way.
Tú no puedes salir más de donde vas, y ya no puedes estudiar.
You cannot get more than what you have and you cannot study anymore.
Suele pasar que dentro de dos a cuatro generaciones, la lengua, el idioma español se pierde en la familia.
Usually within two or four generations the language, Spanish language is lost in the family.

Transitive vs. Intransitive Verbs


Transitive verbs require a direct object. A direct object is usually defined as the person or thing which directly receives the action of the verb.

Subject: ellos
Verb: escogieron
Direct Object: me

Me escogieron como la mejor jugadora de la escuela.
They chose me as the best player in the school.

Subject: nosotros
Verb: veíamos
Direct Object: los chavos grandes

Veíamos a los chavos grandes.
We saw older guys.

Subject: yo
Verb: tengo
Direct Object: muchas memorias buenas de ellas

Tengo muchas memorias buenas de ellas.
I have many good memories of them.


Intransitive verbs do not have an object.

Subject: El muchachito
Verb: se murió

El muchachito se murió.
The little boy died.

Subject: yo
Verb: dormía

Hasta como a los dieciséis años todavía dormía en la misma cama con dos de mis hermanos.
Until like when I was seventeen I still slept in the same bed with two of my siblings.

Spanish vs. English Verbs

There is one important difference between Spanish and English verbs that often causes trouble for beginning language learners. There is a high frequency of English verbs which combine with a particle (typically a preposition) to express idiomatic meanings. English speakers can completely change the meaning of the verb by changing the particle. Consider the extremely versatile English verb to get.

GET + particle meaning Spanish equivalent
to get about to move around moverse
to get better to recover mejorarse
to get out to leave irse
to get up to get out of bed levantarse

In order to convey the differences in meaning of the get + particle constructions, note how Spanish makes use of completely different verbs. As a consequence, when you translate such verbs from English into Spanish, you must never translate word-for-word (i.e. translating the verb and particle separately). Since the verb and particle go together in English, they must be translated as a unit in Spanish.