How to use the Spanish present tense with '-ar', '-er' and '-ir' verbs

The present tense and subject pronouns

In Spanish, the present tense is used to give facts, to talk about what we do on a regular basis, and to say what we are doing right now.

Knowing subject pronouns is very handy when you use verbs in Spanish. A subject pronoun is a word which can be used instead of a person, a place or a thing.

SpanishEnglish
yoI
you (singular)
él/ellahe/she/it

You could also use someone’s name or a noun instead of a subject pronoun.

For example:

  • Amir come fruta - Amir eats fruit.

  • Mi hermano vive en Bolton - My brother lives in Bolton.

When you are learning about verbs you will come across the term to conjugate.

Conjugating a verb means changing the infinitive ending to match the subject pronoun (yo, , él, ella).

An infinitive is the basic form of a verb before any changes for tense or people are made.

In Spanish there is a unique verb ending for each subject pronoun, therefore the verb ending itself tells you who is doing the action. For this reason, you don’t always need to use subject pronouns in Spanish, unlike in English.

How to use '-ar' regular verbs in the present tense

To conjugate regular verbs that end in -ar, you need to remove the infinitive -ar ending from the infinitive and add the unique ending that goes with each subject pronoun to the stem.

Remember that an infinitive is the basic form of a verb before any changes for tense or people are made.

The verb left after removing the infinitive ending is called the stem.

This is how to conjugate the verb escuchar (to listen) in Spanish:

Subject PronounStemEndingExample
yoescuch-oyo escucho
escuch-astú escuchas
él/ellaescuch-aél/ella escucha

Now look at this example:

  • Yo escucho música pop pero él escucha música soul - I listen to pop music but he listens to soul music.

Other common regular -ar verbs include:

  • hablar (to speak) - hablo español - I speak Spanish.
  • cocinar (to cook) - ¿Cocinas para tu familia? - Do you cook for your family?
  • odiar (to hate) - María odia las verduras - María hates vegetables.

Remember, because there is a unique verb ending for each subject pronoun and therefore the verb ending itself tells you who is doing the action, subject pronouns are not always needed in Spanish.

How to use '-er' regular verbs in the present tense

To conjugate regular -er verbs, you need to remove the -er ending from the infinitive, and add the unique ending that goes with each subject pronoun to the stem. Be careful as these are different to -ar verb endings.

This is how we conjugate the verb comer (to eat) in Spanish:

Subject PronounStemEndingExample
yocom-oyo como
com-estú comes
él/ellacom-eél/ella come

For example:

  • Ella come cereales y tú comes tostadas - She eats cereal and you eat toast.

Other common regular -er verbs include:

  • beber (to drink) - bebes limonada - you drink lemonade.

  • leer (to read) - leo un libro - I read a book.

  • ver (to see/watch) - veo la televisión - I watch television.

How to use '-ir' regular verbs in the present tense

To conjugate regular '-ir' verbs, you need to remove the '-ir' ending from the infinitive, and add the unique ending that goes with each subject pronoun to the stem. These are the same as '-er' verb endings.

This is how to conjugate the verb vivir (to live) in Spanish:

Subject PronounStemEndingExample
yoviv-oyo vivo
viv-estú vives
él/ellaviv-eél/ella vive

For example:

  • Yo vivo en Mánchester pero tú vives en Stoke - I live in Manchester but you live in Stoke.

Other common regular -ir verbs include:

  • escribir (to write) - escribes un e-mail - you write an email.

  • recibir (to receive) - recibo un mensaje - I receive a message.

Irregular verbs

There are also a lot of verbs which are irregular. This means that they do not follow the expected pattern, like regular -ar, -er and -ir verbs. Each one has its own conjugation!

Some common irregular verbs include:

hacer – to do/to make

SpanishEnglish
yo hagoI do or I make
tú hacesyou do or you make
él/ella hacehe/she/it does or he/she/it makes

For example:

  • Yo hago la cama y tú haces los deberes - I make the bed and you do your homework.

ir - to go

SpanishEnglish
yo voyI go
tú vasyou go
él/ella vahe/she/it goes

For example:

  • Yo voy al gimnasio pero ella va al supermercado - I go to the gym but she goes to the supermarket.

ver - to see/to watch

SpanishEnglish
yo veoI see or I watch
tú vesyou see or you watch
él/ella vehe/she sees or he/she watches

For example:

  • Manolo ve la película y yo veo un partido de fútbol - Manolo sees a film and I watch a football match.

Stem-changing verbs

Some verbs are regular (so take the appropriate -ar, -er or -ir verb endings), but they either get an extra vowel or there is a vowel change in the stem when you conjugate them.

These verbs are called stem-changing verbs.

For example:

preferir - to prefer

SpanishEnglish
yo prefieroI prefer
tú prefieresyou prefer
él/ella prefierehe/she prefers

For example:

  • Yo prefiero leer un libro, pero tú prefieres salir con los amigos - I prefer to read a book but you prefer to go out with friends.

jugar - to play

SpanishEnglish
yo juegoI play
tú juegasyou play
él/ella juegahe/she plays

For example:

  • Selina juega al hockey y yo juego al fútbol - Selina plays hockey and I play football.

Reflexive verbs

Reflexive verbs are formed in the same way as -ar, -er and -ir verbs but include a reflexive pronoun. They are used to describe actions that we do to ourselves.

Examples of reflexive verbs include lavarse (to wash yourself), llamarse (to be called) and levantarse (to get up).

Note that the reflexive pronoun goes before the verb.

Examples of reflexive verbs include:

lavarse - to wash yourself

SpanishEnglish
yo me lavoI wash myself
tú te lavasyou wash yourself
él/ella se lavahe/she washes himself/herself
  • Rodrigo se lava todas las mañanas - Rodrigo washes himself every morning.

llamarse - to be called

SpanishEnglish
yo me llamoI am called
tú te llamasyou are called
él/ella se llamahe/she is called
  • Yo me llamo Luisa y tú te llamas Paco - I am called Luisa and you are called Paco.

levantarse - to get up

SpanishEnglish
yo me levantoI get up
tú te levantasyou get up
él/ella se levantahe/she gets up
  • Yo me levanto a las ocho y Juan se levanta a las ocho y media - I get up at 8 o’clock and Juan gets up at half past eight.

Have a go at this activity and see how much you know about using the present tense in Spanish.

Quiz

Find out how much you know about using the present tense in Spanish with this short quiz!

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