The very first tense you’ll come across in a Spanish class is the Spanish present tense.
It is used in similar ways to the English present tense — so that’s one plus. You’ll be able to start off nice and easy when learning Spanish.
The present tense isn’t too challenging to master. But you might need a little boost to fully understand it, and knowing all of its uses is also very important.
What you’re also going to need to understand is the importance of verb conjugations.
With this in mind, I’ve put this post together on the Spanish present tenses to help you on your way to Spanish fluency.
What do we call the present tense in Spanish?
The present simple, in Spanish, is known as the presente del indicativo (present indicative).
There is also another present tense known as the presente del subjuntivo (present subjunctive), which you will be introduced to at the B1 level.
We have covered each of these in this article.
What is the presente del indicativo used for?
The Spanish present simple (presente del indicativo) has various uses. We use this tense to describe regular actions that form part of our daily routines.
We also use it to describe events occurring at the present moment, to describe things that are true, events that are likely to happen in the foreseeable future and for clauses that contain the word si.
Check out the following examples of each of these:
Yo me levanto muchas veces por la noche.
De momento, estoy escribiendo este artículo.
Voy al medico el miércoles. A ver que me pasó.
Si llega tarde, no estaré feliz.
How to conjugate the Spanish present simple
When we conjugate the Spanish present simple (presente del indicativo), remember that there are three infinitive verb forms to consider.
Conjugation requires you to remove the endings and replace them with the correct suffix.
You’ll also need to remember the personal pronoun for the verb you would like to create. But, let’s start with the infinitive verb forms that need conjugating.
The three main verb forms are:
IR verbs (those that end with -ir)
AR verbs (those that end with -ar), and
ER verbs (those that end with -er)
This is important for one key reason. Knowing the infinitive form helps you to understand the patterns each verb follows when they are conjugated (particularly for regular verbs).
You will need to take the ending away and replace it with the corresponding suffix below.
Here is how you should conjugate -ir, -ar and -er verbs in the Spanish present simple. We have used an example verb for each of these endings in the table below.
These examples are vivir (to live), cantar (to sing) and beber (to drink).
When you looked at the table, did you notice the suffixes? These are crucial for verb conjugation.
The suffixes you will need to remember for -ir verbs in the Spanish present simple are:
For -ar verbs, you need to remember these suffixes:
And for -er verbs, keep these suffixes in mind:
Irregular Spanish present simple verbs
So far, we have covered regular Spanish present simple verbs.
These verbs retain their stem (the part of the verb that comes before the suffix and that doesn’t change when conjugating it). But there are some irregular Spanish present simple verbs to be aware of.
The stems of irregular Spanish present simple verbs do change, which is why they are more challenging than the regular Spanish verbs.
The common stem changes include the following.
Verbs that shift from featuring e to an ie
For verbs in this category, when they are conjugated, instead of featuring the letter e this is replaced with an ie. The example we’ve got for you is the verb fregar, which means ‘to wash up’.
Take a look at how it’s conjugated below:
Many verbs follow this irregular stem change, including the verbs cerrar (to close), tener (to have) and venir (to come).
The only two forms that keep hold of their e are the nosotros and vosotros forms.
Verbs that shift from featuring an o to a ue
In their conjugated form there are verbs that have a stem shift from featuring the letter o to featuring the letters ue.
Take the verb resolver for example. Here’s how it is conjugated in the present tense:
Note how the conjugated forms no longer contain an o — (that is featured in the infinitive form - resolver).
They now contain a ue instead. Only the nosotros and vosotros forms keep the letter o.
Verbs that originally contain an e and change to an i
Stay alert for verbs that switch from featuring an e in their infinitive form to an i in their conjugated forms. One example of this is the verb medir (‘to measure’).
Have a look at how it is conjugated just below:
Again, all of the present tense verb conjugations (except nosotros and vosotros) substitute that first e for an i.
This is what makes it an irregular verb.
Verbs that change from featuring a u to a ue
This is the last one to be aware of — verbs whose stems change from featuring the letter u to the letters ue. We’ve provided the example of jugar for this group, which means ‘to play’.
Take a look at its conjugated forms:
Now we’ve clarified the key details on the Spanish present indicative tense, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and turn our attention to the Spanish present subjunctive.
What is the Spanish present subjunctive used for?
We use the Spanish present subjunctive tense to express an idea using a particular mood.
It is used for hypothetical circumstances and to describe what you hope will happen, to describe a doubt that you might have or to give a command in the negative.
For each of these, we have included an example just below:
Ojalá este personaje fuera real.
Espero que tengas suerte con el exámen.
Dudo mucho que tengas veintiocho años.
¡No hagas esto! Está prohibido.
How to conjugate the Spanish present subjunctive
Conjugating the Spanish present subjunctive requires you to remember the conjugations for the Spanish present simple verbs. This is quite important.
Let’s take our earlier examples of the IR, AR and ER verbs from the Spanish present simple. We’re going to conjugate them in the Spanish present subjunctive.
Take a look and see if you can spot the difference:
Did you notice how they’re different to the Spanish present simple conjugations?
These verbs all have the same stem as the Spanish present simple verb conjugations. It is the suffixes that have changed. Both the IR and ER verbs now have an a in their suffixes and the AR verbs now have an e in their suffixes for the present subjunctive.
In other words, the suffixes have kind of been reversed in for the Spanish present subjunctive.
This is the case for all regular verbs in the subjunctive present tense.
The suffixes you’re going to want to remember for regular IR and ER verbs that take the Spanish subjunctive form are:
Whereas the suffixes you’ll need to remember for the regular AR verbs conjugated in the subjunctive form are:
Present subjunctive irregular tense explained
When it comes to the Spanish present subjunctive tense, if a verb is irregular in its present indicative form, it will be irregular in its subjunctive form.
For example, the verb ser (to be) is an irregular verb in the simple present tense.
It’s conjugated like this:
As you can see, this verb is irregular. This is carried forward to the present subjunctive tense.
Here’s how to conjugate the verb ser in the present subjunctive tense:
What are some examples of common irregular present subjunctive verbs?
Some of the most common irregular present subjunctive verbs include:
Haber (to have)
Dar (to give)
Ir (to go)
Saber (to know)
Here they are in their conjugated forms (for the present subjunctive):
Keep an eye out for irregular verbs.
You will need to get used to them and remember them by practicing and revising as much as possible.
Start using the present tenses in conversations to get them perfect
Your next step, especially if you are at a B1 level, is to try practicing with a native Spanish speaker. It’s the ultimate test to see whether you have truly understood verb conjugation.
If you’re still mixing up your verb forms, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board and really practice them more.
Verb exercises are a great way to increase your Spanish skills, so don’t give up!
The more you practice, the simpler it will be to get them perfect.
Got any tips for learning the Spanish present tenses?
Add them to the comments below!