Present Tense Verbs in Spanish Part 1: The Simple Present
When you just start to learn a foreign language, the grammar is completely overwhelming. You probably don’t think about which verbs you use and how to conjugate them in everyday speech, right? Now, with a new language (especially one like Spanish), it probably seems that grammar is all you think about! To calm the chaos, a good place to start is with present tense conjugation, since this verb tense gets you through basic conversations, directions, and questions.
The Simple Present Tense
What’s in a Name?
While the term “simple present” seems to imply that this tense is uncomplicated, there are a few things that may come as a surprise to you. First, let’s look at the name. In Spanish, the simple present is called el presente del indicativo. While you may want to refer to it as el presente simple, there are actually two different presente simple tenses in Spanish.
Yes, you read that correctly!
Spanish tenses are divided into three different moods:
Interestingly, both the indicative and subjunctive moods have a simple present tense. For now, that’s all you need to know; stay tuned for another blog post that explores the differences between the moods more extensively.
So, while “simple present tense” refers to one specific thing in English, it includes two separate tenses in Spanish. Therefore, when talking with your HSA Spanish teacher, make sure to use el presente del indicativo to ask questions about the simple present. From now on, we will use the term “simple present indicative” to refer to this tense just to get you in the practice of differentiating between the moods and to avoid any confusion.
Uses of the Presente del Indicativo
To understand the uses of the simple present indicative, we are going to first look at some examples of the simple present in English and then compare them to the Spanish form.
- We go to Mexico every summer.
- When it rains, it pours.
- We start school on January 6th.
From these sentences, you can see that we use the simple present in English for
- habitual activities
- general truths
- set future events
Now, for the simple present indicative in Spanish, we use it for these three uses and more! (If you want to skip to the conjugations, scroll down below the uses!)
How Spanish Uses the Simple Present Indicative
1. Habitual Activities
Just like in English, we use the simple present indicative to talk about habitual activities in Spanish.
Vamos a México cada verano.
We go to Mexico every summer.
Me cepillo cada mañana.
I brush my teeth every morning.
Siempre leo un capítulo de mi libro antes de dormir.
I always read a chapter from my book before sleeping.
2. General Truths
Likewise, we use simple present in both languages to talk about general truths (including the zero conditional for all you English grammar aficionados).
Cuando llueve, llueve a cántaros.
When it rains, it pours.
El sol sale en el este y se pone en el oeste.
The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
El agua se congela a los cero grados Celsius.
Water freezes at zero degrees Celsius.
3. Set Future Events
While it may seem backward to use the simple present tense to talk about events in the future, we actually use it quite often in English and Spanish. (If you would like more explanation about this particular use, check out Part Three of our Future Tenses in Spanish blog post.)
Empezamos la escuela el 6 de enero.
We start school on January 6th.
Su boda es el 24 de septiembre.
Their wedding is on September 24th.
El avión aterriza a las 9:04 de la mañana el martes.
The plane lands at 9:04 am on Tuesday.
4. Current Actions
Now, this is where the simple present tense starts to differ from English. When you talk about actions happening right now in English, you use the present continuous:
I am doing – yo estoy haciendo
However, in Spanish, you can use either the present continuous or the simple present indicative.
For example, a common question in English is “What are you doing?” which is in the present continuous form. Using the simple present “What do you do?” has a completely different meaning. Meanwhile, in Spanish, both types of questions are appropriate: ¿Qué estás haciendo? and ¿Qué haces? can be used interchangeably.
You can often hear native speakers using the simple present indicative to talk about the activities they are currently doing. Here are some examples:
Voy a la tienda para comprar un poco de azúcar.
I’m going to the store to buy a little bit of sugar.
Ella hace la limpieza en la sala.
She is cleaning the living room.
Caminamos en el parque.
We are walking in the park.
5. Events in the Near Future
Just like how you can use the simple present indicative for current actions, you can also apply it to events happening soon. These activities do not have to be set in stone but are considered to still be within the realm of the “present,” hence why you use the simple present indicative.
Mañana viajamos a la playa.
We’re going to the beach tomorrow.
Terminamos en más o menos una hora.
We’ll finish in about an hour.
Ahorita regresa ella.
She’ll be right back.
6. “If” Clauses
In English grammar, we call this type of sentence the 1st Conditional. However, in Spanish, we don’t use that title because the tenses are much simpler. Remember, even when you talk about events in the near future in Spanish, you use the present tense. The “present” in Spanish encompasses much more than it does in English. With that in mind, when you talk about hypothetical situations in the present, you use only the simple present indicative in Spanish. There is no need to involve the future tense like in English.
Si llueve, se arruina la fiesta.
If it rains, the party will be ruined.
Si llegamos tarde, no nos dejan entrar.
If we arrive late, they won’t let us in.
Si pierdo este examen, no gano la clase.
If I fail this test, I won’t pass the class
7. Passing of Time
There are so many similarities in English and Spanish grammar that Spanish learners sometimes assume every aspect of grammar is the same in both languages. While many grammatical structures are the same, the uses often vary in subtle ways. For example, when you talk about an event that has continued for an extended period of time, you use the present perfect (we have studied – hemos estudiado) in English. This tense is acceptable in Spanish, but there is another way to express the same idea using hace (ago) and the simple present indicative.
Hace un mes que trabajamos en este proyecto.
We’ve been working on this project for a month.
Hace un año que no nos vemos.
We haven’t seen each other for a year.
Hace tres horas que te esperamos aquí.
We’ve been waiting for you here for three hours.
8. Ordering Food and Drink
Similar to the previous example, using the simple present indicative for ordering food is not the only acceptable verb tense. There are multiple ways of ordering food in Spanish. However, if you’re anything like me, you probably wouldn’t think of using the simple present indicative in this scenario. It is very common, though, which is why it appears on this list. Check out some examples:
Me trae un vaso de agua, por favor.
Can you bring me a glass of water, please?
Quiero dos pupusas y una limonada, por favor.
I would like two pupusas and lemonade, please.
Me trae más picante, por favor.
Could you bring me more hot sauce, please?
Note that to maintain the formality of the situation and show respect to the waiter, you use the usted form in each of these sentences.
Regular Verbs in the Simple Present Indicative
Now that you are familiar with the uses of the simple present indicative in Spanish, it’s time to learn about the conjugations. The Spanish conjugation chart below is divided into three sections: -AR, -ER, and -IR verbs. These titles refer to the three different endings for Spanish verbs in their infinitive (non-conjugated) form. The far left column contains the personal pronouns in Spanish. If you don’t quite remember what they mean, check out our pronoun blog post!
The following chart shows the endings for regular Spanish verbs in the simple present indicative. “Regular” means that the majority (not all!) of verbs in Spanish use the same endings listed below.
Conjugations of Regular Verbs in the Simple Present Indicative
|-AR Verbs||-ER Verbs||-IR Verbs|
|Hablar (to talk)||Comer (to eat)||Vivir (to live)|
|Él / Ella||habla||come||vive|
|Ellos / Ellas||hablan||comen||viven|
Do you see any patterns in the chart? There are a couple that can help you memorize the conjugations!
- For all three types of verbs, the yo ending is the same: -o.
- The conjugations for tú always end in -s.
- The endings for usted, él, and ella are always a single vowel.
- The conjugations for nosotros always end in -mos.
- The conjugations for ustedes, ellos, and ellas always end in -n.
- The endings for -AR verbs all start with the vowel a, except for the yo form.
- The endings for -ER verbs all start with the vowel e, except for the yo form.
- The conjugations for -ER and -IR verbs are the same, except for the nosotros forms in which the e changes to i for -IR verbs.
Irregular Verbs in the Simple Present Indicative
Here comes the most difficult part of any Spanish conjugation: the irregular verbs. Before you start panicking, there are more patterns that can help you memorize all the irregular verbs.
These irregular verbs are called “stem-changing” because the base, or stem, of the verb changes slightly in the simple present indicative. Think of the stem as the part of the verb that remains when you take off the infinitive endings -AR, -ER, and -IR. For example, the stem of hablar is habl-. There are many verbs that alter their stem in the same way, so we have separated them into groups to represent those similar changes.
Stem Change: E to I
|Decir (to say)||Pedir (to ask for)||Servir (to serve)|
|Él / Ella||dice||pide||sirve|
|Ellos / Ellas||dicen||piden||sirven|
*Note that decir has an additional change in the yo form. The c changes to g.
Stem Change: E to EI
|Querer (to want)||Tener (to have)||Pensar (to think)|
|Él / Ella||quiere||tiene||piensa|
|Ellos / Ellas||quieren||tienen||piensan|
*Note that tener, like decir, does not exactly follow the change in the yo form. Here, there is no stem change, and a g is added.
Stem Change: I to IE
|Adquirir (to acquire)||Inquirir (to inquire into)|
|Él / Ella||adquiere||inquiere|
|Ellos / Ellas||adquieren||inquieren|
Stem Change: O to UE
|Soñar (to dream)||Mover (to move)||Recordar (to remember)|
|Él / Ella||sueña||mueve||recuerda|
|Ellos / Ellas||sueñan||mueven||recuerdan|
Stem Change: U to UE
|Jugar (to play)|
|Él / Ella||juega|
|Ellos / Ellas||juegan|
This list of stem-changing Spanish verbs represents but a few of the verbs that undergo such changes in the simple present indicative. There are numerous other verbs that change in the same way; the above verbs are some of the most common ones to get you started.
Stem-Changing… or Not?
Did you notice that one form never changed in any of the verbs? Exactly! The nosotros form does not participate in any stem change.
Pro Tip: any verb that ends with one of these stem-changing verbs also undergoes the same changes. For example, contener (contain) ends in tener, which is a stem-changing verb. Therefore, contenter is conjugated in the same way as tener, just with the prefix con- before each form.
Keep in mind that these stem changes are only for the simple present indicative. Many of the verbs on these lists are regular in other forms, and others are irregular but change in different ways.
Irregular 1st Person Singular (Yo)
We’ve already seen two verbs that have a unique yo form: tener and decir. There are other stem-changing verbs that do not follow the rule for yo.
Venir (E to IE) – Yo vengo. Tú vienes.
I come. You come.
Seguir (E to I) – Yo sigo. Tú sigues.
I follow. You follow.
Regular Verbs With An Irregular Yo Form
These next verbs are all regular except for the yo form. Many of the spelling changes occur to maintain the correct pronunciation of the verb.
Endings -ger, -guir, and -gir
As a rule, verbs that end in -ger, -guir, and -gir change only in the yo form because an o following a g changes the sound of the g. You can learn more about vowels and hard/soft letters in our pronunciation blog post.
|Escoger (to choose)||Distinguir (to distinguish)||Dirigir (to lead, manage)|
|Él / Ella||escoge||distingue||dirige|
|Ellos / Ellas||escogen||distinguen||dirigen|
The chart shows verbs that end in -ger and -gir replace the g with j before adding the appropriate ending for the yo form. Any verb that ends in -guir removes u along with -ir before adding the yo ending. In all the other forms, the verbs are conjugated normally.
Endings -cer and -cir
Likewise, verbs that end in -cer and -cir add a z before the c in the yo form:
|Conocer (to know)||Producir (to produce)||Traducir (to translate)|
Add -g- or -ig-
|Poner (to put)||Hacer (to do)||Salir (to leave)|
|Traer (to bring)||Caer (to fall)|
|Dar (to give)||Estar (to be)|
*The other forms of estar have a bit of a twist to them. While the conjugations are the same as other -AR verbs, every form except nosotros has an accent over the a. (Tú estás. Ellos están.)
|Ver (to see)||Caber (to fit)||Saber (to know)|
Completely Irregular Verbs
One last group of irregular verbs doesn’t quite fit into any of these other categories. Although unique, they are quite common in the Spanish language. Haber is a special auxiliary verb which we will explore in another blog post, so if you want to just focus on ir and ser for now, that’s completely fine!
|Ir (to go)||Ser (to be)||Haber (to have – auxiliary verb)|
|Él / Ella||va||es||ha|
|Ellos / Ellas||van||son||han|
Congratulations! You’ve survived your first Spanish grammar lesson! It may seem a bit overwhelming at first, but with practice, you can soon become a master of the simple present indicative. Remember, it even takes native Spanish speakers years to learn all the nuances of the conjugations and irregular verbs. Be patient with yourself! Also, if you have any questions or would like more practice, schedule a free class with one of our exceptionally knowledgeable Spanish teachers! ¡Tú puedes!
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