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sergiogomez / Moderator

Jan 9, 2009, 6:19 PM

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Basic verb conjugation

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Judging by the comments I've heard, basic is something you all want more of. So I thought I'd start this thread on the most essential thing that every Spanish learner should (and can) master: verb conjugation. We all know Spanish verbs seem more complicated than English verbs. How different are they? Let's take a look.

Verbs have different tenses and different forms that correspond with the speaker, the person doing the action of the verb. Pretty basic, right? If we were to make a chart showing this information for an English verb, it might look something like this:

to be (infinitive)

Present tense
I am
you, we, they are
he, she, it is

It's easy to see that the verb has 3 different forms that go with each of the 3 categories of speakers. We automatically conjugate the verb "to be" and choose the correct form every time we use it in a sentence. So we know that conjugating verbs must not be hard, because we do it all the time without thinking.

Spanish verbs are just a tiny bit more complex: they have 5 speaker categories instead of 3. They're easy to remember because each category only has one kind of person--not like English where "you, we, they" are grouped together. Also, every Spanish verb is conjugated according to a fixed, predictable (and small) set of rules. Verbs that end in -ar have their own set of rules, and verbs that end in -er and -ir have another set. All Spanish verbs end in -ar, -er, or -ir in the infinitive form.

Here's a typical -ar verb.

hablar (to talk, to speak)

Present tense
yo hablo (I speak)
t hablas (you speak) informal you
l/ella/usted habla (he, she, you speak) formal you
nosotros/nosotras hablamos (we speak)
ellos/ellas/ustedes hablan (they speak)

You can see the five categories:
yo (I)
t (you, informal)
l (he), ella (she), usted (you, formal)
nosotros (we, all male or mixed male and female group), nosotras (we, all female group)
ellos (they, all male or mixed male and female group), ellas (they, all female group), ustedes (you, plural, formal).

There is a sixth category (vosotros: you, plural, informal) that is only used in Spain, so we will forget about it for now.

Verbs are conjugated by removing the infinitive ending: in this case, -ar. Different endings are added to the stem (habl) to form the conjugated verb. The yo form in present ends in -o. The t form ends in -as. The l/ella/Ud. form ends in -a. The nosotros form ends in -amos. The ellos/Uds. form ends in -an. This is the case with every verb that ends in -ar.

To be continued with irregular verbs and verbs that end in -er and -ir. Examples will be included. I just read Rolly's recipe for albndiga soup, and it's dinner time for me, so I'm off to try it.

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