3.1 Present Tense of -ar Verbs

Infinitives (which correspond to the English “to go,” to drink,” etc.) end in –ar-er and -ir. -Ar verbs are by far the most common of the three:

hablar to speak
beber to drink
abrir to open

When a regular –ar verb is conjugated, the -ar of the infinitive is dropped and the following endings are added: -o, -as, -a, -amos, -áis, -an. Thus the verb hablar, conjugated in the present tense, is:

Person Singular Plural
1st yo hablo (I speak) nosotros/-as hablamos (we speak)
2nd hablas (you speak)
vosotros/-as habláis (you speak)
3rd él, ella, Ud. habla (he/she/it speaks) ellos, ellas, Uds. hablan (they/you speak)

The subject pronouns listed in parentheses will not be present in the texts you read and are given here only to help initially. As you learn more and more verb forms, it will become challenging to guess the meanings if you do not really recognize the forms, so taking the time to memorize the endings now will help you save time when translating in the future .

A few generalizations can be made about verb endings, which are true of all regular verbs (-ar, -er, and -ir) in the present tense (and in some other tenses):

  • The only form ending in an unaccented –o corresponds to yo, meaning “I.”
  • The only forms ending in –s correspond to tú and vosotros , both meaning “you” (fam.).
  • The form ending in vowel + mos always corresponds to nosotros, meaning “we,” in all tenses.
  • The only form ever to end in –n corresponds to ellos/-as and Uds., meaning “they” and “you” (pl.), in all tenses. 

The present tense has four possible and common translations. Using hablo as the model, these are:

  1. I speak (the most frequent translation)
  2. I am speaking (the progressive form [see also section 8.5.])
  3. I do speak (the emphatic form)
  4. I will (am going to) speak (near future meaning, common in speech)

Context usually dictates that one of these translations is more logical than others, though hablo español could just as easily mean “I am speaking Spanish” as “I speak Spanish.” Often the presence of an adverb of time will indicate the most logical meaning or best translation.

Hablo español ahora. I’m speaking Spanish now.
Te hablo mañana. I’ll speak to you tomorrow.

When the meaning is emphatic, it is common to insert the word  after the subject. The  itself is not translated, but is rather rendered by the inclusion of the emphatic “do” or “does”:

Giorgio sí habla español e italiano. Giorgio does speak Spanish and Italian.
Yo sí quiero visitar el museo contigo. I do want to visit the museum with you.

There are also three less frequent meanings of the present tense. Occasionally it is used for a command. (See section 11.4.) It is also used in questions when the English translation is “shall” or “will.” (¿Compro la ropa? [“Shall I buy the clothes?”]) At times, its meaning is past, when used at the “historical present.”

Vocabulario básico 

Verbos:

ayudar- to help
buscar- to look for, to search for
caminar- to walk
cenar- to dine, to have dinner, to eat the evening meal
comprar- to buy
descansar- to rest
entrar (+ a/en + object)- to enter, to go in
escuchar- to listen
esperar- to wait, to hope, to expect
llegar- to arrive*
llevar-to carry, to take
mirar- to look at (cognate- to admire) 
nadar- to swim (cognate: natatorium)
necesitar- to need
pagar- to pay
preguntar- to ask
preparar- to prepare
sacar- to take (photos), to take out, to get a grade
tomar- to take (in/by the hand), to drink, to eat (when what is consumed is not solid)
usar- to use, to wear
viajar- to travel (cognate- voyage)

* It may help to remember that the verb of motion of the two is llegar, which has the g, as in the verb of motion “to go.”

Sustantivos:

el agua (fem.)- water*
el/la alumno/-a- student (false friend)
el árbol- tree (cognate-arbor, arboreal)
el bolígrafo- pen
la casa- house, home
el centro- center, center of city, uptown, downtown
la comida- food, meal, evening meal
el cuaderno- notebook
la cuenta- bill**
el cuento- story, short story**, ***
el disco- record, (computer) disk
la escuela- school
el/la estudiante- student
la frase- sentence, phrase
la historia- story (in a general sense), tale, history ***
el lápiz- pencil
la mesa- table
la nota- grade; bill (currency); note
el papel- paper
la pared- wall
la pizarra- chalkboard
la pregunta- question
la puerta- door**
el puerto- port**
la ropa- clothes, clothing (false friend)
la silla- chair
la telenovela- soap opera
el tiempo- time, weather
la ventana- window
la vez- time, occasion
el viaje- trip
la vida- life (cognate- vital, vitality)

Números:

treinta- thirty
cuarenta- forty
cincuenta- fifty
sesenta- sixty
setenta- seventy
ochenta- eighty
noventa- ninety
cien(to)- one hundred
mil- one thousand

Adjetivos:

bueno- good
gran/ grande- great, large
malo- bad

Preposición:

por- because of

Expresiones:

a casa- home (to home) (expresses motion)
a la vez- at the same time
a tiempo- on time
en casa- at home (expresses location)
por eso- therefore, for that reason, that’s why

Otras palabras:

como- like, such, as, how
más- more (or with adjective- most)

*Agua takes the masculine definite article for phonetic reasons only. It remains feminine and all adjectives modifying it are feminine (see section 3.2.): El agua está fría hoy. 

**Be careful to differentiate between the very similar nouns cuento and cuenta, as well as puerto and puerta. 

***Cuento and historia are often not synonymous. The former often refers to the literary genre while the latter mean “story” in a general sense. If one wrote of “the story of Romeo and Juliet,” la historia de Romeo y Julieta would be used.

Helpful Notes on Vocabulary Lists in This Text

  • Whenever possible and helpful, English cognates are given in parentheses immediately after vocabulary listings. They are routinely omitted in very obvious cases (such as entrar, preparar, estudiar, visitar, etc.), but are given in other less or not obvious cases. At times, they may seem obscure or relatively so. The larger your English vocabulary is, the easier it will be to recognize them.
  • The examples of vida and “vital/-ity” as well as nadar and “natatorium” are two of many in which you see a d in Spanish taking the place of a in English. In general, these two consonants are similar.
  • The amount of vocabulary presented, if you are a true beginner, may at times seem overwhelming. Nonetheless, many of the new words are related to each other, e.g., preguntar (“to ask”) and pregunta (“question”); estudiar (“to study”), estudiante (“student” [n.]) and estudiantil (“student” [adj.]). At the beginning of this text, most of the vocabulary given should be taken to be basic. As you progress in the text, you may be able to choose which vocabulary items may be useful to you and your field of study/interest and which may not.
  • Noticing patterns in word families, such as the examples in the previous bullet point, and making note of the words you think you may encounter in your own research and reading are two to of the best practices you can develop while taking this class. 
Last revised on June 16, 2021.

3.2 Agreement and Placement of Adjectives

Adjectives in Spanish agree in number and gender with the noun they modify, as, for example seen in the previous reading: una ciudad moderna, próspera (feminine, singular), or centro económico (masculine, singular). In these examples, as the noun ciudad is feminine and singular, it takes the feminine singular form of the adjectives, moderna and próspera. Likewise, the masculine singular noun centro takes the masculine singular form of the adjective, económico

Adjectives ending in –o have four forms:

mucho muchos
mucha muchas

Adjectives ending in –e have two forms, one for all singular nouns and one for all plural ones:

importante importantes
pobre pobres

Adjectives ending in a consonant have four endings:

trabajador (“hard-working”) trabajadores
trabajadora trabajadoras

These include adjectives of nationality:

español españoles
española españolas

When reading in Spanish, try to get used to looking for adjectives after the noun and translating them before the noun. In theory, an infinite number of adjectives can follow a noun:

Es un país libre, democrático, próspero, moderno, y joven. It is a free, democratic, prosperous, modern, and young country.

Adjectives that follow the noun inherently imply a contrast:

La ciudad vieja es bella, pero la ciudad nueva no. The old city is beautiful, but not the new city.

Adjectives of quantity (including numbers, almost all of which are adjectives) precede the noun they modify:

Muchos chicos están aquí. There are many boys here.
Hay pocas ciudades en el desierto. There are few cities in the desert.
Existen tres países en la región. There are three countries in the region.

At times an adjective that normally follows the noun may precede it for emphasis, when no contrast is implied:

La blanca nieve es muy bella. The white snow is very beautiful.
La vieja ciudad es muy interesante. The old city is very interesting.

Although there may not necessarily be a way to render the difference in translation of many nouns with an adjective placed before versus after, remember that post-placement (adjective after noun) implies if not states a contrast; pre-placement is for emphasis. The speakers in the two sentences above are emphasizing the whiteness of the snow and oldness of the city, without any implicit contrast with anything else.

In a few cases, however, placing the same adjective before versus after the noun normally changes its meaning. Two such adjectives are grande and antiguo. (Grande  changes form, to gran, whenever it precedes the noun.)

Es un país grande.  It is a large country. 
Es un gran país. It’s a great country.
Es una ciudad antigua, de los tiempos romanos. It’s an ancient (a very old) city, from Roman times.
Pedro es mi antiguo marido. Pedro is my former (ex) husband.

Occasionally in the plural when grandes precedes a noun, it may have the meaning of “major,” which in some cases can be a synonym of “great”: ¿Quiénes son los grandes poetas de Perú?” (“Who are the major [great] poets of Peru?”) Also, grande does not shorten to gran when used in the superlative. (See section 7.2.)

The above should be taken as a general guideline for the placement and meaning of antiguo, as there are times when for emphasis it is placed before the noun and mean “very old.”

Last revised on December 14, 2020.

3.3 Inversion of Subject in Declarative Sentences

Spanish very often inverts the order of subject (+ adj.) and verb for emphasis or style. Although in simple sentences, as those below, the subject should be apparent, in longer sentences, you may have to stop and study the sentence in order to be sure you have found it. This inversion does not typically cause any change in translation except, perhaps, emphasis.

Es muy rápida la vida en la ciudad.

Es la vida en la ciudad muy rápida

Life in the city is very fast.
Es muy difícil el griego.

Es el griego muy difícil.

Greek is very difficult.

Both of these examples would be more frequently expressed as:

La vida es muy rápida en la ciudad. Life in the city is very fast.
El griego es muy difícil. Greek is very difficult

As in English, there is a great variety of placement for prepositional phrases. The first sentence could also be expressed as:

En la ciudad la vida es muy rápida.

La vida en la ciudad es muy rápida.

Es la vida muy rápida en la ciudad.

Life in the city is very fast.

Vocabulario básico

Sustantivos:

el año- year
el día- day
la mañana- morning*
el mes- month
la noche- evening, night
la semana- week
la tarde- afternoon

Adjetivos: Los colores:

amarillo- yellow
anaranjado- orange
azul- blue (cognate: azure)
blanco- white (cognate: to blanch)
castaño- brown, chestnut, hazel
color de café- brown
gris- gray
marrón- brown
morado- purple
naranja- orange
negro- black
pardo- brown
púrpura- purple
rojo- red
rosado- pink
verde- green (cognate: verdant)

Nacionalidades**

alemán- German
austríaco- Austrian
brasileño- Brazilian***
canadiense- Canadian***
español- Spaniard
francés- French
griego- Greek
inglés- British
noruego- Norwegian
portugués- Portuguese
sueco- Swedish
suizo- Swiss

Otros adjetivos:

alguno- some
difícil- difficult, hard
fácil- easy
nuevo- new
otro- other, another
todo- all, every
viejo- old

Adverbios temporales (Adverbs of Time):

ante- before
después- after, afterwards
esta mañana- this morning
esta tarde- this afternoon
esta noche- tonight
tarde- late
temprano- early
todos los días- everyday

¡Ojo! When todo or one of its forms precedes a noun (used as an adjective), no comprehension problem is presented. When todo is used a pronoun, however, you must distinguish between singular and plural meaning:

  • Todos están aquí.
  • Everyone is here.
  • Todo es fácil.
  • Everything is easy.

 

*When mañana is preceded by an article, its meaning is “morning.” When not, it is an adverb of time and means “tomorrow.”

**As appropriate, the masculine form of nationalities also serves as nouns for the language of the country. Both forms function as nouns referring to natives of these countries.

***These endings (-eño and –ense) are very common adjective endings referring to the natives or inhabitants of countries and cities:

madrileño native of Madrid
limeño native of Lima
costarricense Costa Rican/ native of Costa Rica
estadounidense American/ native of the United States

All such words can also carry meaning of “pertaining to” without indicating a person:

Es (una) costumbre madrileña cenar muy tarde. It’s a Madrid custom (custom of Madrid) to eat dinner very late.

 

Last revised on June 16, 2021.

3.4 Present Tense of SER and ESTAR

Spanish uses two basic verbs that mean “to be,” the infinitives of which are ser (of which you have seen the forms es and son) and estar (of which you have seen the forms está and están). Their complete conjugations follow:

SER

Person Singular Plural
1st soy somos
2nd eres sois
3rd es son

ESTAR

Person Singular Plural
1st estoy estamos
2nd estás estáis
3rd está están

Ser is used to:

    • equate one thing to another
    • tell time
    • show possession and origin, and, with adjectives
    • to describe a condition that is viewed as the norm or is an inherent characteristic when used with adjectives
    • Spanish also uses it when “to be” means “to take place,” such as an event
El español es un lengua romance. Spanish is a Romance language.
Son las dos y media. It’s two thirty.
La casa es de los señores Cantú. The house is Mr. and Mrs. Cantú’s.
Ana es de Lanzarote; una de las Islas Canarias. Ana is from Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands.
El agua es calma. The water is calm.
La fiesta es mañana. The party is (takes place) tomorrow.

Estar is used to:

  • show location
  • to show conditions, changes from the norm, and to express appearance or surprise when used with adjectives.

In the latter usages, see how the translation may differ from a form of “to be.”

Los padres están en casa. The parents are at home.
Las ventanas están abiertas. The windows are open.
Ella está vieja. She looks (seems, appears) old.
¡La paella está rica! The paella tastes(is) delicious!

Although ser and estar do not usually present comprehension problems, it is useful to be aware of the nuances of possible translations that are not a form of “to be.”

Last revised on June 16, 2021.

3.5 Adjectives that Change Meaning with SER and ESTAR

These, among other adjectives, change meaning when used with ser and estar. This is not, however, a long list to be memorized; many of the uses with ser describe what is the norm or an inherent characteristic while those of estar reflect a condition or state that differs from the norm or is subject to change.

ser estar
ser aburrido – to be boring estar aburrido – to be bored
ser (un) borracho – to be a drunk estar borracho – to be drunk
ser distraído – to be absentminded estar distraído – to be distracted
ser enfermo – to be an invalid estar enfermo – to be ill
ser interesado – to be selfish estar interesado – to be interested
ser libre – to be free (unrestrained) estar libre – to be unoccupied
ser listo – to be smart, clever estar listo – to be ready
ser nuevo – to be new estar nuevo – to be different, new in appearance
ser orgulloso – to be haughty estar orgulloso – to be proud
ser rico – to be rich, to taste good estar rico – to be delicious
ser seguro – to be safe estar seguro – to be sure
ser solo – to be lonely estar solo – to be alone
ser verde – to be green, to be without experience estar verde – to be unripe
ser vivo – to be sharp, alert estar vivo – to be alive

Vocabulario básico

Sustantivos:

el café- coffee, café
la cosa- thing
la hija- daughter
el hijo- son
los hijos- children
el señor (Sr.)- Mr.
la señora (Sra.)- Mrs.
los señores (Sres.)- Mr. and Mrs.
la señorita (Srta.)- Miss

Adjetivos:

barato- cheap, inexpensive
borracho- drunk
caliente- warm, hot
caro- expensive, dear
distraído- absentminded, distracted
enfermo- ill, sick (“invalid,” as noun)
frío- cold
medio- half (media- half past the hour)
orgulloso- proud, haughty
pequeño- little, small
rico- rich, wealthy, delicious
seguro- safe, sure
solo- alone, lonely
vivo- alive, clever, sharp

Adverbios:

bien- well
mal- bad, badly
pronto- soon
siempre- always
todavía- still, yet
ya- already (sometimes, “now” or “later”; See section 12.4.)

Otras palabras:

algo- something
porque- because
¿por qué- why
que- that, which, who

Expresiones:

hay que + inf.- it is necessary (to do something)
¿qué tal + (form of estar)?- how are you/ is he, she, etc. (doing)?

Last revised on June 16, 2021.

3.6 Present Tense of tener and Idioms with tener

Tener means “to have” in the sense of “to own” or “to possess.”

Person Singular Plural
1st tengo tenemos
2nd tienes tenéis
3rd tiene tienen

Ejemplos:

Tengo tres hijos. I have three children.
¿Tienes una casa grande? Do you have a large house?

Many of its most common uses come in the form of idioms, almost all of which are translated as “to be”:

tener … años to be … years old
tener calor to be hot, warm (applied to a person [or animal])
tener celos to be jealous
tener cuidado to be careful
tener la culpa to be at fault, to be to blame
tener éxito (false friend) to be successful
tener frío to be cold (applied to a person [or animal])
tener hambre* to be hungry
tener miedo to be afraid
tener prisa to be in a hurry
(no) tener razón to be right (wrong)
tener sed to be thirsty
tener suerte to be lucky
tener vergüenza to be ashamed

Translated literally, these expression, when conjugated, are stating, “I have… years, she has cold, etc.,” As such, años, calor, and all other words presented here are nouns, which are modified by adjectives. Therefore, you will see a form of the adjective mucho (or poco [“little”] or the phrase un poco de [“a little (bit of)] modifying these nouns, not the adverb muy: 

Tienen mucha sed. They are very thirsty.
Alonso tiene mucho éxito. Alonso is very successful.
Tengo un poco de prisa I’m in a little bit of a hurry.

Two other common idioms with tener exist. In the first one, after the conjugated form of the verb, que is used followed by an infinitive, translating as “to have to do something.” Tener ganas de + infinitive means “to feel like doing something.” As ganas (literally, “desires” or “hunger”) is a noun, like in the idioms above, it too is modified by a form of mucho, as you can see in the last example.

Tenemos que esperar. We have to wait.
¿Tienes que estudiar? Do you have to study?
Tengo ganas de descansar. I feel like resting.
Amelia no tiene muchas ganas de estudiar. Amelia does not feel much like studying.

*Although the cognate is not obvious, it is “famine.” In the evolution of Spanish, a late shift occurred, by which many words beginning with f changed to h, to put it very simply. You will encounter other such words in this text that underwent the same phenomenon. Huir (“to flee”), for example, was once fuir and is related to “fugitive” (someone who flees, Spanish fugitivo).

Vocabulario básico 

Verbos:

cocinar- to cook (cognate: cuisine)
dejar- to leave (behind), to abandon, to let, to permit
lavar- to wash (cognate: lavatory)
limpiar- to clean

Sustantivos:

el cine- movie theater
el dinero- money (false friend)
el mundo- world
la niña- child (female)*
el niño- child (male)*
la película- film, movie
el reloj- watch (timepiece)
el valor- value, worth; courage, bravery, valor

Adverbios:

menos- less (combined with adjective- least)
sólo- only

Pronombre (Pronoun):

todo el mundo- everyone (synonymous with todos)

Expresión:

no sólo … sino también- not only … but also

*Hijos are always one’s own children, regardless of age. Niños refers to small children, which may or may not be one’s own.

Last revised on June 16, 2021.

3.7 Possessive Adjectives

The following are the short forms of the possessive adjectives in Spanish:

Singular Plural
mi, mis (my) nuestro/-a, nuestros/-as (our)
tu, tus (your (fam.)) vuestro/-a, vuestros/-as (your (fam. pl.))
su,sus (his, her, its, your (form.)) su, sus (they/their, your (form. pl. [fam. pl. also in L.A.]))

Spanish possessive adjectives agree with the noun possessed, not the possessor or owner, unlike English. They agree both in number and gender for what is owned.

Tengo mi dinero. I have my money.
Aquí está nuestra casa. Here is our house.
Tenemos tus libros. We have your books.

That the possessive adjective agrees in number and gender with the noun modified should not cause comprehension problems.

Due to the ambiguity of sand sus, a prepositional phrase can clarify the meaning if necessary. When the prepositional phrase is used, the possessive adjective is dropped and is replaced by the corresponding article. For example, the sentence ¿Dónde está su perro? is ambiguous out of context. If the meaning remains unclear, you should see one of the following prepositional phrases to clarify su:

¿Dónde está el perro de él? Where is his dog?
¿Dónde está el perro de ella? Where is her dog?
¿Dónde está el perro de Ud.? Where is your (s.) dog?
¿Dónde está el perro de ellos/-as? Where is their dog?
¿Dónde está el perro de Uds.? Where is your (pl.) dog?

Vocabulario básico

Sustantivos:

los apuntes- notes (taken in class)
la bolsa- purse
el bolso- sack, bag
el carro- car (L.A.)
el coche- car (Sp., esp.)
el cumpleaños- birthday
el espejo- mirror
la fecha- date (of month, year)
las gafas- eyeglasses
el/la gato/-a- cat
el jabón- soap
la maleta- suitcase
la mochila- backpack
el peine- comb
el/la perro/-a- dog
el regalo- present
la toalla- towel

Adjetivo:

cada- each, every

Pronombre:

cada uno/-a- each one, every one

Last revised on June 16, 2021.