Many people who study Spanish get upset by those terrible things called verbs. They quickly discover that they are rather complicated and they often find themselves sinking into a mire of grammatical terms that they don’t really understand. It is certainly true that verbs are more complicated in Spanish than in English, but they are understandable if we take them step by step.

The first step is to be absolutely certain that we know what a verb is. Many of us have learnt quite correctly that they are “doing” words, such as “to run”, “to jump”, “to play” and so on. They can also include words that do not exactly express an action, but rather a kind of state, such as “to own”, “to have”, “to believe”, “to intend”. This form of the verb which in English usually starts with the word “to” is called the “infinitive”. It is the basic form of the verb before any changes are made to it.

The reason why it is so important to learn verbs is because they are what make sense of a sentence. If I say something like “The boy the ball” I don’t make any sense. If I say “the boy hits, (or throws, or steals, or loses, or likes) the ball”, then I have made a meaningful sentence. “To hit”, “to throw”, “to steal”, “to lose” and “to like” are all verbs.

Now we are going to learn six verbs in Spanish to get us started. You will notice that all of them end in either “–ar”, “-er”, or “–ir.” All Spanish verbs have one of these three endings when they are in their “infinitive” form; that is the equivalent of the “to …” form in English.

cambiar (to change); hablar (to speak); beber (to drink); volver (to return); vivir (to live); dormir (to sleep).

You may have learnt in your Spanish classes, or noticed for yourself, that the endings of Spanish verbs often alter. When this happens it is to produce a change in meaning, generally connected to “when” an action occurs and “who” is producing the action of the verb. However, not everyone learns early on that there is a great deal that can be done with verbs in their “infinitive” form. We can make simple sentences with them without any changes being made at all.

In order to do this we are now going to learn three more words (they are also verbs), which can combine with our infinitive verbs to make simple sentences. I call them “first person” words because they are words about “I”, and “I” in grammar is called the “first person”:

quiero (I want); necesito (I need); puedo (I can)

There is a separate word for “I” in Spanish which is “yo”, but when we are forming sentences we usually miss the word “yo” out, so that the one word “quiero” means “I want”.

We now already know enough to link these two words, that is, the “first person” word and the ‘infinitive’ of the verb to make instant “mini-sentences”.

For example: Quiero volver (I want to return); Necesito dormir (I need to sleep); Puedo hablar (I can speak); Quiero vivir (I want to live); Necesito beber (I need to drink); Puedo cambiar (I can change).

Even at this stage you may well be able to add other words you already know to make the sentences more meaningful.

For example: Necesito beber agua (I need to drink water); Quiero dormir mucho (I want to sleep a lot); Puedo cambiar dinero (I can change money).

If you try out some different combinations just with these words, you will already be well on the way to being able to form some very useful basic sentences. If you learn some more ‘infinitive’ verbs, you can expand your range of possibilities even further.

Here are six more to learn: trabajar (to work); cocinar (to cook); bailar (to dance); aprender (to learn); comer (to eat); abrir (to open).

Something else we should know about these ‘infinitive’ verbs is that when they are pronounced, the ’emphasis’ or ‘beat”‘ of the word falls onto the ending “ar”, “er”, “ir” which are shorter sounds than most English people assume. Remember as well that the “j” of trabajar has a throaty “h” sound, the second “c” in “cocinar” has a “th” sound and the “ai” of “bailar” is pronounced like the English word “I” or “eye”. These sounds are all dictated by specific rules of pronunciation which we covered in the ‘A-Z’ articles.

Now let’s see if you can create some more “mini-sentences” in Spanish. Here are some in English for you to think about: I want to work; I need to cook; I can dance; I need to learn Spanish; I want to eat more; I can open the door.

I think it would be rather good for you to work these out for yourselves and also make up some more small sentences using the principles we have learnt. Remember that we are only talking in the first person “I” form at the moment. Another thing you might have noticed is that in most cases the Spanish use fewer words to express the same idea, which is amazing when you think how much they like to speak!

Jane Cronin’s “Step by Step Spanish” articles are now available as e-books at where you can also obtain Jane’s brand new “Step by Step Internet Spanish” course.