Today we are going to start looking at a new thing to do with verbs. So far we have linked some sentences in a simple way to talk about our intentions, needs and obligations, keeping our verbs in their simple infinitive form (for example hablar).

Then we looked at changing each verb into a gerund or “-ing” form (for example hablando) and using this to talk about things happening at the present moment. In both cases the main verb itself only has one form, which makes it much simpler to deal with.

We are now going to do a similar thing, this time enabling us to talk about past events. We are going to turn the verb into what we call a ‘past participle’. Before we do that though, we need to know what a past participle is in English!

For example, let’s take the verb ‘to speak’. In English we can work out the changes by saying: “Today I speak”, “Yesterday I spoke”, “Recently, I have spoken”. This gives us three forms of the verb ‘to speak’, namely, ‘speak, spoke, spoken’. ‘Spoken’ is our ‘past participle’ and we combine it with the word ‘have’ or ‘has’ in English to talk about the recent past. “I have spoken to the lawyer and he says that …”.

Unfortunately some English speakers use this form wrongly in their own language. You hear people say “I have spoke”, using the ‘past tense’ instead of the ‘past participle’. Another difficulty for us is that sometimes the ‘past tense’ and the ‘past participle’ are the same in English. For example: “Today I buy”, “Yesterday I bought”, “Recently I have bought”. So ‘bought’ is both the ‘past tense’ and the ‘past participle’ of the verb ‘to buy’.

This is also true (in English – don’t worry we’ll get onto the Spanish before this article is over!) of our regular verbs which end in ‘-ed’. “Today I wash; yesterday I washed; recently I have washed”.

Sometimes people ask me: “How you do say washed in Spanish?” or “How do you say bought in Spanish?” To answer this I have to ask for more information about the situation to work out which form they’re looking for. They sometimes look at me strangely, as if I can’t answer the question or something!

Well, there’s plenty more to say about all of this, but just so you are not left entirely in the dark, here is how we form a past participle in Spanish. In most cases we take the ‘–ar’ off the infinitives of ‘–ar’ verbs and change it to ‘–ado’. Therefore ‘spoken’ is ‘hablado’. We take the ‘–er’ or ‘–ir’ endings off those verbs and change them to’ –ido’. Therefore ‘drunk’ as is “I have drunk” is ‘bebido’ and ‘slept’ (as in “I have slept”) is ‘dormido’. I say in most cases because there are one or two irregular ones. There’s also a great deal more to say about this subject as a whole, but at least we’ve made a start!

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