For the next few months we are going to be looking at how Spanish verbs work in the Present Simple tense. This tense is used in both English and Spanish to express general truths about the world, or about routines and regular occurrences.
It is also used in Spanish to express instant decisions about the immediate future: for example ‘te llamo’ literally means ‘I call you’, when in English we would say “I will call you.” There are other small differences in use, but they need not concern us at the moment.
As I have already said, the fundamental difference between verbs in our two languages is that in Spanish the words themselves alter to give various kinds of information including ‘person’ (I, you, he, she, it, we, they), whereas in English we use separate words to provide this information. However, it is very important to realize that, even though they might appear complicated, the changes that Spanish verbs make are very logical and predictable. It’s just a case of understanding how they work.
For our present purposes, we can divide verbs into three groups, namely: ‘standard verbs’, ‘root-changing verbs’ and ‘irregular verbs’.
The vast majority of verbs are ‘standard’ and these are the ones we will look at first. Then there is a significant minority of ‘root-changing verbs’. These sound worse than they are, as they too follow very clear patterns. We will spend quite a bit of time explaining them. Our final category is ‘irregular verbs’ and the good news here is that there are only four of them! Even better news is that those of you who have followed these articles are already broadly familiar with them. They are ser (to be), estar (to be – how and where), ir (to go) and haber (to have). We will look at these last, but they shouldn’t create too many problems for us as they are so common and have cropped up all over the place already.
First we will look at our ‘standard verbs’ which constitute the largest category. The first thing we need to do with all our verbs is look at them in their infinitive form (that is the form that ends in –ar, -er and –ir), for example mirar. All verbs are divided into two parts; the root and the ending. In this case ar is the ending, therefore mir is the root. The same happens with all other verbs:
comer – er is the ending, so com is the root.
Vivir – ir is the ending so viv is the root.
It doesn’t matter how long, short or strange-sounding these roots are; the principle is always the same.
The verb ver – er is the ending, so the root is the letter v.
The verb cambiar – ar is the ending so cambi is the root.
The root is the part of the word that gives us the essential meaning. From this root all kinds of other related words can be created and in the present simple tense, the roots of standard verbs are not altered in any way. Going back to our first example mirar, we can rest assured that all the forms of mirar in the present tense start with the three letters mir, which gives us the meaning ‘look’.
The second thing to learn is that the endings follow an absolutely set pattern. In the case of –ar verbs, the endings are o, as, a, amos, áis, an. That’s rather meaningless on its own, so let’s set it out properly.
miro – I look
miramos – we look
miras – you (familiar) look
miráis – you (familiar plural) look
mira – he, she looks
miran – they look
There is obviously much more to this, but that’s enough for this month! Take some time digesting the information and while you’re about it, don’t forget to visit my website www.janecronin.eu
¡Hasta la mes que viene!
Jane Cronin’s “Step by Step Spanish” articles are available as e-books at www.janecronin.eu where you can also obtain Jane’s “Step by Step Internet Spanish” course.