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Published on: Grammar

A Complete Guide to Present Tense in Spanish

Today we’re starting from the beginning. Present tense verbs – Spanish learners’ first obstacle to overcome. 

Whenever you start learning any language, you’ll need to figure out how to conjugate verbs correctly. That is – changing the endings of verbs so that they match the subject pronoun.

So that’s where we’re going to start today. We’ll have a complete guide on how you can master the present tense in Spanish. Let’s get started!

Spanish Subject Pronouns

Before we can even move on to the verbs, however, we have to first talk about the pronouns. 

So – what are they?

Pronouns are words like I, you, he, she, etc. These are called subject pronouns or personal pronouns because they tell you who the sentence’s subject is. 

In Spanish, they’re used to tell you who is carrying out the verb’s action. The subject pronouns in Spanish are:

Spanish (singular) English (singular) Spanish (plural) English (plural)
Yo I Nosotros We
Tú / Vos You Vosotros You / You all / Y’all
Él / Ella / Usted He / She / It / They Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes They


Vos is principally used in many parts of Central America and Rioplatense Spanish (Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, certain parts of Chile). Vosotros is only used in Spain, except for the Canary Islands and parts of Andalusia.

As you can see, Spanish has many more pronouns than English does. You’ll have a different pronoun for the first, second, and third person. You’ll also have singular and plural forms, as well as some informal and formal versions. 

For example, while is considered informal, usted is considered a formal way to say “you”.

Want to know everything there is to know about informal and formal pronouns? Check out our full guide on tú vs usted.

The grammar here isn’t really too complicated. In fact, subject pronouns are pretty simple. It can be a little confusing initially, mostly because of the number of pronouns and because they can be used differently than in English. 

But now that we’ve had that quick review, let’s move on to how we can conjugate verbs in Spanish. 

Spanish Present Tense Verb Conjugation

In Spanish, there are three main types of regular verbs. We distinguish them based on the verb’s final letters. There are verbs that end in -AR, -ER, and –IR. The conjugation for these verbs will change depending on which category it belongs to. 

The good news is that the way to conjugate each of these verbs is actually fairly simple. Let’s go ahead and look at each category individually:

-AR ending verbs

Spanish English
Hablar To speak
Yo hablo I speak
Tú hablas You speak
Vos hablás You speak
Él / Ella / Usted habla He / She / It / You formal (singular)
Nosotros hablamos We speak
Vosotros habláis You / You all / Y’all speak
Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes hablan They speak / You formal (plural)


The present tense forms for -ar ending verbs are quite straightforward. All you need to do is follow two simple steps. 

First, you remove the -AR ending of the infinitive form. 

Then, in step two, we add a different ending depending on the personal pronoun we want to use. 

Let’s say we want to conjugate the –AR verb Cantar (to sing). If I want to say “You sing”, then we remove the –AR ending of the verb, and replace it with the -as ending. So we have tú cantas.  

We can then do that with any of the regular verbs that have an -ar ending. All we have to do is match the correct -AR verbs’ ending with the subject pronoun. 

  • Nosotros caminamos mucho – We walk a lot 
  • Ellos empiezan el colegio mañana – They start school tomorrow 
  • Yo hablo tres idiomas – I speak three languages.

So as you can see, as long as the -ar verb is regular, all you have to do is swap out the ending according to the subject. However, some verbs are irregular – meaning they undergo some special change. We’ll check that out later in this article. 

For now – let’s move on to the next category of verbs. 

-ER ending verbs

Spanish English
Comer To eat
Yo como I eat
Tú comes You eat
Vos comés You eat
Él / Ella / Usted come He / She / It / You formal (singular)
Nosotros comemos We eat
Vosotros coméis You / You all / Y’all eat
Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes comen They eat / You formal (plural)


As you can see, Spanish verb conjugations with -ER ending verbs in the present tense are very similar to the –AR verbs’ conjugation patterns. 

In fact, there is only one major difference!  Just replace all the A’s with E’s. So even though these Spanish verbs have different endings, they shouldn’t be too difficult to remember. 

Conjugating the –ER and –IR verbs is relatively easy in the present tense. They’re not too different from the verbs that end in -AR, so it shouldn’t take you too long to memorize all of them at once!

  • Él / Ella corre muy rápido – He/she runs very quickly
  • Nosotros comemos a las 12 – We eat at 12
  • Ellos / Ellas beben agua – They drink water.

-IR ending verbs

Spanish English
Vivir To live
Yo vivo I live
Tú vives You live
Vos vivís You live
Él / Ella / Usted vive He / She / It / You formal (singular)
Nosotros vivimos We live
Vosotros vivís You / You all / Y’all live
Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes viven They live / You formal (plural)


The verb endings for –IR verbs are almost identical to –ER verbs in the present tense. In fact, the only difference is in the vos, nosotros, and vosotros forms. In these cases, the “e” from the –ER verbs get replaced with an I. 

Let’s look at some examples:

  • ¿Vivís cerca? – Do you all live close by?
  • La abuela escribe muchas cartas – The grandmother writes many letters 
  • ¿Pedimos pizza? – Should we order pizza?

Irregular Present Tense

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Now that we’ve conquered how to form the regular Spanish present tense, it’s time to move on to some irregular verbs. You’ll see that – unfortunately – there are many irregular verbs in Spanish.This just means you’ll have to take your time memorizing the irregular verbs – but it’s not impossible! With a little bit of time and practice, you’ll be a pro in no time. 

We’ll split the Spanish conjugation for irregular verbs into categories. So let’s start with the first one:

E to IE

The first major type of stem change for Spanish verbs in the present tense is from E to IE. This means that the letter E in the syllable before the ending changes to the letters IE. This can happen with verbs that end in -AR, -ER, and -IR

A classic example of a word that undergoes this change is Querer (To want / To love)

Singular Present Tense Plural Present Tense
Yo quiero Nosotros queremos
quieres  Vosotros queréis 
Él / Ella / Usted quiere Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes quieren 


The vos form, common in parts of Latin America, is always regular! So we won’t worry about them for now.

The E in the stem changes to an IE in the conjugations for Yo, Tú, Él, and Ellos. This is the most common stem-changing verb form, so it’s important to remember this one. This is often referred to as a “boot” verb because of the shape of the conjugation chart. 

Some of the most common present tense verbs in Spanish are E to IE stem-changing verbs. Let’s look at just a few examples:

  • Pensar – To think
  • Empezar – To start 
  • Comenzar – To start
  • Entender – To understand 
  • Perder – To lose 
  • Preferir – To prefer
  • Sentir – To feel 

There are no limits to these changes – as you can see, you can have AR, ER, and IR verbs follow this pattern.

Now let’s move on to the next type of stem-changing verbs in Spanish. 

U to UE

Lucky for you, there’s only one verb that has this type of change: Jugar. So we’ll go over this verb quickly and move on to the next type!

This verb has its stem changed from U to UE according to this chart:

Singular Present Tense Plural Present Tense
Yo juego Nosotros jugamos
Tú  juegas  Vosotros jugáis  
Él / Ella / Usted juega Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes juegan 

O to UE

This next change is similar to Jugar, but this time it affects a different letter.

Verbs like Dormir have the infinitive stem change from the letter O to a UE like this:

Singular Present Tense Plural Present Tense
Yo duermo Nosotros dormimos 
Tú  duermes  Vosotros dormís 
Él / Ella / Usted duerme Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes duermen 


This is absolutely one of the irregular verbs that you’ll need to get used to. The stem of the verb can be changed in any of the three categories of verbs – so there’s no escape!

So if you ever see an “O” in the syllable for a verb ending, you should probably be suspicious. But to give you a headstart, here is a list of verbs that undergo this change: 

  • Morir – To die
  • Poder – To be able 
  • Volver – To return 
  • Llover – To rain
  • Doler – To hurt 
  • Costar – To cost 
  • Acordar – To remember
  • Probar – To try
  • Comprobar – To check on

Oler – To smell*

Oler is an extra-irregular verb, since it will change from O to HUE. So you get Yo huelo, tú hueles, etc.

E to I

Finally – on to the last one! This change in verb endings isn’t nearly as common as some of the other stem-changing verbs in Spanish. Here, the letter E changes to the letter I in the present tense. 

Singular Present Tense Plural Present Tense
Yo sirvo Nosotros servimos
Tú  sirves  Vosotros servís 
Él / Ella / Usted sirve Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes sirven 


The tricky part about this type of irregular verb is that you have to remember that they do not change to IE, but rather just I. So it takes a bit of practice to be able to figure out which verbs do this. 

Some other examples of E to I stem-changing verbs in Spanish are:

  • Medir – To measure 
  • Competir – To compete 
  • Impedir – To impede 
  • Repetir – To repeat 
  • Vestir – To dress 
  • Derretir – To melt 
  • Despedir – To say goodbye 
  • Rendir – To give up

The good news: This only happens with verbs that end in IR!

How to Use Spanish Verbs in the Present Tense

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Now that you’re a master at conjugating all these verbs, the next step is learning how to use them naturally.  

In general, you can use it the same way as you would in English – to express things in the present. But the big change is that you can ALSO use it to express the immediate future, ask questions, and talk about things that are currently happening. 

Let’s look at a few examples:

  • Él trabaja por las tardes – He works in the afternoons.
  • ¿Me quieres acompañar? – Do you want to come with me?
  • Después de la clase te lo explico – After class I’ll explain it to you.

So as you can see – the Spanish present tense is used to express things that happen now, like in the first sentence. But it’s also used in questions and in events in the immediate future. 

In English, we’ll need an extra verb to help us express those ideas – but not in Spanish!

The good news: This only happens with verbs that end in IR!

Dropping Spanish Subject Pronouns

The last thing we need to talk about with the Spanish present tense is the habit to drop the subject pronoun. Since Spanish verbs inherently tell you the subject – just by the ending – you don’t need to always use the subject pronoun. 

For example, all verbs that end in –o are clearly in the Yo form. So you don’t need to say “Yo hablo inglés” because it’s redundant.  You can simply say “hablo inglés”. 

That’s why we usually drop the subject pronoun in the Spanish present tense – unless there’s a better reason to include it. For example, if a sentence changes the subject or you need to be extra clear, then you can add it. For example:

  • Vivimos en Perú, pero él vive en Chile. – We live in Peru, but he lives in Chile.
  • Siempre voy a correr por el parque – I always go running through the park

Ah, yo prefiero ir al gimnasio – Oh, I prefer going to the gym

In the first scenario – you have a change in subject within the same sentence. So you add the él to make sure that it’s clear who you are talking about. 

In the second sentence, the same thing happens. If the second speaker didn’t say “yo”, it might actually sound like he didn’t hear the person correctly. 

So the general rule is – don’t use the Spanish subject pronouns unless it’s necessary for clarity.

Use what you learned

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Now you’re officially a pro at using the Spanish present tense! It certainly takes a lot of practice to memorize these verbs, especially irregular verbs. 

Because we didn’t even cover ALL of the irregular Spanish verbs. 

But the best way to conquer a language is by taking it one step at a time. Now that you’ve mastered one Spanish grammar topic, you’re ready to practice it and move on to the next one.

Now it’s time to take action! So go ahead and sign up for a free private class or a 7-day free trial of our group classes so you can show us what you got!

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