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Spanish Verb Conjugator Book Reviews

"Conjugal Bliss. A trusted friend on the route to Spanish." –Nathalia Madera for Language Magazine,

"The Little Spanish Verb Book That Could"
–Steven Roll, t

"A 'safe haven' for the panicked student and a resource for teachers." –Jerry Curtis,

"A ready instructional reference; thoroughly 'user friendly'" The Midwest Book Review

Read more reviews


Best Music of Latin America: 2009 Latin Grammy Song of the Year

Music has always been a huge part of Latin American culture, and listening to music in Spanish is a great way to absorb Latin culture. It made such an impression on me when I was a student traveler in Costa Rica. Going out at night to dance clubs was a totally different experience than anything I had ever known. People were seriously engaged in the music and dancing. It was enough just to watch everyone dance; like 'Dancing with the Stars' in real life.

Listening to music in Spanish is a fun way to feed your subconscious while studying Spanish. Having music playing in the background, even without understanding it, seeps into your subconscious. It's like preparing your cerebral grey matter for Spanish knowledge; tilling the soil to plant the seeds.

Just like when you were a child learning your native language, you were immersed in the language even though you didn't understand everything. Gradually you picked out words here and there, and eventually they added up to more comprehension. I clearly remember listening to music as a child and not being able to make out all the words. Do you remember that? Sometimes I would mix up the words, or make up my own. It works the same way with a second language. 

You are fortunate that there is a lot of great Latin music which is celebrated every year by the Latin Grammys. 2009 marked the 10th Annual Latin Grammy Awards. It's a perfect way to catch up with what's hot in the Latin music scene. I would like to highlight some of the Grammy winners and nominees in the Spanish Verb Mastery Blog to inspire you to check out some popular Latin music as a way to learn about Latin culture.

Today's featured song is the 2009 Latin Grammy Song of the Year: "Aqui Estoy Yo" (Here I am), Claudia Brant, Luis Fonsi & G. Reuben, songwriters; performed by Luis Fonsi, Aleks Syntek, Noel Schajris, and David Bisbal.

Here is also a link to the song lyrics and the English translation:

"Aqui Estoy Yo" lyrics in Spanish and English





10 High Frequency Irregular Spanish Verbs: I Call Them "Yo-Go's"

What are “Yo-Go’s”?
I coined a name for this group of irregular Spanish verbs to help my students remember them, and it is a term used by other teachers and students. “Yo-go’s” are commonly used irregular Spanish verbs that have the
“-go” ending only in the yo form when conjugated in the present tense. The “yo” form is the first person singular form: when “I” is the subject of the verb.

The letter “g” seems to come out of nowhere because it is not a letter found in the verb’s stem. When conjugating these verbs, you have to remember to add it only to the “yo” form. I don’t include verbs that already have the letter “g” in the verb stem in the “yo-go” group (verbs like: jugar, llegar, and seguir) because the letter “g” is already part of the verb stem for all the conjugations of the verb. 

One of the first “yo-go’s” that you learn in beginning Spanish is “tengo.” It comes from the verb “tener” which means “to have” and in certain expressions it means “to be”: tengo hambre (I’m hungry), tengo sed (I’m thirsty), tengo frio (I’m cold), tengo calor (I’m warm), etc. Below is a list of all seven “yo-go” verbs.


 Why are “Yo-Go’s” important?

Besides sharing the “-go” ending in the yo form in the present tense, the letter “g” will show up again in the conjugations of these verbs when you learn the commands (the imperative mood) and the subjunctive tense. If you make the distinction when learning the present tense, it will be easier for you to remember it when you are studying the commands and the subjunctive later. 

The subjunctive is a tense that is typically studied at the advanced level; however, it is more frequently used in Spanish than English. The subjunctive tense is considered more formal in English, but it is very common in Spanish. You will even hear small children use this tense frequently because their parents model it for them. As children learning our native language, our listening skills develop before our speaking skills, so it’s a good idea to be aware of the subjunctive even if you don’t use it yet.

How can “Yo-Go’s” help me?
I identified this irregular verb group to make it easier for beginners to remember the “sneaky-g” when conjugating these verbs in the present tense and when you are learning the commands and the subjunctive later. You will typically study the commands before the subjunctive, so make a mental note to remember (to recycle) the conjugations when appropriate. A nit-picky note: the letter “g”, however, will be followed by the letter “a” (not “o”) in the commands (all but two conjugations–tú and vosotros) and all of the conjugations of the subjunctive. 

“Yo-Go’s” are a perfect example of my teaching philosophy and the basis to my verb guide, The Spanish Verb Conjugator, The Beginner’s Guide to Mastering Spanish Verbs: use the present and past tenses as a bridge to the advanced tenses. The groundwork will already be assembled should you decide to continue on with your Spanish studies. It’s a built-in feature to prepare you for the future, but it can feel like a burden in the beginning.

My hope is that you can tackle the challenges with awareness instead of giving up in frustration. Hang in there! Everything worthwhile comes with challenges that may test your convictions. Otherwise it would be, well...easy. Don’t get me wrong, I love “easy,” but I do believe that some things, like learning Spanish, wouldn’t be as satisfying to accomplish if they weren’t a little tricky.   

As part of my philosophy also: if you don't make it to the advanced level that's okay too. You can still accomplish a lot of living in the Spanish language with basic skills. I know this for a fact. And guess what happens if you lower your expectations and maintain your basic Spanish skills? They only get better.


Dual Past Tenses of Spanish Verbs: How do I Choose Between Them?

Build basic verb conjugation skills in the present tense first
One of the most challenging tasks of learning how to conjugate Spanish verbs is choosing between the past tenses of Spanish: the preterit and the imperfect. Perhaps because this challenge follows a rigorous sequence of verb conjugation milestones: 

1.  Learning the subject pronouns

2.  Learning how to conjugate verbs in the present tense:

  • regular -ar, -er, and -ir ending verbs
  • irregular verb patterns in the most common Spanish verbs 

3.  Learning how to conjugate verbs in the preterit past tense:

  • regular -ar, -er, and -ir ending verbs
  • irregular verbs in the preterit (there’s a lot)  

4.  Learning how to conjugate verbs in the imperfect past tense:

  • regular -ar, -er, and -ir ending verbs
  • irregular verbs in the imperfect (there are only three!) 

Getting to this point is a huge accomplishment! Once you get used to using Spanish subject pronouns and conjugating regular verbs, you’ve laid the foundation of verb conjugation in Spanish. Next in line is learning the irregular verb patterns found in high frequency Spanish verbs, and finally applying all of these new concepts to dual past tenses in Spanish.  

From my own experience as a student and as a teacher, if you can make it through the past tenses of Spanish verbs, the following verb conjugation work doesn’t seem nearly as difficult. If you should decide not to continue to study the advanced tenses (or just dabble a little in some of them), the skills you’ve acquired this far will still allow you to navigate in Spanish very well. It’s a win-win situation.

Practice when to use each past tense
I’ve strived to motivate and support the beginner through these initial challenges with my verb guide, The Spanish Verb Conjugator, The Beginner’s Guide to Mastering Spanish Verbs. You can use it as your ‘training wheels’ until your verb conjugation skills improve. Reflexive verbs and “Verbs Like Gustar,” which are commonly used in the present and past tenses, are also included in my verb guide as well. All of the basics are covered to get you rolling. The following book exerpt summarizes when to use each past tense.

The preterit and the imperfect are constantly joined at the hip when dealing with the past in Spanish. Choosing between them is not easy. Just like balancing on your own without training wheels, learning to balance between the preterit and imperfect is a skill to develop with practice. 

The preterit past tense in Spanish is used when events in the past are completed with reference to the beginning or end of the action. It is also used for a series of completed events in the past.

I washed the dishes.” Lavé los platos; or 
I washed the dishes, I swept the floor, and I cleaned the bathroom.” 
Lavé los platos, barrí el piso y limpié el baño.

The imperfect past tense in Spanish is used to describe action in progress or for habitual, repeated actions in the past.   

I was washing the dishes.”; or “I used to wash the dishes.”
Lavaba los platos.

The imperfect describes the background as other actions occur simultaneously or interrupt the action. The interrupting actions are often in the preterit tense.  

“I was washing the dishes and I was sweeping the floor when you called me.” 
Lavaba (imperfect) los platos y barría (imperfect) el piso cuando me llamaste (preterit). 

Remember that you are describing the past in the way that you want to paint the picture of what happened. Is the point in time that you are referring to completed? Is there focus on the beginning or end of the action? Was it already in progress? Was it habitual, something you used to do?

Create strategies to help you decide which past tense to use
Not only will it save you time, but it is essential to rely on strategies or techniques that help you choose between the past tenses on-the-spot. The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) through the University of Minnesota, developed the "Spanish Grammar Strategies Web Project." It is designed to enhance the learning and use of Spanish grammar. 

Here is a direct link to the web page that illustrates some excellent examples of strategies that students and teachers have used to help them make the decision between the preterit and the imperfect. There are video tutorials included. Use these strategies yourself, or maybe they will inspire you to create your own personal strategies.

University of Minnesota/CARLA: Spanish Grammar Strategies Web Project/
Preterite vs. Imperfect




10,000 Hours To Mastery: How Does That Translate Into Learning Spanish?

In his popular book, "Outliers: The Story of Success," Malcom Gladwell proposes that 10,000 hours of practice are required to achieve mastery of any skill. How does that translate into learning Spanish?

Gladwell's work clarifies the concept of “mastery”: it requires time, practice, and patience as much as intelligence. But mastery doesn’t mean the learning ends. Thank God it doesn’t end because that would mean the adventure is over. If mastery is the destination, there’s more to do once you arrive. It’s knowing how to navigate a skill in uncharted territory. I really like the way Mattison Grey of “The Performer's Paradox,” a webinar I attended, interprets mastery:

 “You know enough to know–that you don’t need to know enough.”

Being able to navigate the unknown, to deal with what shows up. Instead of thinking of mastery as “completion,” it’s more like riding a wave of acquired knowledge that has its own momentum. It truly is an adventure.

There’s no way around it, 10,000 hours is a long time. It doesn’t mean that the time in between is worthless or without merit. That would be like believing the language development of a five-year-old means nothing. Observe the native language skills of a five year old, they’re not too shabby actually, and they have a pretty good time from what I can tell. They haven’t been shackled by the limitations of the ego yet. A five year old has the perfect attitude for learning a language.

One way or another you will have to make an investment of time to learn Spanish. The amount is up to you, but it's never a waste of time. The following scenarios describe different roads that will point you in the direction to mastery.

Scenario A: The Classroom Investment Plan
While I was studying Spanish in college, I remember hearing that it would take seven years to become proficient by attending classes in high school and/or college, without any extracurricular practice whatsoever. On a typical class schedule of almost an hour class period every weekday for 30 weeks (52 weeks per year, less a 12 week summer vacation): 5 hours of class a week, multiplied by 30 weeks a year equals 150 hours total per school year, not counting any practice outside of class. 150 hours, multiplied by 7 years equals 1,050 hours total class time invested in 7 years. (See “Scenario A” in the chart below.) In this equation, it becomes clear that practicing Spanish outside of class is essential, and it also states the case for integrating foreign language at the elementary school level instead of the high school level, but that is a topic for another article.

Scenario B: The Passive Mastery Plan
I like this equation better: on a schedule of 10 years to mastery of a language, or any skill, divide 10,000 hours of practice by 10 years, which equals 1,000 hours per year. Divide 1,000 by 365 days in a year, which equals 2.74 hours per day of practice. (See “Scenario B” in the chart below.) As we age, 10 years passes whether we like it or not. After the age of 20, it seems to happen at an exponential rate. You will turn 25, 30, 35, etc. anyway, why not do it speaking two languages? Think of the things you’ve been doing passively for around 2.74 hours a day for 10 years, or close to it. Driving is a good example, there’s also cooking, navigating the internet, housekeeping, reading, etc., the list goes on. You’ve already mastered skills and you didn’t even know it! 

Scenario C: The Travel Abroad Plan
Now, if 10 years is not on your schedule to gradually acquire a second language, there are ways to speed it up. If you were to live in a Spanish speaking country for a year: 16 hours of immersion a day (24 hours minus 8 hours of sleep), multiplied by 365 days in a year equals 5,840 hours total. In this case, you’re over halfway to mastery. Obviously, after two years you would have invested over 10,000 hours. (See “Scenario C” in the chart below.) This is also true for immigrants to the United States, keep that in mind.

If living in a Spanish speaking country isn’t a viable option for you, focus your efforts on proficiency as a more realistic goal. It doesn’t have to be black and white; different shades of proficiency exist within mastery. Mastery is the ultimate destination, but proficiency is the way there, the road we must travel. Proficiency still allows you to:

  • communicate with native Spanish speakers while traveling
  • build relationships with native Spanish speakers
  • work in a bilingual capacity to serve multicultural communities 

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The Preterit and The Imperfect Spanish Verbs: A Love Story

There are two past tenses of Spanish verbs: the preterit and the imperfect. It would seem like one past tense is enough for any language. The duality is frustrating for native speakers of English. Perhaps, like a pc and a mac, Coke® and Pepsi®, McDonald’s® and Burger King®, there is a mystical balance behind this cosmic partnership. Both serve a purpose, at least to remind us that we have a choice. And once we accept the duality, our opportunities double too, like speaking in two languages.

The Infatuation Stage

What happens with the inspiration and intention filling our hearts when we embark upon learning a second language, Spanish in particular? Does it sustain us until we become fluent? Or do we lose our enthusiasm somewhere along the way and decide to break it off?

At the outset of the endeavor to learn Spanish, we are proud. We proclaim our commitment to the world, “I’m going to learn to speak Spanish! It’s such a beautiful language. I would love to travel to a Spanish speaking country some day, and it would also help me stand out of the competition to land a good job.” It is a desire coming from a place deep inside, a feeling we can’t quite explain. We are inspired to bring the colorful world of Latin culture and the Spanish language into our lives.

Our experiences with Spanish usually start in high school, but some of us are late bloomers and jump in later at the community college or university level. Perhaps we are professionals or travelers fulfilling that life-long dream to learn Spanish. Or maybe we purchase a self-study program to use on our own.

The Honeymoon  

We start out with the alphabet, pronunciation, vocabulary, greetings, and talking about the weather. Adjectives and vocabulary words simply require memorization and gender agreement (identifying masculine and feminine words). Everything is going pretty well, and then the day comes when verbs are introduced. There are more definitions to memorize, but the subject pronouns and different verb endings for each subject take us in a direction we never intended to go. These grammatical concepts are totally different than verb conjugation in English. Up until this point, we were able to use our native English language to bridge the gap. It’s a good strategy when building vocabulary, but it doesn’t seem to work now.

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