Verbs in Spanish change their endings to indicate the subject – i.e. the person who is doing the action. This means that it is not always necessary to use subject pronouns – ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘he’, ‘she’, etc. However, one significant difference between Spanish and English that needs to be understood before we can look in more detail at verbs is the various ways of saying ‘you’.
How to say ‘you’ in Spanish
Deciding how to address someone is more complicated in Spanish than in English. There are singular and plural forms depending on how many people you are talking to and there are also different forms depending on how formal or familiar you want to be, so in total there are four possibilities for translating the word ‘you’ in standard Spanish:
• When you are speaking to someone you know well, such as family or friends, you
would use the familiar form, and when you are talking to a stranger or to someone
with whom you want to maintain a certain level of formality, you would use the
• When you are using the familiar form of address, the word for ‘you’ when addressing
one person is tú and if you are addressing more than one person you must use
vosotros or vosotras.
• Vosotros is the used when addressing two or more people who are all masculine or
when addressing two or more people when some are masculine and some are
• Vosotras is used when addressing two or more people who are all feminine.
For example, if you were talking to your parents, you would use vosotros, as one is
masculine and one is feminine, but if you were talking to your sisters, you would use
Since verb endings in Spanish are distinctive and unambiguous, the use of the
pronouns tú and vosotros is not common.
When you are talking to a stranger or to someone with whom you wish to be more formal, you must use usted, and when addressing two or more people, ustedes.
Usted is used with the same verb ending as ‘he’ and ‘she’, while ustedes is used with the same verb ending as ‘they’, so in order to avoid any ambiguity, it is sometimes necessary to include these with the verb. Usted is usually abbreviated in writing to Vd./Ud. and ustedes to Vds./Uds.
The tendency in Spain at the moment seems to be that the familiar forms (tú and vosotros) are being used more and more at the expense of Vd. and Vds. This is particularly true among young people. However, in case of doubt, the recommendation, especially among adults, is to use Vd. In this case, you will never lose face.
We have already seen the various forms of the word ‘you’ in Spanish, so now we can look at the complete list of subject pronouns. Traditionally pronouns and verbs are displayed in the three ‘persons’. In the singular, ‘I’ is the ‘first person’, ‘you’ is the second person, and ‘he/she’ is the third person. The first person plural is ‘we’, the second person plural is ‘you’ (remember that in English
‘you’ can be singular or plural) and the third person plural is ‘they’. The subject pronouns in Spanish are as follows:
1 yo I
2 tú you (familiar)
3 él he (or ‘it’ when referring to a masc. object)
4 ella she (or ‘it’ when referring to a fem. object)
usted you (formal)
1 nosotros/nosotras we (masc./fem.)
2 vosotros/vosotras you (masc./fem. pl., familiar)
3 ellos they (masc. people or objects)
Ellas they (fem. people or objects)
Ustedes you (formal, pl.)
Note: The masculine plural forms ‘nosotros and ellos must be used when referring to two
or more people (or objects) when some are masculine and some are feminine, as explained above with reference to vosotros.
Verbs that follow certain rules and whose forms are therefore predictable, are called ‘regular verbs’. Once you have learnt the pattern of regular verbs you can confidently use any regular verbs in the same way.
There are three categories of regular verbs in Spanish: -ar, -er, and -ir verbs. The -ar, -er and -ir refer to the endings of these verbs in their infintive form, i.e. the form that you
will find in the dictionary as the basis of the verb and which can be translated as ‘to…’, e.g. trabajar ‘to work’. There is a set of endings that correspond to each of these three types of verbs, and the
endings correspond to the three ‘persons’ explained above. The -ar group is by far the largest group of verbs and nearly all the verbs in this group are regular.
Here is the present tense of the regular -ar verb trabajar in the singular:
1st person ( yo) trabajo I work
2nd person (tú) trabajas you work (one person, familiar)
3rd person (él) trabaja he works
(ella) trabaja she works
(Vd.) trabaja you work (one person, formal)
Notice that the endings are distinctive for ‘I ’and the familiar ‘you’, so there is really no need to include the subject pronouns yo and tú, unless you want to add emphasis:
e.g. I work, but you do not work.
Yo trabajo pero tú no trabajas.
‘He’, ‘she’ and the polite ‘you’ all use the same form. So if there is any possible
ambiguity, you may need to include the subject pronoun.
e.g. Vd. trabaja en el banco ¿no?
You work in the bank,don ’t you?
Without the Vd. in the above example the sentence could have meant ‘He works in the
bank, doesn’t he?’ or ‘She works in the bank, doesn’t she?’.
Often the context of the sentence makes the meaning clear and it is not necessary to
include the pronoun.
Here is the present tense of the regular -ar verb trabajar in the plural:
1st person (nosotros/nosotras) trabajamos we work
2nd person (vosotros/vosotras) trabajáis you work (familiar pl.)
3rd person (ellos) trabajan they work (masc.)
(ellas) trabajan they work (fem.)
(Vds.) trabajan you work (formal pl.)
What has been said above with reference to the possible ambiguity of the third person of
the verb applies to the plural as to the singular.Now that you know the pattern of a regular -ar verb, you could form the present tense of any other regular -ar verb:
e.g. hablar ‘to speak’
hablo I speak
hablas you speak
habla he/she speaks, you speak
hablamos we speak
habláis you speak
hablan they speak, you speak
Here are some other regular -ar verbs that you could now use:
Buscar to look for estudiar to study
cantar to sing mirar to look at
comprar to buy nadir to swim
desayunar to have breakfast tomar to take
escuchar to listen viajar to travel
You will have the chance to practise using some of these verbs in the exercises at the end of this unit.
Now that you know how the present tense of regular -ar verbs work, you will have no problem with the other two categories. Here are the endings for regular -er and regular –ir verbs:
-o - emos -o -imos
-es -éis -es -ís
-e -en -e -en
Here are examples of regular -er and -ir verbs:
comer (to eat) vivir (to live)
como I eat vivo I live
comes you eat vives you live
come etc. vive etc.
Other regular -er and -ir verbs are:
beber to drink
leer to read
vender to sell
escribir to write