In learning Spanish, one of the most intimidating parts of the language is its complex conjugation system. Within this massive list, you have basic tenses, subjunctive tenses, and even moods. And yes, all of them are used regularly. But, do not fret; here is a quick explanation of every Spanish tense.
**Note: This only accounts for regular conjugations**
The “Basics” of Spanish Conjugation
These are the “basic” conjugations used in nearly every single sentence; and by basic, I mean that it does not involve aspects or moods like subjunctive or conditional.
Used to state facts, observations & something that happens in general
Ex: cantar → to sing
Yo canto casi todos los dias → I sing almost every day
Used to talk about any event that happened before the moment in which you are talking, even if it was 4000 years ago or simply 2 seconds ago. However, Spanish has two ways to talk about the past.
Past Preterite Tense
Used to talk about a specific event that happened at a particular time in the past and does no longer continue to happen.
Ex: cenar → to have dinner
Paul cenó antes de irse a la escuela → Paul ate dinner before going to school
Past Preterite Tense
Used to talk about chronic events and give additional information about something that happened but is not necessarily finished.
Ex: vivr → to live
Tomaba el tren todos los días cuando vivía en Japón → I used to take the train
every day when I lived in Japan
Used to talk about anything that is happening after this moment. There are also two ways of expressing the future in Spanish, but they are used relatively interchangeably.
Simple Future Tense
The notable exception about the simple tense is that you add the conjugation after the r in the verb.
Ex: comer → to eat
Yo lo comeré cuando estoy en mi casa → I will eat it when I am in my house
“Going to” Future Tense:
This is directly equivalent to the English I am going to _. This tense is formed by attaching the conjugation of ir + a + the infinitive form of the verb
Ex: irse → to leave
Me voy a ir en dos minutos → I am going to leave in two minutes
The Perfect Tenses
Every perfect tense is relatively easy to form. You simply conjugate haber depending on the tense and subject, then adjust the verb as
Present Perfect Tense he cantado I have sung
Past Perfect Tense había cantado I had sung
Future Perfect Tense habré cantado I will have sung
Past Perfect Subjunctive Tense hubiera cantado I would have sung
The Miscellaneous Tenses & Moods
After you have learned how to express yourself in the past, present, and future, there is one more aspect you still have to learn: moods & miscellaneous tenses.
To make it quick there are two central moods, the imperative mood, and conditional mood:
The conditional mood expresses the equivalent of “would _” in English; such as “I would sing, but….” And this is quite easy to conjugate, functioning similarly to the future tense, in which you have an ending to a base structure:
Ex: hablar → to talk
Yo hablaría pero me siento demasiado nervioso → I would talk but I feel too nervous.
Imperative Mood [Commands]
The Imperative mood should just be thought of as the “commanding” mood; used as the equivalent of “Sing!” or “Don’t sing!” in English. However, this case is spread among two different conjugations, the normal mood, and the negative mood:
As you can see, they are pretty much identical except for the tu form, and the additional no that is added to the beginning of the Imperative negative:
Ex: Tu, No cantes, pero tu, canta para mi → You, don’t sing, but you, sing for me
Finally, although not necessarily a tense or mood, the progressive form is extremely important as the “-ing” form in Spanish, like running from the verb to run. Like the perfect form, you conjugate the verbs like so:
And then add the auxiliary verb estar, and you conjugate that depending on the tense; for example:
Ex: Estoy corriendo vs. Estaba corriendo → I am running vs I was running
Learning Spanish Conjugation
And there is one more that we didn’t mention, the subjunctive tense, but that would warrant an article on its own or a lesson with one of LanguageBird’s many talented teachers. In addition, online teaching is one of the best resources for learning these conjugations. So don’t let the endless memorizing bore you, and book a session with a teacher!