top of page
  • Judy Schulten

7. Learn five workhorse verbs.

Updated: Nov 24, 2019

To English speakers, the verbs in Spanish are quite confusing. We are accustomed to our own very simple verbs. In the appendix, you’ll find “The Twenty-Four-Plus Ways of “You Were.” It’s my own list. I made it to show how complicated the Spanish verb system can seem to English speakers. It details twenty-four way to say “you were” in Spanish, and there are many more than twenty-four.

You don’t need to know that list. You don’t need to know how to conjugate many verbs at all. However, here are five verbs so important that, yes, you absolutely need to learn their entire conjugations:

1) ser—to be, used for a permanent condition. Yo soy mujer. I am a woman.

2) estar—to be, used for a temporary condition. Yo estoy en casa. I am at home.

3) hacer—to do, to make. Juan hace cosas bellas. Juan makes beautiful things.

4) poder—to be able to. Puedo hablar español. I can speak Spanish.

5) tener—to have, and the basis for many idioms. Tengo diez dólares. I have ten dollars.

If you know these verbs, you can use them yourself and -equally important- you will recognize them when you hear them or see them in any form.

Much more important than knowing the conjugation of verbs is knowing the infinitive. It’s a matter of vocabulary. For example, “trabajar—to work” is a useful word to know. On a very low level, your meaning would be understood if you said, “Ayer yo trabajar.” That’s incorrect Spanish, but you would have communicated the fact that you worked yesterday.

Meet Sr. Perdido. He’s the defeated-looking person in every beginning class. He’s taken Level 1 Spanish more than once. Despite his persistent effort, he does not understand the grammar. He becomes more lost as the class progresses, and decides, “I’m just no good at languages.” Take heart, Sr. Perdido. Learn a few verbs, rely on the infinitive, get your message across.

Recent Posts

See All

53. Take heart from other mediocre linguists.

It's fun to read about other people's struggles with a second language. Fun, and somehow comforting. I just read Monsieur Mediocre, by John von Sothen, an American married to a French woman, living in


bottom of page