Verb Conjugation 102

intermediate Spanish verb conversationA2B2

Spanish Verb Conjugation: 102

Understanding verb conjugation can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.

Verb conjugation is the process of taking the base form of a verb which is the simplest form of a verb, without a special ending (or suffix). It’s the form that appears in dictionary entries. Also known as the plain form, simple form, or stem.

Conjugated verbs are verbs which have been changed from their base form to communicate one or more of the following: person, number, gender, tense, aspect, mood,  or voice.

So now what?

Do you need to drill “to death” every conjugation of every verb or is there another way?

Well, if you want to speed up your mental processing speed and free up some working memory, the brain has to ensure that each lexical (grammatical) item is arranged in the correct syntactic (well-formed) order and that the rules of tense and agreement (in relation to the subject) are applied correctly.

This requires a number of cognitive (mental) operations some of which involve sub-operations (an operation that forms a specific phase of a larger operation or process.)

So the answer is . . . if you want to enhance your target language output, then there is a benefit to practicing your verb conjugations.

First, let’s break down a verb into its essential components.

1. According to Merriam’s Dictionary simple definition of a verb: (grammar) a word (such as jump, think, happen, or exist ) that is usually one of the main parts of a sentence and that expresses an action, an occurrence, or a state of being.

2. “To” is a function word (or an infinitive marker) and when used before a verb its function is to show that the verb is an infinitive, meaning it has no tense nor subject.

When you combine a subject with an infinitive, you drop the “to” and conjugate the verb. 

In Spanish the -ar, -er, and -ir attached to the back of the root or stem of the verb is the equivalent to the English infinitive marker word “to”.

So when you combine a subject with a Spanish infinitive verb, you drop the “-ar, -er, and -ir” and conjugate the verb by replacing the -ar, -er, and -ir with the representation of the corresponding subject or subject pronoun which also indicates the tense/mood of the verb.

(Note: One syllable Spanish verbs like, ir, ser, and ver are exceptions and are considered to be irregular verbs and do not follow the standard conjugation procedure described here but will be addressed in future posts.)

What is crucial to conjugating Spanish verbs is to remember that every Spanish verb has 2 parts:

  1. The root or stem of the verb
  2. The English function word (infinitive marker) equivalent (-ar, -er, and -ir).

Here are some examples: (stem in brown, infinitive marker in red)

hablar/to speak

comer/to eat

vivir/to live

Once you understand these basic components of a Spanish verb, you will get a clearer picture of what happens when its time to conjugate it.

The next step is to learn about the endings that will replace the infinitive marker that will indicate both the subject and the tense.

In order to demonstrate the basic concept here are a few subject pronouns (English/Spanish) and their equivalent endings for present tense -ar verbs with an example of the fully conjugated Spanish verb: (stem in brown, subject and tense indicator in red)

To speak / Hablar

I/yo – o, I speak / (Yo) hablo

You/tú – as, You speak / (Tú) hablas

He/él – a,  He speaks / (Él) habla

She/ella – a,  She speaks / (Ella) habla

We/nosotros – amos, We speak / (Nosotros) hablamos

You guys/ustedes – an, You guys speak / (Uds.) hablan

They/ellos – an, They speak / (Ellos) hablan

If you consider both the stem of the verb and how the ending that is attached to the back of the verb and how they work in concert, you will understand what the process of conjugation is and how to apply it depending on the contextual requirement.

This takes English speakers learning Spanish some getting used to because in Spanish, one word, the Spanish conjugated verb, contains both the subject and the verb (in its appropriate tense.)

There is no need to include the subject separately once said subject has been established.

This is not the case in English as the subject must always be expressly written or spoken in addition to the verb.

Again, it is worth restating that every Spanish verb has two parts:  The root or stem of the verb and the infinitive marker or the representation of the corresponding subject or subject pronoun which also indicates the tense/mood of the verb which is attached to the back of the stem.

Once this difference is thoroughly understood and practiced, language output will be increased both in speed and accuracy.

Is learning to conjugate really necessary?

Understanding how conjugation works is beneficial to language production in terms of determining which verb ending is contextually appropriate for both the subject and tense.

An in depth study of verb conjugation may or may not be essential for gaining fluency, but it will assist the learner nonetheless.

Once obtained, it can be applied through out the learning input and output language spectrum because you will have the base knowledge to understand what you are hearing and how it relates to the context.

Making sense of verb conjugation will allow you to effectively use your vocabulary and get the most out of your communications in Spanish.

If you are ready and willing, put your verbs to use.

It will make a world of difference when you start to understand and speak Spanish!