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Understanding The Spanish Grammar - Spanish Tenses

Aug 24, 2007
For an English native or for someone whose mother tongue bears the Latin ancestry, the Spanish grammar will be a lot easier to grasp than with many other languages. One of the grammatical issues that a lot of people learning Spanish have problems with, is understanding the Spanish tenses and learning how to use them in the right context. For this reason, I'm going to cover all the tenses in the Spanish grammar and hopefully clear some of your issues regarding them.

In the first section, we'll be covering the present, past and imperfect tenses. These three, along with the future tense (discussed in the second part of the article) are widely used and form the base of the Spanish grammar. Learning them and learning how to use them properly and in the right context is fundamental if you ever want to become fluent in your secondary language. Avoiding tense confusion will also spare you some embarrassing moments when talking Spanish to a native.

Learn Spanish Grammar - Present Tense

The present tense uses similar rules in the Spanish grammar as in many of the other Latin languages. It expresses the actions occurring in the present or something that is generally repeated (habitual). If the verb expresses an action that occurred in the past and is happening in the present, than it also uses an expression of time (like "last night", "yesterday", "one year ago" and so forth). The "formula" for most present tense verbs in Spanish is "hacer" (to make or to do) - expression of time - the verb in the present tense form. Regular verbs end in "ar", "er" and "ir", for example Ayudar, Correr or Vivir.

Learn Spanish Grammar - Past Tense

Past tense is used when talking about an action that took place in the past and has ended. Remember, if you're talking about something that took place in the past and is still going on, than you're in the present tense. Other than that, it follows the same formula as for the present tense, namely the verb "hacer", the expression of time and the past tense verb. In addition, the ending letters change accordingly to the person used. For example first person is Yo e/i (amos in plural), second person is Tu aste/iste and third person ends with "o" (aron/ieron in third person plural).

One side note about the past tense in Spanish. People that just started learning Spanish and its grammar rules find it difficult sometimes in spotting whether or not an action has ended in the past or is still continuing. If you continue to have this kind of problem after a while, make sure you learn the verb endings for the past, present and imperfect tenses by hard. Knowing what termination does what is crucial into figuring out the tense the other person is speaking in. After a while, this will come naturally as you get more comfortable around the new language, but before that happens you need to force yourself into learning the terminations in a very straightforward fashion.

Learn Spanish Grammar - Imperfect Tense

The imperfect tense is a bit tricky in Spanish, as many language learning courses will bold out. It's used in a variety of situations, such as expressing an action repeated in the past, expressing an action that occurred in the past and was interrupted, an hour in the past, the age in the past using the verb "tener" or when describing stuff in the past. Most imperfect tense verbs follow this formula: cuanto, followed by the expression of time, the verb hacia (do) and lastly, the imperfect verb.

Verbs ending in "ar" will receive "aba/abamos" in first person singular/plural, "abas" in second person, "aba/aban" in third person singular/plural. Verbs ending in "er" and "ir" will receive "ia/iamos" in first person singular/plural, "ias" in second person, "ia/ian" in third person singular/plural. For example, the verb "caminar" becomes "yo caminaba", "tu caminabas", "el/ellas caminaba", "nostros caminabamos" and "ellos/ellas caminaban". If you get these terminations memorized, you will soon be able to avoid the past/imperfect tense confusion with ease.

Learn Spanish Grammar - Future Tense

The future tense may not be very hard to use, but it's harder to spot when someone else is using it if you're not familiar with Spanish yet. That is due to the fact that it uses several constructions for many occasions, such as an infinitive form using the "ir a" form, a surprise or doubt in the present, a future action viewed from the present tense or an action that will occur in the future, at a given time (using an expression of time again).

The form of future tense regular verbs is as follows: for verbs ending in "ar" it's "Yo e and Nostros emos" (first person singular/plural), "Tu as" (second person) and "El/Ella a and Ellos/Ellas an" (third person singular/plural). Verbs ending in "er" and "ir" have the exact same terminations as with the ones ending in "ar", unlike the other tenses.

Learn Spanish Grammar - Conditional Tense

When learning Spanish, you'll find that the conditional tense is one of the easiest to spot and understand, mainly because it's used in clear contexts and verbs have the same termination regardless of their infinitive form (er, ar or ir). You don't need a free online language lesson to learn this tense, all you need to know is this: it's used when one expresses a condition based on something said or known, based on something that occurred in the past and in a rarer case, as a measure of courtesy. Verb terminations are as follows: Yo ia / Nostros iamos, Tu ias, El/Ella ia, Ellos/Ellas ian. One more thing to note about the conditional tense is that in Spanish, the ending carries an accent regardless of the person you use.

Learn Spanish Grammar - Gerund Tense

Some find the Spanish gerund harder to understand, but in fact it's rather easy, especially if you think about the English "ing" termination. You'll be using gerund in Spanish whenever you want to point out an action that was taking place at a particular point in time (it can be past, present or future). If you have trouble deciding whether or not you should use gerund at some point, try translating the question in English and see if you would use an "ing" verb or not. Instead of the English termination, Spanish uses the termination "ando" for verbs ending in "ar" and "iendo" for verbs ending in "er" or "ir".

It's pretty much straightforward and after a while you'll be able to make the decision about using gerund or not naturally and you won't need to make the connection with the English form. The only tense you can confuse it with slightly is past participle, which we'll discuss shortly, but other than that it should be easy to recognize a gerund tense after a bit of exercise.

Learn Spanish Grammar - Past Participle

Past participle is not as commonly used in Spanish, but nevertheless you'll have to know when it's appropriate to do so. A verb in past participle is usually accompanied by an adverb or is an adverb, used to express a condition. Sometimes it is also used in junction with the verb "haber" (to do/make). The past participle termination is "ado" for verbs ending in "ar" and "ido" for verbs ending in "er" or "ir".

That's all you need to know about Spanish tenses, basically. Hopefully this guide to the Spanish grammar was useful and it will clear up your confusion about when and where to use a specific tense or how to easily compare them to the tense rules in your native language.
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Increase your Spanish vocabulary at online Spanish games at www.InternetPolyglot.com. The site contains thousands of Spanish lessons in different languages.
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