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Spanish Verb Tenses Explained: Part 1

Today, we will embark on a brief journey that encompasses all the Spanish verb tenses. However, rather than focusing on how to conjugate the verb tenses in Spanish, which you may or may not have already learned, we'll take a closer look at when to use each one, using the extremely common verb hablar ("to talk" or "to speak") to illustrate them whenever possible, as well as plenty of examples from the Yabla Spanish video library. 

 

How Many Tenses Are There in Spanish?

How many different tenses in Spanish are there in total? According to the Real Academia Española, there are sixteen Spanish verb tenses. There are also some "bonus tenses," which aren't officially included in their classification, which we will also cover in this lesson. Let's get started.

 

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Indicative Tenses

To make matters just a bit more complicated, Spanish verb tenses fall into three categories called "moods," which are the indicative, the subjunctive, and the imperative. Generally speaking, the indicative verb tenses in Spanish are the first Spanish verb tenses learned, and, in contrast to the Spanish verb tenses in the other moods (subjunctive and imperative), they tend to deal with facts and objective reality. Let's take a look:

 

1. Present (Presente)

Let's start with the present tense in Spanish, also known as the "simple present." This tense is primarily used in two ways, the first being to talk about a present action that is habitual, repeated, or ongoing. Let's take a look:

 

Aunque soy extranjero, yo hablo español muy bien.

Although I'm a foreigner, I speak Spanish very well.

Caption 56, Clase Aula Azul Información con subjuntivo e indicativo - Part 4

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Since it is an ongoing fact that the speaker speaks Spanish very well, it is appropriate to use the present tense. We can also use this tense to talk about an action that is actually in progress at the moment:

 

¿Hablo con la Señora Pepa Flores, la manager de Amalia Durango?

Am I speaking with Mrs. Pepa Flores, Amalia Durango's manager?

Captions 37-38, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa Capítulo 1 - Part 5

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***BONUS TENSE: Present Progressive (Presente Continuo)*** 

Notice that the second example of the present tense was translated to the English present progressive tense. This is the tense with a form of the word "to be" and the gerund, or -ing form of a verb ("I'm eating," "He's swimming," etc.). The present progressive tense in Spanish, which is similarly formed with a present conjugation of the verb estar (to be) and a verb's gerundio (gerund, which usually ends in -ando or -iendo in Spanish), is always translated in this fashion and really emphasizes that an action is in progress at this very moment. Let's take a look:

 

OK. Xavi, ahora que estamos hablando de... de comida, de alimentos, quisiera hacerte una pregunta.

OK. Xavi, now that we're talking about... about food, about foods, I'd like to ask you a question.

Captions 23-24, Carlos y Xavi Part 3 Diferencias de vocabulario entre España y Colombia

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For more information about and examples of the present progressive tense in Spanish, check out this lesson as well as this video that contrasts the use of the simple present with the present progressive. Now that we've seen a couple of the present verb tenses in Spanish, let's check out some of the Spanish past tenses. 

 

2. Imperfect (Pretérito imperfecto)

The imperfect is one of the Spanish past tenses and talks about an action that was ongoing or habitual in the past or that was in progress and/or interrupted in the moment described. Translations for the imperfect in Spanish for the verb hablar could thus include "used to talk," "would talk," or "was talking." Let's take a look at couple of examples:

 

Bueno, cuando yo era pequeña hablaba con la ficha de Einstein.

Well, when I was little, I used to talk to the Einstein card.

Caption 36, La Familia Cheveroni Capítulo 1 - Part 3

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Ya que estás, contanos a los dos... ¿De qué hablaban?

Now that you're here, tell us both... What were you talking about?

Caption 2, Muñeca Brava 45 El secreto - Part 6

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To learn more about the imperfect tense in Spanish, check out this lesson entitled: The Imperfect Tense in Spanish: The Past That Just Won't Quit

 

***BONUS TENSE: Past Progressive (Pasado continuo)*** 

The past equivalent of the present progressive tense is the past progressive tense, which emphasizes that an action in the past was in progress. As with the present and present progressive tenses, while the imperfect tense in Spanish can sometimes be translated with the past progressive in English ("I was eating," "You were running," etc.), the past progressive tense in Spanish is always translated in this fashion, with "was" or "were" plus a verb's gerund. It is formed in the same way as the present progressive except that the verb estar is conjugated in the imperfect tense:

 

Le hemos despistado. -Porque estaba hablando

We've confused her. -Because she was talking.

Caption 59, Jugando a la Brisca En la calle

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3. Preterite (Pretérito indefinido)

The preterite is another one of the Spanish past tenses. In contrast to the imperfect tense, the preterite tense in Spanish describes past actions that have been completed. It could be compared with verbs ending in -ed in English (e.g. "He fished," "We traveled," etc.). Let's see an example:

 

Pero claro, en Televisión Española me hablaron de Gastón Almanza

But of course, at Spanish Television they talked to me about Gaston Almanza

Caption 13, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa Capítulo 3 - Part 10

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The preterite is also used for past actions that interrupted other actions in progress, which would often be conjugated in the imperfect, as in the following example:

 

Yo hablaba por teléfono cuando mi novio me habló con una voz muy alta. 

I was talking on the phone when my boyfriend talked to me in a very loud voice. 

 

To find out more about the preterite tense, we recommend this lesson from our Yabla lesson archives. 

 

4. Future (Futuro simple)

The future tense in Spanish is pretty straightforward; it talks about something we "will" do in the future. Let's take a look: 

 

Hoy hablaremos de las preposiciones de lugar.

Today, we will talk about prepositions of place.

Caption 9, Ana Carolina Preposiciones de lugar

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Interestingly, sometimes the Spanish future tense is used in situations where English speakers would employ "would" to imply disbelief: 

 

¿Y tú me hablarás de esta manera?

And you'd talk to me like that? 

 

5. Simple Conditional (Condicional simple)

So, what about the Spanish conditional tenses? The simple conditional tense is the typical Spanish equivalent of saying one "would" do something in English, often in a hypothetical situation:

 

Bueno, si yo fuera tú, hablaría con él.

Well, if I were you, I would speak with him.

Caption 24, El Aula Azul La Doctora Consejos: Subjuntivo y condicional

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This tense is often, but not always, seen in conjunction with the imperfect subjunctive tense (fuera, or "I were" in the example above), which we will cover in part two of this lesson, to specify that if some hypothetical situation "were" in place, something else "would" happen.  

 

6. Present Perfect (Pretérito perfecto)

Although this tense is called the present perfect in English, its Spanish name is préterito perfecto ("preterite perfect" or "past perfect"), and it is the Spanish past tense used to say that one "has done" something within a specific time period, which could be anything from that day to one's life. It is formed with the verb haber, which is translated as "has" or "have" in English, along with the participle form of the verb (which will typically have the suffix -ado or -ido in Spanish and -ed or -en in English). Let's take a look:

 

El día de hoy, hemos hablado de artículos que utilizamos al día a día

Today, we've talked about items we use every day

Caption 41, Ana Carolina Artículos de aseo personal

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Interestingly, in Spain, the present perfect is often used to describe things that happened in the recent past in situations in which English speakers would use the simple past and Latin Americans would more likely use the preterite. This usage can be seen quite clearly throughout this video from El Aula Azul. Let's take a look at an excerpt:

 

Pero cuando ha salido de clase, cuando hemos terminado la clase, ha ido a coger el coche, y resulta que la ventanilla estaba rota.

But when she's left class, when we've finished the class, she's gone to get her car, and it turns out that the window was broken.

Captions 12-14, El Aula Azul Conversación: Un día de mala suerte

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Although the translators at Yabla chose to translate this tense literally in this video to facilitate the learning of the present perfect tense, this sounds quite awkward in English, where a native speaker would probably say: "But when she left class, when we finished the class, she went to get her car, and it turns out that the window was broken."

 

In this video, Carlos provides an even more thorough explanation about when to use this tense as part of a useful four-part series on the different past tenses in Spanish. 

 

7. Pluperfect (Pretérito pluscuamperfecto)

The pluperfect is the past equivalent of the present perfect tense. It is formed with the imperfect conjugation of the verb haber and the participle form of the infinitive. It is often used to describe things we "had" already done when something else occurred.

 

que no era tan escandalosa como... como la gente había hab'... había hablado al principio.

That it wasn't as scandalous as... as the people had sa'... had said in the beginning.

Captions 41-42, Los Juegos Olímpicos Pablo Herrera

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8. Past Anterior (Pretérito anterior)

Also known as the preterite perfect, the past anterior tense is extremely similar to the pluperfect tense but employs the preterite conjugation of the verb haber plus the participle. It is used more commonly in literature and less in everyday speech. While we couldn't find an example of this tense with the verb hablar, we did find one with the verb coger (to grab): 

 

Apenas lo hubo cogido, el niño se despertó.

He'd barely grabbed it, the little boy woke up.

Captions 46-47, Chus recita poemas Antonio Machado

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Just in case you were wondering, an example sentence with the verb hablar might be: Yo ya hube hablado con mi maestra antes del examen (I had already spoken to my teacher before the test), and there would be no difference in translation between this sentence and the same sentence with the verb conjugated in its pluperfect form (Yo ya había hablado con mi maestra antes del examen).

 

9. Future Perfect (Futuro compuesto)

If one said, Yo ya habré hablado con el chico por teléfono antes de conocerlo cara a cara (I will have already spoken to the guy on the phone before meeting him face to face), he or she would be employing the future perfect tense, which includes the future tense conjugation of the verb haber plus the participle. This conveys the English construction "will have." Let's take a look at an example of this tense from the Yabla Spanish library:

 

Ay, ¿por qué se me habrá ocurrido comer bandeja paisa antes de que me encerraran, ah?

Oh, why would it have occurred to me to eat "bandeja paisa" [a Colombian dish] before they locked me up, huh?

Captions 27-28, La Familia Cheveroni Capítulo 1 - Part 3

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In this example, we see that, similarly to the future tense, the future perfect tense can also be used to express disbelief, and it is translated with the English word "would" (rather than "will") in such cases. 

 

10. Conditional Perfect (Condicional compuesto)

The conditional perfect tense in Spanish is the equivalent of saying "would have" in English. It utilizes the conditional form of the verb haber plus the participle to talk about what one "would have" done or what "would have" happened in a hypothetical situation:

 

Seguro que a él sí le habrían aceptado las invitaciones.

Surely they would have accepted his invitations.

Caption 24, Los Años Maravillosos Capítulo 6 - Part 5

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An example with the verb hablar would be: Si lo pudiera hacer otra vez, habría hablado con el chico que me gustaba (If I could do it again, I'd have spoken to the guy I liked). Yabla's lesson, "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda," expands upon the conditional perfect tense and more.

 

***ADDITIONAL BONUS TENSES: The Progressives*** 

Once you know all Spanish tenses in the indicative mood, you could also conjugate the verb estar in its many tenses to come up with additional progressive tenses, as follows:

 

Preterite Progressive (Pretérito continuo): Yo estuve hablando (I was talking)

Conditional Progressive (Condicional continuo): Yo estaría hablando (I would be talking)

Future Progressive (Futuro continuo): Yo estaré hablando (I will be talking)

 

We could even apply this to the compound tenses we learned:

 

Present Perfect Progressive (Pretérito perfecto continuo): Yo he estado hablando (I have been talking)

Pluperfect Progressive (Pretérito pluscuamperfecto continuo): Yo había estado hablando (I had been talking)

Conditional Perfect Progressive (Condicional compuesto continuo)Yo habría estado hablando (I would have been talking)

Future Perfect Progressive (Futuro compuesto continuo): Yo habré estado hablando (I will have been talking)

 

That was a lot of Spanish verb tenses!!! And that was just the first ten verb tenses in Spanish! Part two of this lesson will deal with the verb tenses in Spanish in the other two "moods," subjunctive and imperative. In the meantime, we hope you enjoyed part one of this lesson on Spanish verb tenses... and don't forget to leave us your suggestions and comments

 

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100 Hard Spanish Words to Say Correctly

Are you ready to learn some hard Spanish words? Don’t worry! We don’t want to scare you but rather we would like to highlight some of the issues that transform even simple words into difficult ones. Let’s review the following list featuring 100 of the most difficult Spanish words for English speakers

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Hard Spanish words to pronounce

 

Pronunciation is definitely the issue to keep in mind when we talk about hard Spanish words. In fact, if you are a native English speaker, there are several sounds that are quite challenging. Let’s start with some of the most difficult words to pronounce in Spanish for English speakers. We have divided these words in groups according to the pronunciation challenge they represent.

 

That J sound

 

For many foreigners, words with the letter “j” are some of the most difficult Spanish words to say. If you are an English speaker, you can try to say the “j” in Spanish as a very strong “h” in English. Think of how you pronounce the letter “h” in the word ham. Let’s take a look: 

 

1. Ají (chili or bell pepper)

¿Ají?

"Ají" [chili pepper]?

Caption 37, Ricardo - La compañera de casa

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2. Bajo (short)

Es bajo, es gordo.

He's short, he's fat.

Caption 33, El Aula Azul - Mis Primos

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3. Caja (box)

...y ellos también mandaron una caja grandísima.

...and they also sent a huge box.

Caption 25, Diana Quintana - En Navidad regalemos una sonrisa

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4. Anaranjado (orange)

Adentro, son de color anaranjado.

Inside, they are orange-colored.

Caption 13, Otavalo - Conozcamos el Mundo de las Frutas con Julia

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5. Empujar (to push)

 

6. Equipaje (luggage)

¿Puedo dejar aquí mi equipaje?

Can I leave my luggage here?

Caption 59, Cleer y Lida - Recepción de hotel

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7. Espantapájaros (scarecrow)

8. Cojear (to limp)

9. Injusticia (injustice)

 

10. Jamón (ham)

Fíjate: jamón, Javier.

Check it out: ham, Javier.

Caption 27, Fundamentos del Español - 10 - La Pronunciación

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11. Jirafa (giraffe)

12. Jornada (day)

13. Jota (J - the sound of the letter J in Spanish)

 

14. Jugar (to play)

También podemos jugar a las cartas.

We can also play cards.

Caption 12, Clara y Cristina - Hablan de actividades

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15. Junio (June)

16. Lujoso (luxurious)

 

17. Lejano (far, far away)

Érase una vez en un lejano reino, ahí vivía una joven niña.

Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom, there lived a young girl.

Caption 2, Cuentos de hadas - La Cenicienta

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18. Majo (nice)

19. Mojado (wet)

20. Pájaro (bird)

21. Sonrojar (to blush)

22. Tajada (slice)

 

That G sound

 

Just as it happens with the letter “j,”, there are several tricky words in Spanish with the letter “g”. What’s hard about this consonant is that there is a soft and a hard way to pronounce it. For example, you have a soft “g” in the word gato (cat). Think about the pronunciation of the syllable “ga” in the word gather. On the other hand, you have a hard “g” in the word gente (people), which is kind of similar to how you pronounce the “h” in the word helmet. Let’s see some tough Spanish words with the letter “g”:

 

23. Acogedor (cozy, welcoming)

Perfecto, porque es un barco muy marinero, muy acogedor para la gente.

Perfect, because it's a very seaworthy boat, very welcoming for the people.

Caption 16, La Gala - El bote de Dalí

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24. Agente (agent)

25. Agitar (shake)

26. Aguja (needle)

 

27. Agujero (hole)

Tiene un cuerpo con un agujero en el centro.

It has a body with a hole in the center.

Caption 45, Karla e Isabel - Instrumentos musicales

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28. Apagar (to turn off)

 

29. Coger (to take, to get)

El segundo paso es coger la cebolla.

The second step is to get the onion.

Caption 25, Clara cocina - Una tortilla española

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30. Garganta (throat)

Me duele la garganta.

My throat hurts.

Caption 11, Ariana - Cita médica

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31. General (general)

En general, los nombres acabados en "a" son femeninos.

In general, nouns ending in "a" are feminine.

Caption 10, Fundamentos del Español - 2 - Nombres y Género

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32. Geneaología (genealogy)

33. Geología (geology)

 

34. Gigante (giant, gigantic)

Una de las piezas más llamativas es este ajedrez gigante.

One of the most appealing pieces is this gigantic chess board.

Caption 35, Europa Abierta - Taller de escenografía en Olivares

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35. Ginecólogo (gynecologist)

36. Girasol (sunflower)

37. Guapo (handsome)

38. Juguetón (playful)

39. Tangible (tangible)

40. Tigre (tiger)

41. Zoológico (zoo)

 

That double RR sound

 

There are plenty of tricky words in Spanish with the strong sound of the double “rr”. The following are some of them: 

 

42. Aburrido (bored)

Ah, esto está muy aburrido, ni siquiera se entiende.

Oh, this is very boring, you can't even understand it.

Caption 24, Los Años Maravillosos - Capítulo 2

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43. Carrera (career)

El presidente empezó su carrera política...

The president began his political career...

Caption 29, Lecciones con Carolina - El gerundio

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44. Carretera (road)

 

45. Carro (car)

¿Ha venido en carro?

Have you come in a car?

Caption 64, Cleer y Lida - Recepción de hotel

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46. Correr (to run)

 

47. Desarrollar (Develop)

Pero el reto era desarrollar proyectos de biomedicina.

But the challenge was to develop biomedical projects.

Caption 10, Club de las ideas - Lego Fest en Sevilla

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48. Error (mistake)

Esto es un error.

This is a mistake.

Caption 21, Lecciones con Carolina - Errores comunes

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49. Ferrocarril (railroad, train)

...en un carrito tipo ferrocarril tirado por un caballo.

...in a little train-like car pulled by a horse.

Caption 8, Mérida y sus alrededores - Haciendas de Cuzamá

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50. Garrote (club)

 

51. Guerra (war)

La palabra más fea es guerra.

The ugliest word is war.

Caption 61, Karla e Isabel - Palabras

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52. Guitarra (guitar)

53. Herradura (horseshoe)

54. Irresponsable (irresponsible)

55. Morral (backpack)

56. Ornitorrinco (platypus)

 

57. Perro (dog)

Se escucha un perro.

You can hear a dog.

Caption 43, Conversaciones en el parque - Cap. 2: Cafe y bocadillos

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58. Puertorriqueño (Puerto Rican)

 

That TR sound

 

Without any doubt, words that have a syllable where the consonant “t” is followed by the consonant “r,” are some of the most difficult words for English speakers to pronounce in Spanish. If you want to improve this sound, please listen carefully to some of the audio clips we have included for the next set of words.

 

59. Abstracto (abstract)

60. Astronomía (astronomy)

 

61. Astrología (astrology)

...y voy a entender lo que es la astrología.

...and I am going to understand what astrology is.

Caption 60, Conversaciones con Luis - Astrología

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62. Atracción (atraction)

Porque es en el centro... el sitio donde hay mayor atracción.

Because it's at the center... the place where there are more attractions.

Caption 21, Yabla en Lima - Miraflores

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63. Cuatro (four)

Número cuatro: microscopio.

Number four: microscope.

Caption 19, Aprendiendo con Karen - Útiles escolares

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64. Entretener (to entertain)

65. Entretenido (entertaining)

66. Patrón (patron)

67. Patrulla (patrol)

68. Petróleo (oil)

69. Poltrona (easy chair)

70. Potro (colt)

 

71. Tradicion (tradition)

Uno de los mitos más conocidos de la tradición indígena colombiana.

One of the best known myths of the indigenous Colombian tradition.

Caption 13, Aprendiendo con Carlos - América precolombina - Mitos y leyendas Muiscas

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72. Traicionar (to betray)

 

73. Trampa (trap)

No, no, me tendió una trampa y yo caí.

No, no, she set a trap for me and I fell into it.

Caption 29, Muñeca Brava - 44 El encuentro

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74. Treinta y tres (thirty-three)

Treinta y tres

Thirty-three

Caption 49, Español para principiantes - Los números del 1 al 100

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75. Tres (three)

76. Trilogía (trilogy)

 

77. Triste

Estoy triste.

I am sad.

Caption 10, El Aula Azul - Estados de ánimo

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78. Tronco (trunk)

 

All those vowels

 

Unlike English, Spanish vowels are very clearly defined. Five vowels equals five sounds, period. While that may sound simple, the problem is that English speakers are used to pronouncing vowels in many more different ways. Here are some hard Spanish words that highlight this challenge.

 

79. Aguacate (avocado)

Este es guacamole hecho con aguacate...

This is guacamole made ​​with avocado...

Caption 33, Tacos Emmanuel - Cómo hacer tacos de pescado

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80. Estadounidense (American)

Paul es estadounidense, de los Estados Unidos.

Paul is American, from the United States.

Caption 16, Carlos explica - Geografía y gentilicios

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81. Eucalipto (eucalyptus)

82. Euforia (euphoria)

83. Idiosincrasia (idiosyncrasy)

84. Licuadora (blender)

 

85. Paraguas (umbrella)

Voy a coger un paraguas, por si acaso.

I am going to grab an umbrella, just in case.

Caption 42, Clara explica - El tiempo - Part 1

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86. Triángulo (triangle)

Después pones este triángulo con la base hacia abajo.

Afterwards you put this triangle with the base toward the bottom.

Caption 42, Manos a la obra - Separadores de libros: Charmander

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87. Vergüenza (shame)

 

Longest Spanish words

 

There is a ‘cute’ joke in Spanish that goes like this: 

 

- Do you know what the longest word in Spanish is?

- No. What is it?

- Arroz (rice)! 

- Arroz? That’s a very short word.

- No, arroz is the longest word in Spanish because it starts with ‘a’ and ends with ‘z’!

 

Of course, that’s only a joke! Arroz is one of the easiest words in Spanish. However, the following are some of the most challenging and longest Spanish words:

 

88. Electroencefalograma (electroencephalogram)

89. Esternocleidomastoideo (sternocleidomastoid)

90. Contrarrevolucionario (counter-revolutionary)

91. Constitucionalidad (constitutionality)

92. Internacionalización (internalization)

93. Otorrinolaringólogo (otolaryngologist)

 

Apart from these very complicated words, all those adverbs that end in -mente are also some of the longest Spanish words. Let’s look at a few:

 

94. Constitucionalmente (constitutionally)

 

95. Desafortunadamente (unfortunately)

Cuando tú creces, desafortunadamente te das cuenta que.

When you grow up, unfortunately, you realize that.

Caption 23, La Sub30 - Familias - Part 9

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96. Desconsoladamente (inconsolably)

97. Fuertemente (heavily)

 

 

98. Tradicionalmente (traditionally)

Y nos dedicamos al cultivo del champiñón tradicionalmente.

And we are dedicated to the cultivation of the mushroom traditionally.

Caption 4, La Champiñonera - El cultivo de champiñón

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99. Tristemente (sadly)

 

And finally, can you think of any Spanish word that has all the vowels on it? We have a long word for you, which is actually quite short in English:

 

100. Murciélago (bat)

La palabra más larga es murciélago.

The longest word is bat.

Caption 43, Karla e Isabel - Palabras

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That's it for now. We know that there are many more hard Spanish words that we should include in this list. If you feel like it, please share some additional difficult Spanish words with us, and we’ll be happy to add them to this lesson. And don’t forget to send us your feedback and suggestions. ¡Hasta la próxima!

 

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