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  3.7 Irregular verbs

3.7 Irregular verbs

You may think it's a shame, but you can't change the fact that many Spanish verbs are irregular. That means that many Spanish verbs change their stem when conjugate them. In English there are those verbs that have irregular past tense and past participle:

infinitive verb simple past tense past participle
sell sold sold
give gave given
buy bought bought

Moreover, not to forget the verb to be has a total irregular conjugation:

I am we are
you are you are
he, she, it is they are

Also in Spanish there are some of these very irregular verbs. Like ser (to be) and ir (to go), but for most of the irregularities there are some rules.

Let's have a look at ser, this one is very, very irregular and there is no rule that can help you to remember it. Just read and hear it ever so often, soon you'll know them by heart. Because they are so often used that actually you can't do without them. Sentences like: I am a doctor and He is rich are going with this verb.

ser = to be

yo soy I am
tú eres you are
él es he is
ella es she is
nosotros somos we are (masculine)
nosotras somos we are (feminine)
vosotros sois you are (masculine)
vosotras sois you are (feminine)
ellos son they are (masculine)
ellas son they are (feminine)

ir = to go

yo voy I go
tú vas you go
él va he goes
ella va she goes
nosotros vamos we go (masculine)
nosotras vamos we go (feminine)
vosotros vais you go (masculine)
vosotras vais you go (feminine)
ellos van they go (masculine)
ellas van they go (feminine)

To want means also to love, the Spaniard says "I want her" and means "I love her".

querer = to want

yo quiero I want
tú quieres you want
él quiere he wants
ella quiere she wants
nosotros queremos we want (masculine)
nosotras queremos we want (feminine)
vosotros queréis you want (masculine)
vosotras queréis you want (feminine)
ellos quieren they want (masculine)
ellas quieren they want (feminine)

(= to can) is a modal verb. You'll find the use of modal verbs in chapter 20. As a general rule one could say the Spanish modal verbs are quite similar to the English ones.

I can write = Yo puedo escribir.

An infinitive verb is appended to the (conjugated) modal verb.

poder = to can

yo puedo I can
tú puedes you can
él puede he can
ella puede she can
nosotros podemos we can (masculine)
nosotras podemos we can (feminine)
vosotros podéis you can (masculine)
vosotras podéis you can (feminine)
ellos pueden they can (masculine)
ellas pueden they can (feminine)

(to have) is another important verb, also because it is used together with que to create must or probably more often used have to.

Yo tengo que escribir una carta. = I have to write a postcard.

But! In English the verb to have is also used to create compound tenses (I have eaten). In Spanish there is another verb used for this purpose haber. The verb haber is not only looking quite like to have, it also had once the meaning of to have. However, as history goes and things change there is now haber for compound tenses and tener for to have.

tener = to have

yo tengo (yo tengo que) I have (I must, I have to)
tú tienes (tú tienes que) you have (you must, you have to)
él tiene (el tiene que) he has (he must, he has to)
ella tiene (ella tiene que) she has (she must, she has to)
nosotros tenemos (nosotros tenemos que) we have (we must, we have to) (masculine)
nosotras tenemos (nosotras tenemos que) we have (we must, we have to) (feminine)
vosotros tenéis (vosotros tenéis que) you have (you must, you have to) (masculine)
vosotras tenéis (vosotras tenéis que) you have (you must, you have to) (feminine)
ellos tienen (ellos tienen que) they have (they must, they have to) (masculine)
ellas tienen (ellas tienen que)
they have (they must, they have to) (feminine)

The attentive reader will have noticed that in Spanish there are two words for to be, i.e. ser and estar. The difference between ser and estar is one of the most challenging issues within the Spanish grammar. The Spaniards have a difference in thinking between to be and (not) to be. One of the differences is whether a condition is permanent or not. Have a look at these examples to compare:


Él es loco.
= He is a lunatic . Meaning: He is definitely out of his mind, no chance of improvement.
Él está loco.
= He is mad. Meaning: At the moment he is in a state of madness, but there is hope that it will stop.

This example just gives an impression of what's still to come. More about it you'll find in chapter 8. A basic rule can help for a start: If the idea is that something is situated some place or is in a situation / in a state that is not permanent then the verb estar is to be used.
If it is a feature that is a permanent characteristic of an object and is not related to being situated or in state then ser is to be used.

Example (estar meaning being situated some place)

Madrid está en España. = Madrid is in Spain.

Juan está en el jardín. = Juan is in the garden.

Example (estar meaning being in non-permanent state; ser something rather permanent)

Él está cansado.= He is tired.
(something that can be helped; a couple of hours of sleep and he is fit again)

Él es médico.= He is a doctor.
(rather permanent feature; unless he breaks the law and he looses his licence he will be a doctor until the end of time)

As mentioned before the main task here is to learn the formation of the conjugation. First step towards knowing is to recognise the form and the verb. All the details will be discussed at a later point of time again.

estar = to be

yo estoy I am
tú estás you are
él está he is
ella está she is
nosotros estamos we are (masculine)
nosotras estamos we are (feminine)
vosotros estáis you are (masculine)
vosotras estáis you are (feminine)
ellos están they are (masculine)
ellas están they are (feminine)

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