A Quick Shortcut to Spanish Tenses | My Daily Spanish

A Quick Shortcut to Spanish Tenses

Spanish tenses can be complicated and cause countless headaches to any learner. While learning the complicated ins and outs of each of the different tenses is necessary to really take your Spanish to a more fluent level, there are a few shortcuts you can use to help you get there!

It is possible to use just three different verbs to express the recent past, the ongoing present, and the near future. If you are able to express these three things, you’ll be able to get the conversational ball rolling easier and gain the confidence you need to dive deeper into the dreaded world of Spanish tenses!

Past Tenses

The past in Spanish is one of the most complicated things for English speakers. Since Spanish has—not one, not two—but actually three ways to refer to things that took place in the past, knowing when to use which one can be very difficult.

  • Preterite– This is used when the action in the past happened one time or within a specified period of time.
  • i.e.- I lived in Spain for six months. Viví en España durante 6 meses.
  • Imperfect– This is used for actions in the past that took place multiple times or during a period of time that isn’t specified.
  • i.e.- He always went to this cafe. Siempre iba a este café.
  • Present Perfect– This conjugation is a combination of the verb haber and the past participle of the verb (ending in -ado or -ido). It’s use differentiates throughout the Spanish-speaking world. For example, in parts of Spain (Castilla y León, for example) it is frequently used in place of the preterite. However, the general rule for this tense is when the event in the past being reference still has an impact on the present.
    • i.e. I have paid the bill.- He pagado la cuenta.

While the three tenses mentioned above seem relatively cut and dried on the surface, they regularly trip up the non-native Spanish speaker. With practice, though, you’ll find yourself becoming more familiar with them.
There is, however, one little shortcut you can use to refer to something that happened in the near past. This is using the verb acabar. It’s like the English equivalent of saying “just”.

Using acabar to talk about the near past

To use this verb to talk about the near past you will use the following pattern

  • Acabar + de + verb in infinitive

This is referring to something that you “just” did, or that was “just” done by someone else. Acabar is an -ar verb conjugated regularly.

  • Yo acabo
  • Tú acabas
  • Él/ Ella/ Usted acaba
  • Nosotros acabamos
  • Vosotros acabáis
  • Ellos/ Ellas/ Ustedes acaban

Some examples of this verb used as the near past are the following:

  • First person singular: Acabo de leer ese libro. (I just read that book.)
  • Second person singular: Acabas de venir de la tienda. (You just came from the store.)
  • Third person singular: Acaba de hacer la cena. (He/She just made dinner.)
  • First person plural: Acabamos de comer. (We just ate.)
  • Second person plural: Acabáis de volver de vacaciones. (You-plural, informal-just returned from vacation.)

Third person plural: Acaban de comprar los billetes. (The just bought the tickets.)

Future Tenses

Learning to talk about the future in Spanish is pretty easy for the native English speaker. This is simply because, generally speaking, the different options available are similar to their English equivalents.

  • Using the present– This is used for events that will happen in the near future. To use this conjugation to refer to the future in Spanish, you have to specify the time in which it will happen.
    • i.e. We leave tomorrow. Salimos mañana
  • Future conjugation– This is like saying “will” in English. The use is similar to that of the “will” future in English, although in spoken Spanish it isn’t as common.
    • i.e. I will go to the store later.- Más tarde iré a la tienda.

The last way that you can use to speak about the future in Spanish is probably the most common, and, conveniently enough, the easiest to learn! This is with the verb ir.

Ir a to talk about the future

Using the verb ir, meaning to go, to talk about the future is extremely common, especially in everyday, colloquial speech. It’s like the English “going to…”

To use this verb, you will use the following pattern:

  • Ir + a + verb in infinitive

Ir is irregularly conjugated. The conjugations are the following:

  • Yo voy
  • Tú vas
  • Él/ Ella/ Usted va
  • Nosotros vamos
  • Vosotros vais
  • Ellos/ Ellas/ Ustedes van

Some examples of using this constructions are:

  • First person singular: Voy a ir a la fiesta. (I’m going to go to the party.)
  • Second person singular: Vas a tener que estudiar mucho. (You’re going to need to study a lot.)
  • Third person singular: Va a comprar el pan. (He/She is going to buy the bread.)
  • First person plural: Vamos a viajar a Grecia. (We’re going to travel to Greece.)
  • Second person plural: Vais a comer en casa. (You-plural,informal-are going to eat at home.)

Third person plural: Van a sacar el perro. (They are going to walk the dog.)

The present

Talking about the present in Spanish is pretty easy. The hardest part is simply familiarizing yourself with the conjugations themselves.

The present tense in Spanish is very versatile. It can be used to talk about the simple present, a continuous action taking place in the present, and the future.

  • Estudio español– I study Spanish.
  • Leo el libro.- I am reading the book.
  • Luego te llamo.– I’ll call you then.

There is, however, a Spanish equivalent to the English present progressive that can be used to talk about something going on at the current moment. It is very useful to be familiar with it, and will help you a lot when speaking to a native Spanish speaker!

The Present Progressive in Spanish

The present progressive is, like in English, saying “to be doing X”.

It is formed using the verb estar and has the following construction:

  • Estar + verb ending in -ing

The conjugation of the verb estar is:

  • Yo estoy
  • Tú estás
  • Él/ Ella Usted está
  • Nosotros estamos
  • Vosotros estáis
  • Ellos/ Ellas/ Ustedes están

The -ing ending in Spanish is pretty simple to learn. With -ar verbs, you will simply remove the ending and add -ando. With -er/-ir verbs, you will do the same, but add the ending -iendo.

-ar-er/-ir

  • Hablar- hablando

  • Estudiar- estudiando

  • Andar- andando


  • Comer- comiendo

  • Vivir- viviendo

  • Hacer- haciendo

If you have a stem-changing verb, you will change the appropriate vowel, and add the ending.

e:io:u

  • Decir- diciendo

  • Servir- sirviendo


  • Dormir- durmiendo

  • Poder- pudiendo

And, there are some instances when the spelling needs to change so as not to change the pronunciation:

  • Caer- Cayendo
  • Leer-Leyendo
  • Ir- Yendo
  • Creer- Creyendo

Some examples of using this construction to talk about events taking place in the present are:

  • First person singular: Estoy hablando con mi madre. (I am talking to my mom.)
  • Second person singular: Estás yendo muy despacio. (You’re going very slowly.)
  • Third person singular: Está estudiando la biología. (He/she is studying biology.)
  • First person plural: Estamos viviendo en Madrid. (We are living in Madrid.)
  • Second person plural: Estáis viendo la tele. (You -plural, informal- are watching TV.)
  • Third person plural: Están durmiendo. (They are sleeping.)

Conclusion

The constructions mentioned above are all commonly used in everyday speech, and are simple, easy-to-remember ways of talking about the (near) past, the future, and the present progressive.

While it is important to learn the different tenses in Spanish in order to take your language to the next level, using the shortcuts taught to you in this lesson will help give you the level of confidence you need to engage in a large variety of conversations.

Learn Spanish Step-by-Step with this complete method!

About the Author Ana

Anastasia is a Chicago, Illinois native. She began studying Spanish over 10 years ago, and hasn’t stopped since. Living in Spain since 2012, she loves Spanish tortilla, vino tinto, and anything that contains jamón ibérico.

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