A verb (verbo in Spanish) is often described as an action word, but that is not a complete description of a verb, since verbs also describe states of being, among other things.
Every verb form in Spanish consists of 2 parts:
- the stem, which provides the basic meaning of the verb, and
- the ending (or inflectional suffix), which identifies the qualities of person, number, tense (or tense and aspect) and mood for most forms, and identify the part of speech for a few forms.
Regular verbs have one stem and use the normal set of endings for their verb class. Irregular verbs have more than one stem, and some irregular verbs use different endings for a small number of forms.
Classes of verbs
In Spanish there are three classes of verbs. The classes are identified based on the verb endings of their infinitive forms: -ar verbs, -er verbs, and -ir verbs.
Verbs ending -ar
Verbs ending in -ar are the most common variety of verb in Spanish. New verbs that are formed or that enter the language by word borrowing often are -ar verbs. Many new verbs end in -ear, for example cantinflear, which means to talk like the Mexican comedian/actor Cantinflas (to beat around the bush, to talk a lot without saying anything). -ar verbs are more of a class by themselves, while -er and -ir verbs often behave in similar manners. The vowels e and a are the characteristic ending vowels of conjugated -ar verbs.
Verbs ending in -er and -ir
The vowels e and i are the characteristic ending vowels of conjugated -er and -ir verbs.
Modals, helping verbs, and auxilliary verbs are all names for verb-like words that are used in conjunction with the main verb of the sentence to form certain verb tenses. Modal verbs have some of the properties of verbs, but do not behave like normal verbs.
Present participles, or -ing words in English, are used to form compound verb tenses. In English gerunds have the same form as present participles, but gerunds function as nouns and should not be confused with present participles.
The present participle is called participio presente or gerundio, in Spanish. It is formed from regular verbs by removing the last two letters of the verb and adding -ando to -ar verbs and -iendo to -er and -ir verbs. Present participles function as adverbs in Spanish, and not as nouns.
The past participle (participio pasado in Spanish) is also used to form compound tenses, and in Spanish the same form is often used as an adjective. They are formed from regular verbs by removing the last two letters of the verb and adding -ado to -ar verbs and -ido to -er and -ir verbs.
Verbs use tense or time to describe when an action or state of being takes place, such as the present time, in the past or in the future. Spanish past tenses also indicate whether the action or state either continued or completed at a particular moment of reference.
Types of verbs
Many textbooks classify verbs according to what other grammatical requirements each verb has. The 3 most basic set of categories are generally called intransitive verbs, transitive verbs, and pronominal verbs or reflexive verbs.
Verbs with prepositions
In Spanish many verbs use a preposition to connect the verb to something that completes the meaning of the verb. This is also true in English. However, it is generally a mistake to assume that whether or not a Spanish verb requires a preposition and which preposition it is, matches the requirements for the English equivalent.
For example, in English you say to look for, but in Spanish, that would be buscar not buscar por.
Here are other examples:
- to attend = asistir a
- to be about to = estar por
- to consist of = consistir en