Unit 3: Introduction to the present tense and adjectives

3.1 Present Tense of -ar Verbs

Infinitives (which correspond to the English “to go,” to drink,” etc.) end in –ar-er and -ir. -Ar verbs are by far the most common of the three:

hablar to speak
beber to drink
abrir to open

When a regular -ar verb is conjugated, the -ar of the infinitive is dropped and the following endings are added: -o, -as, -a, -amos, -áis, -an. Thus the verb hablar, conjugated in the present tense, is:

Person Singular Plural
1st yo hablo (I speak) nosotros/-as hablamos (we speak)
2nd hablas (you speak)
vosotros/-as habláis (you speak)
3rd él, ella, Ud. habla (he/she/it speaks) ellos, ellas, Uds. hablan (they/you speak)

The subject pronouns listed in parentheses will not be present in the texts you read and are given here only to help initially. As you learn more and more verb forms, it will become challenging to guess the meanings if you do not really recognize the forms, so taking the time to memorize the endings now will help you save time when translating in the future .

A few generalizations can be made about verb endings, which are true of all regular verbs (-ar, -er, and -ir) in the present tense (and in some other tenses):

  • The only form ending in an unaccented –o corresponds to yo, meaning “I.”
  • The only forms ending in –s correspond to tú and vosotros , both meaning “you” (fam.).
  • The form ending in vowel + mos always corresponds to nosotros, meaning “we,” in all tenses.
  • The only form ever to end in –n corresponds to ellos/-as and Uds., meaning “they” and “you” (pl.), in all tenses. 

The present tense has four possible and common translations. Using hablo as the model, these are:

  1. I speak (the most frequent translation)
  2. I am speaking (the progressive form [see also section 8.5.])
  3. I do speak (the emphatic form)
  4. I will (am going to) speak (near future meaning, common in speech)

Context usually dictates that one of these translations is more logical than others, though hablo español could just as easily mean “I am speaking Spanish” as “I speak Spanish.” Often the presence of an adverb of time will indicate the most logical meaning or best translation.

Hablo español ahora. I’m speaking Spanish now.
Te hablo mañana. I’ll speak to you tomorrow.

When the meaning is emphatic, it is common to insert the word  after the subject. The  itself is not translated, but is rather rendered by the inclusion of the emphatic “do” or “does”:

Giorgio sí habla español e italiano. Giorgio does speak Spanish and Italian.
Yo sí quiero visitar el museo contigo. I do want to visit the museum with you.

There are also three less frequent meanings of the present tense. Occasionally it is used for a command. (See section 11.4.) It is also used in questions when the English translation is “shall” or “will.” (¿Compro la ropa? [“Shall I buy the clothes?”]) At times, its meaning is past, when used at the “historical present.”


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