Three Phrases That Will Fast Track Your Spanish Learning
Updated: Aug 25, 2020
When I meet students for the first time, they almost always tell me that they have been struggling with verbs in Spanish. They feel overwhelmed by lists of conjugated verbs in various tenses. I find that focusing on the most used verbs and phrases, rather than trying to learn all verbs at once, can help to overcome this initial difficulty. In this article, we will look at three verb structures that will allow you to express a multitude of ideas whilst only learning to conjugate three verbs.
Estar + gerund (To be doing something)
Using the verb estar, or to be, with another verb allows you to describe what is happening right now. Let’s try to create a sentence in Spanish using this structure so you get an idea of how it works:
He is eating a cake.
First we need to find the right formation of the verb estar to say he is:
Estoy – I am
Estás – You are
Está – He/She/It is
Estamos – We are
Estáis – You all are
Están – They are
For our sentence we will use está meaning he is.
The next part of the sentence we will use a gerund, but what is this? In English the gerund is any verb ending in ing like working or eating. In Spanish the gerund is formed by adding ando or iendo to the end of a verb like trabajando or comiendo. To form the gerund, you take off the last two letters of the infinitive and add the gerund ending (ar verbs = ando and er/ir verbs = iendo).
Comer (To eat) minus the last two letters is Com. We would then add iendo making comiendo.
So to form our sentence In Spanish we would say:
Está comiendo un pastel.
Here are some other examples of this structure:
Estamos perdiendo el tiempo – We are losing time.
Están jugando fútbol – They are playing football.
Tener + que + infinitive (To have to do something)
In Spanish you can use the verb to have (Tener) to express that you must do something. For instance, we could use this structure to say the sentence:
I have to do my homework.
When creating a sentence using this structure, you need to identify who the sentence is referring to (the subject). You will then know which form of the verb tener to use:
Tengo – I have
Tienes – You have
Tiene – He/She/It has
Tenemos – We have
Tenéis – You all have
Tienen – They have
For the sentence I have to do my homework we would be using Tengo meaning I have. We would then add the word que. Finally, we would add the action that has to be done. In this case the verb is to do, which is hacer.
The sentence in Spanish, therefore, is:
Tengo que hacer mis deberes.
Here are some other examples:
Tienes que comer todas las verduras – You have to eat all the vegetables.
Tenemos que ir ahora - We have to go now.
Ir + a + infinitive (Going to do something)
Using ir with the word a and an infinitive allows you to express what you are going to do in the future without conjugating the future tense.
So how do you create a sentence using this structure? What if, for example, you wanted to say:
I am going to learn Spanish.
First you need to decide the subject, that is who is going to do the action, and then choose the correct form of the verb.
Voy – I go/am going
Vas – You go/are going
Va – He/She/It goes/is going
Vamos – We go/are going
Vais – You all go/are going
Van – They go/are going
For our example sentence the subject is I, so we will start with the word Voy . This means I go or I am going.
Next we would add the preposition a, which, in this case, would translate as to.
Finally, you would add a verb to describe what action you will take. In this case, the action word is to learn, which is aprender in Spanish.
The sentence in Spanish would look like this:
Voy a aprender Español.
Here are some other examples where this structure has been used:
Vamos a ir a la playa – We are going to the beach.
Van a limpiar la cocina – They are going to clean the kitchen.
Voy a comer en un restaurante – I am going to eat in a restaurant.
Using these three verb structures will allow you to construct a huge number of sentences, whilst only knowing how to conjugate a few verbs. By focusing your efforts on learning these phrases you'll see your Spanish improve quickly and get a fantastic confidence boost.
Did you find this article useful? Let me know in the comments and tell me about what other subjects you would like to see in the blog.
For more tips on how to improve your fluency click here.
You can check out my recent article on how to differentiate between the words Bien, Bueno and Buen here.
Hi, I am Karen. I am a languages tutor and blogger. I offer online tuition for students across the UK. I live in Tonbridge, in Kent, with my husband and my son. For me learning Spanish has meant fun, adventure, friendship and fulfilling work. I love sharing all that I have learnt with my students and via my blog. If you would like to receive 10% off your first online lesson, as well as regular updates and tips for learning Spanish, subscribe here.