Verbs – Modes and Tenses in Spanish

This article is about the use of verbal modes and tenses.

Spanish verbs are conjugated in four modes: indicative (indicativo), subjunctive (subjuntivo), and imperative (imperativo). All these modes have one or more tenses and compound tenses. Read on if you want to know more about in which cases to use these modes and tenses.

1. Infinitivo

It is the one which represents the pure verb meaning, it does not provide any information in regards to person who is doing the action or when the action is taken place. It is the only mode that does not have any conjugation.

The infinitive mode has threee tenses:

1.1. Infinitive Tense
It is the name of the action, For example: estudiar (to study), correr (to run) and salir (to leave).

1.2. Gerund
Expresses the action as it is happening permanently. For example: estudiando (studying), corriendo (running) and saliendo (leaving).

1.3. Participle
It is used to indicate a state. For example: estudiado (studied), corrido (run), salido (left). Generally this tense is used with the verb “haber” (to have)

2. Indicative mode

The indicative mode (indicativo) is used to express that world of reality: what is (present tense), what was (past tense), what will be (future tense) and what would be (conditional)

2.1. Present tense

The present tense (presente) is used to express actions that take place at the moment of speaking. For example:

Juanita canta una canción.
Juanita sings a song.

It is used to express actions that take place frequently. For example:

Lydia nunca desayuna por la mañana.
Lydia never has breakfast in the morning.

It can be used to express future actions. For example:

El verano que viene mis amigos se van de vacaciones a los Estados Unidos.
Next summer my friends are going for holiday to the United States.

It is used to express orders. For example:

Ahora mismo vas a casa de José y traes el libro.
Right now you’re going at José’s house and you bring the book.

It can be used to refer something to actions in the past. For example:

Ayer estaba con Carlitos en el parque y de pronto viene Carla y me dice: ¿A quién esperas?
Yesterday I was with Carlitos in the park and suddenly Carla comes and asks me: Who are you waiting for?

2.2. Past imperfect tense (pretérito imperfecto)

The préterito imperfecto is used to describe an action that started in the past without indicating if it is finished or not, whereas the Perfect Tense tells us that the action already has finished. For Example:

It is used to talk about habitual actions in the past. For example:

Pepe leía muchos tebeos cuando era pequeño.
Pepe used to read much comics when he was young.

It is used for details like: time, location, hour, year, feelings, mental and physical aspects.

Hacía frío durante la noche.
It was cold during the night.

2.3. Past perfect tense (pretérito indefinido)

The préterito indefinido is also called pretérito perfecto simple.

It is used to express actions in the past. These actions are always finished.

¿Qué pasó?
What happened?

There are words associated with the pretérito indefinido: ayer (yesterday), anteayer (the day before yesterday), anoche (last night), una vez (one time), dos veces (two times), la semana pasada (last week), etc.

Mi hermano llegó ayer.
My brother arrived yesterday.

You can find both pretérito indefinido and imperfecto in the same sentence.

Cuando navegábamos el domingo pasado nos cayó un chaparrón enorme.
When we were sailing last Sunday an enormous rainshower fell over us.

2.4. Future tense

The future tense (futuro) is used for talking about actions following on the time of speaking. There is allways a bit of uncertainty. It’s never possible to be secure of the realisation of the action described. For example:

La próxima semana te escribiré.
I will write you next week.

Furthermore the futuro is used to express…

…conjectures regarding the present:

¿Qué hora será?
What time would it be?

…probability regarding the present:

Serán las cuatro.
It would be four o’clock.

…an indirect quotation:

Elena dice que vendrá la semana que viene.
Elena says she will come next week.

2.5. Conditional Tense

The conditional tense (condicional) is used to express uncertainty, particularly (but not exclusively) in conditional sentences.

Si yo corriera más, estaría muy flaco. (no es probable que corra más)

3. Subjunctive mode

The subjuntivo is used to convey ideas in the realm of all areas other than those of objective fact: concepts that are hypothetical, contrary to fact, those which embody the expression of feelings of the speaker toward a state or action.

3.1. Present tense

The present tense in subjunctive mode is used in expressions beginning with a form ofser + adjective (to be + adjective) where not the fact but the opinion of the speaker toward a hypothetical state or action is stated. For example:

Es posible que mañana llueva.
It is possible that it rains tomorrow.
Es bueno que trabajes mucho.
It is good that you work a lot.

In the following examples the indicative mode is used, because they insist on a fact or on the certainty of a fact.

Es seguro que mañana llueve.
It is sure that it rains tomorrow.
Es verdad que trabajas mucho.
It is true that you work a lot.

But:

No es seguro que mañana llueva.
It isn’t sure that it rains tomorrow.
No es verdad que trabajes mucho.
It is not true that you work a lot.

The subjunctive is used after expressions of:

  • desire Quiero que… , Ojala que…
  • commanding: El manda que…
  • requesting: Te pido que…
  • advice: Te aconsejo que…
  • preventing: El guardia impide que…
  • suggestion: Ella sugiere que…
  • invitation: Te invito que…
  • insisting: Insisto que…
  • demanding: Exijo que…

3.2. Imperfect tense (pretérito imperfecto)

When the verb on which the subjuctive depends goes in pretérito indefinido, imperfecto,pluscuamperfecto or condicional, we will have to use the pretérito imperfecto de subjuntivo. For example:

Me había alegrado de que hiciera sol.
It would have apreciated me that the sun would shine.

3.3. Future tense

The futuro de subjuntivo is used very rarely. So we don’t treat the use of it here.

4. Imperative mode

The imperative mode (imperativo) expresses an order, request or prohibition. There are two types of imperative: affirmative (afirmativo) and negative (negativo).

Affirmative

¡Canta!
Sing!
Siéntese usted.
Sit down.

Negative

¡No cantes!
Don’t sing!
No se siente usted.
Don’t sit down.

The imperativo negativo is always derived from the subjuntivo presente. Example:

For more information about verbs modes and tenses see the following video:

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