Tenses and Moods

Spanish verbs are conjugated not only according to person and number, but also according to tense and mood. Whereas English verbs only have four forms — present (take), past (took), present participle (taking), and past participle (taken) — Spanish verbs have quite a lot more, as evidenced by the hefty verb books available for purchase. To keep track of all the different endings, it helps to be sure you understand how tenses and moods work.

Speaking of Time

Languages rely on verb tenses to indicate when the action is taking place, whether the action is ongoing or finite, and whether it's concrete or conditional (something that “would” be done). In English, as well as in Spanish, the tenses include the present, past, future, and conditional, and each category might have more than one tense. For example, the Spanish language has two simple past tenses, preterite and imperfect.

In addition, both English and Spanish employ compound tenses. In English, compound tenses are formed by the verb “to have” and the past participle form of another verb:

I had gone there yesterday.

I have taken the test already.

I probably will have lost it by tomorrow.

In Spanish, the equivalent tenses are formed with the verb haber and the past participle.


When a verb isn't conjugated by tense, we use the infinitive form. In English, infinitives are formed with “to”: to walk, to talk, to understand. In Spanish, infinitives have one of three endings: -ar, -er, -ir. Knowing the infinitive form will help you conjugate the verb correctly.

No Need for Mood Rings

In addition to tenses, verbs are also conjugated according to mood. English and Spanish both have three moods:

Indicative mood: Used to express objective statements. This is the most commonly used mood, particularly in English.

Subjunctive mood: Used to express statements that are in doubt or hypothetical. In the following sentence, the verb “were” is in the subjunctive mood: “If I were younger, I would be able to run quickly.” The subjunctive mood is rarely used in English, but is common in Spanish.

Imperative mood: The mood of command. Examples are: Take this one! Give me the rest! Don't put it there! Notice that in giving commands, you drop the subject “you.” The same is true in Spanish, but the verb is conjugated differently.

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