Spanish Verb Patterns: The 'Secret Formula' to Spanish Verb Mastery
Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 11:35AM
Jeanne Bielejeski in Irregular Spanish verbs, Regular Spanish verbs, Regular verb endings, Spanish verb conjugation, Spanish verb patterns, Spanish verbs, verb charts

Recently, I was fortunate to receive a book review for The Spanish Verb Conjugator from Jerry Curtis. Jerry is an educational writer with a lot of experience spanning education and serving as a military translator. I came upon one of Jerry’s Articles (under his pen name Curt Smothers) on the web site Bright Hub: The Hub for Bright Minds. His article is an excellent overview of Spanish verbs, specifically how to approach them when you are overwhelmed in the beginning. It is written for Spanish teachers; however, I think it can apply to students as well. Here’s a direct link to that article:

“Learning Spanish Verbs: A Method to the Madness” by Curt Smothers on

As Jerry explains in his article, he encourages his tutoring students to look for patterns in verb stems and verb endings as a way to manage the daunting task of learning how to conjugate Spanish verbs. When you learn a specific Spanish verb pattern you can apply it to any verb of its kind that comes your way. By finding the Spanish verb pattern, you can predict how it will “behave.” It’s similar to formulas in science and math. By the way, there are about 50 common irregular Spanish verb patterns of the verb stem. There are a few extra that are rarely used. 

Although educators like Jerry and I find Spanish verb patterns interesting and compelling to learn, not everyone else does. But the funny thing is, once you achieve a basic level of proficiency, Spanish verb patterns become more obvious and you kind of know naturally how to apply them. It does take some time, though, it doesn’t happen overnight.

Until that natural instinct takes hold, I have felt inspired to provide support to beginners: to bridge the learning gap and provide symbolic “training wheels” for Spanish verb conjugation; to have everything beginners need in one place, in one verb guide, explained in very basic terms. 

The inspiration for my Spanish verb guide came to me in one entire vision (the whole book), so wiithout realizing it until the book was finished, it turned out to be instructional in many ways. It is definitely divided into two distinct reference areas: for regular verbs and for irregular verbs. Here’s an outline:

(Before I go further, I want to review some basics to avoid possible confusion. There are two main groups of Spanish verbs: regular and irregular; and there are two parts to every verb: the stem and the ending.)

3 Ways to Learn Spanish Verb Patterns

1. Regular Spanish Verbs

Identifying the two parts of every verb is the absolute starting point for learning Spanish verb conjugation: to learn how to find the verb stem and one of three possible verb endings: “ar,” “er,” or “ir.”

Instead of providing a long list of common regular Spanish verbs conjugated on verb tables, The Spanish Verb Conjugator provides regular verb endings on what you could call “regular verb endings' reference templates.” There is a regular verb reference template for each verb ending: Regular -AR Verb Endings, Regular -ER Verb Endings, and Regular -IR Verb Endings. Below is an example chart of the Regular -AR Verb Endings' reference template from The Spanish Verb Conjugator:

Any regular verb stem can be applied to the correct verb ending to conjugate a regular Spanish verb, but before you even use a reference template, you have to have made the decision that the verb was in fact regular (not irregular). By the way, if you don’t know, which is expected in the beginning, you can use the indexes to verify if the verb is a regular verb or not. 

So in this way of referencing Spanish verbs, you are training yourself through repetetive usage to learn which verbs are regular or irregular. If the verb you are referencing is irregular, you can then proceed as described under No. 2 below. 

The beginner is literally guided to make one decision that leads to another. With repetive practice, this decision making process will become a little faster each time as Spanish verb conjugation skills develop and become second nature. Just like my analogy of “training wheels” on a bicycle, the beginner needs that support and confidence in the beginning as they work towards independent practice.

An added bonus of using regular verb endings' reference templates is that it eliminates a large number of verb charts, therefore eliminating the bulk of a clumsy text. This makes it easy to carry while you are applying your Spanish skills in the real world where true integration takes place. 

2. Irregular Spanish Verbs

There are actually 3 main groups of Spanish verbs within the irregular verb category: stem-changers, "spell-changers" (the name I use for this group), and a group of around 28 various irregular verbs that are individually unique. There are some verbs that belong to two of the three groups at the same time.

Irregular Spanish verbs are irregular because there is a deviation (of spelling) in the verb stem of most subjects when conjugated. Irregular verb stem patterns occur primarily in the present and preterit tenses. Note that the verb endings stay the same whether a verb is regular or irregular, but there are some Spanish verbs in the group of 28 individually unique irregular verbs where the verb endings also deviate from the norm in the preterit tense only.

Furthermore, a stem-changer will have one of only 3 possible stem changes when conjugated; spell-changers will have a variety of spelling variations when conjugated (more than 3). The group of 28 various irregular verbs doesn’t follow any consistent pattern, they are individually unique in their deviation.

Did I lose you? As I mentioned earlier, teachers and linguists are interested in comparing and observing irregular Spanish verb patterns, but the average beginner is not. That is perfectly fine because irregular verb pattern recognition will naturally evolve as the result of repetitive verb modeling.

Without having to dissect Spanish verb patterns, the beginner, as well as the intermediate level student, can rely on The Spanish Verb Conjugator until irregular verb pattern recognition takes place. It is similar to how we learn our native language. We adapted to the grammatical structures as our family modeled them for us.

Through my experience with a variety of Spanish textbook series when I was teaching Spanish, and also from my own observations, I selected a group of the most frequently used irregular Spanish verbs that represent the 3 irregular groups mentioned above. This became the core group of “110 Irregular Verbs from A to Z” of The Spanish Verb Conjugator. Remember that there are around 50 irregular Spanish verb patterns, give or take a few. Besides the group of individually unique irregular verbs, the ratio is about 2 to 3 high frequency core verbs for each irregular verb pattern.

If an irregular verb is not included in the core group, the “Spanish to English” or “English to Spanish” verb indexes each include approximately 1,000 additional high frequency Spanish verbs. A listing in the indexes will identify the verb by the page number of one of the “110 Irregular Verbs from A to Z” to use as a model to conjugate it. This is yet another instructional reference method of The Spanish Verb Conjugator. Like all language skills, modeling verbs will eventually lead to verb conjugation mastery. 

3. Subject Pronouns

Subject pronouns are very important to Spanish verb conjugation because they represent the “doers” performing the action of the verb: I, you, he, she, they, we, you all. Most Spanish verb resources follow convention by presenting subject pronouns and/or their conjugations in this order: 1st, 2nd, 3rd person singular across from 1st, 2nd, 3rd person plural. The box below illustrates the conventional presentation with the "o to ue" stem changer, "almorzar" in the present tense:

I felt inspired to break the mold in an effort to draw some new comparisons and reveal patterns that may simplify verb endings visually for beginners more so than grammatically. I think the benefits outweigh convention.

The way the subject pronouns and verb conjugations are presented in The Spanish Verb Conjugator provide clear comparisons between the third person singular and plural conjugations (él/ella/Ud. and ellos/ellas/Uds.), which can be compared by the letter "n" in most cases; and comparisons in spelling between the second person plural and first person plural conjugations (nosotros and vosotros).

The "vosotros" form is only used in Spain, so if the student is studying Latin American Spanish (non-European), this last row of verb conjugations on the list can simply be ignored instead of mixed up with the other conjugations.

These opportunities would be lost through the conventional presentation. To illustrate this point, please note the red circled areas below of the sample irregular verb chart of the "o to ue" stem changer, "almorzar":

Under No. 3, I would also like to point out the side-by-side presentation of Spanish verb tenses and conjugations on every verb chart. The verb tenses can then be compared by subject. This is also unique to The Spanish Verb Conjugator, and in doing so I wanted to simplify the decision making process that takes place when you are recalling conjugations and may bounce from one tense to another as you simultaneously choose the correct tense to use. (Note arrows on chart above.)

Because we typically learn (and memorize) the conjugations of one tense at a time, we are automatically programmed to mentally cue up the five or six conjugations of the entire tense when choosing one single conjugation. (The difference between 5 or 6 conjugations depends on the vosotros factor.) So then when we have to choose between tenses, like we have to do with dual past tenses, we can really clog up the brain waves with a multitude of conjugations (5 or 6 x 3 tenses = 15 to 18 conjugations). 

This usually results in "freezing up" in conversational situations where we stand there dumbfounded trying to sort through all of the mental clutter to retrieve one single conjugation. This will happen frequently during a narration of activities or stories that shift back and forth from the past tense. That's a lot of "blanking out" during conversation.

As a solution to this common problem, through The Spanish Verb Conjugator, I propose a method of cross-referencing that is once again instructional in nature; it will train the beginner to make a Spanish verb conjugation decision by subject comparison instead of taking a mental road trip through all the conjugations of the other subjects and their potential verb tenses. You can train yourself to make clear, focused (and quick) Spanish verb conjugation decisions. Here are the 3 suggested steps:

  1. choose your subject
  2. recall the conjugations of the subject only in the present and past tenses (don't waste time on the other subject conjugations)  
  3. make the verb tense decision: present, preterit, or imperfect (which can be a bit of a challenge itself)

For example, if you need to recall the Spanish verb “almorzar” in the yo form, it will be provided on the verb chart side-by-side in the present, preterit, and imperfect tenses: “almuerzo,” “almorcé,” “almorzaba.” Now you simply choose the correct Spanish verb tense and its conjugation through the context of the situation.

Remember, the assumption is that the student has not yet mastered these skills, so they can rely on the easy-to-view verb charts while these skills are developing. The verb chart can create a visual cue in the student’s memory for on-the-spot recall and retention. It is an alternative presentation that easily compares the subject conjugations for the beginner.

My ultimate goal for the beginning Spanish student is that once they grasp the concepts of verb stems and endings, they can start to use The Spanish Verb Conjugator to access the most commonly used regular and irregular Spanish verbs they will encounter in their classes, instruction materials, and real life.

From my own experience, I found that as I advanced in my Spanish skills, I didn’t need to reference verbs or vocabulary nearly as much as I did in the beginning. So why not tailor a verb reference specifically for the beginning Spanish student? I was actually amazed there wasn’t anything like it already.

For an objective point of view, you can read the very thorough and generous book review that Jerry Curtis posted on his web site page which highlights the features of The Spanish Verb Conjugator discussed above. Here is a direct link: 

Jerry Curtis’ Spanish Language Zone on

Article originally appeared on Free Spanish Verb Charts (
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