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Tuesday
May182010

The 2 Most Essential Spanish Verbs Part 'Dos': 'Ser' and 'Estar' in the Past Tenses

If you missed 'Part Uno', which covers “ser” and “estar” in the present tense, feel free to read it here:
The 2 Most Essential Spanish Verbs: ‘To be’ or ....‘to be’? That is the question.

Just when “ser” and “estar” start to make sense in the present tense, you need to learn how to use them in the past. Since there are two past tenses in Spanish, the preterit and the imperfect, it’s like a quadruple challenge; the duality is squared if that is possible. Navigating “ser” and “estar” in the past reminds me of my only experience flying an airplane: you not only have to steer left and right, but keep the nose and tail even as well as the wings balanced. There’s more going on than meets the eye.

The verbs “ser” and “estar” mean “to be,” so in the past you would use them to communicate “was” and “were” depending on the subject. Observe how often you use these common verbs in English. Using “ser” and “estar” in the past requires a basic understanding of how to apply the preterit and the imperfect past tenses. To review when to use them, here is a link that I had posted earlier that provides excellent strategies to choose between the preterit and the imperfect.

The University of Minnesota's Center of Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)
Spanish Grammar Strategies Web Project: The Preterit and The Imperfect

Remember that the preterit past tense is used when there is a reference to a point of time in the past that has a definite beginning and/or ending. It’s complete, finite, a chunk of time sliced out of the past. While using the imperfect past tense you can communicate both “ser” and “estar” as “used to be.”

The following summary chart from The Spanish Verb Conjugator compares “ser” and “estar” in the present, preterit, and imperfect tenses with English equivalents. I needed a reference like this as a beginner, and honestly speaking–I could still use it to this day.

I suggest that you make as many mistakes as possible when trying out “ser” and “estar” in both past tenses. Like my classroom motto, “You have to make mistakes to learn from them.” As you ask yourself which verb and tense to use, don’t hesitate to also ask an available native Spanish speaker which tense or verb is correct. As I have mentioned before, native Spanish speakers are pretty forgiving as you are learning their language.

One of the most effective ways to learn language is through modeling. Just like when you were a child, your family modeled to you how to use your native language. Be aware, observe, and apply. But don’t worry about being perfect. “Perfection is a perfect waste of time” (author unknown).

I posted the Latin Grammy nominated song “Me fui” by the Spanish artist Bebe recently as an example of the verb “irse.” I made a mental note of the way the verb “estaba” clearly stood out in the song. It’s a good example of how “estar” is used in the imperfect past tense. Take another listen and this time pay attention to the lyrics “Dónde estaba cuando te llamaba?” (Where were you when I was calling you?) It models the imperfect tense “perfectly” in context. Here’s the link to that post where you will find the link to the YouTube video and the lyrics in Spanish with the English translation at the end of the article (We’re all connected: )

Spanish Verb Mastery Blog Post Including Links for the YouTube 'Video Official' of The Latin Grammy Nominated Song: "Me fui" by Bebe


Thursday
May062010

The 2 most essential Spanish verbs: ‘to be’ or... 'to be’? That is the question

“Ser” and “estar” are the two most essential and existential Spanish verbs because they both mean “to be.” When the verb “to be” is conjugated in English it becomes the familiar “am,” “is,” “are”; “was” and “were.” In English you only need to make sure the verb agrees with the subject. Hopefully, it’s pretty obvious when they don’t match up. Sentences like, “I is hungry” or “You was busy” just don’t sound right.

But in Spanish, communicating a state of being is far more complicated. Personally speaking, the Spanish verbs “ser” and “estar” put my dyslexic tendencies into overdrive. It reminds me of my surprising confusion between “left” and “right” (in English and Spanish). My husband teases me about it every time I’m driving and following directions, but I have come to accept my dyslexia between left and right. I eventually find my way.

Just because “ser” and “estar” are the two most basic Spanish verbs doesn’t make them easy. I make a lot of mistakes when I use these verbs. It's also something I have learned to accept. You will find as I have, that native speakers of Spanish are forgiving in this respect.

So let’s take a closer look at “ser” and “estar.” The following excerpts of The Spanish Verb Conjugator are the charts for each verb that include the present and past tenses. Side note: as with all the verb charts of the verb guide, the four additional simple verb tenses are found on the backside of every verb chart page.

The following excerpt, “Ser and Estar: Too Close for Comfort” is from the basics section of The Spanish Verb Conjugator. It describes when to use each verb with some examples in the present and the past tenses: (Note: I will review "ser" and "estar" in the past tenses, the preterit and imperfect, in the next post.)

Not only do you need to know how to conjugate each verb, but also how to apply the two different classifications of existence: temporary or permanent. I consider this distinction to be more subtle than definite, so that’s what makes it challenging. In the beginning, (or if you’re like me–most of the time) it’s a little mind boggling to distinguish between these subtleties at the same time you are choosing subjects, tenses, and conjugations. Give yourself some wiggle room here. This is a perfect time to have a strategy in place that will help you make decisions on the spot when you are choosing between “ser” and “estar.”


Some great examples of grammar strategies can be found on the following link from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) Spanish Grammar Strategies Web Project. (that’s a mouthful). This page offers some basic strategies that you could apply to help you learn how to choose “ser” or “estar.” Feel free to use them or maybe they will inspire you to create some strategies of your own.

University of Minnesota's Center for Advanced Research
on Language Acquisition (CARLA)
Spanish Grammar Strategies Web Project: Ser and Estar


In the next blog post I will highlight the quadruple challenge of not only choosing between “ser” and “estar” in the present tense, but doing so in the past with the preterit and the imperfect. Until then...hasta luego.

 


Wednesday
Apr282010

'Vamos' or 'Vámonos'?: Learning How to Conjugate Reflexive Spanish Verbs Part 'Dos'

If you missed 'Part Uno' which covers the basics to reflexive Spanish verbs, feel free to read it here:
"Se Habla Español 'Se' What?: Learning How to Conjugate Reflexive Spanish Verbs"

Reflexive Spanish Verbs Case in Point: IR and IRSE
Have you ever noticed the difference between the commands “vamos” and “vámonos”? The reason for this variation comes from the difference between the non-reflexive verb "ir" (to go) and it’s reflexive counterpart, “irse” (to leave). 

“Vamos” is the first person plural command of the verb “ir” which means “let’s go” (let us go); and “vámonos” is the first person plural command of the verb “irse” which means “let’s leave” (let us leave). If you're wondering, the first person plural form is the nosotros form (nosotros = we/us).

In the case of "vámonos," it’s important to note: when you use a reflexive verb as an affirmative command, you have to attach the reflexive pronoun to the end of the verb. In this case it is the first person plural reflexive pronoun "nos" that is attached. To illustrate:

From Appendix A: The Basics to Use Commands, page 340 of The Spanish Verb Conjugator:

10.  Regular and irregular affirmative nosotros/as commands with reflexive pronouns drop the letter “s"
       of the conjugation when “nos” is attached to the command.

                               irse:  vámonos = “vamos” - “s” + “nos”

       (Note that an accent mark is added to preserve the appropriate stress of the verb.)

Another way of looking at it would be to leave the "s" there. "Vamosnos" just doesn't sound right.

Now let’s backtrack and review the conjugations of the present, preterit, and imperfect tenses of the verb “ir” and “irse” through the following sample verb chart from The Spanish Verb Conjugator: The Beginner's Guide to Mastering Spanish Verbs.

To help the beginner become familiar with those verbs that are used both non-reflexively and reflexively, the reflexive Spanish verb charts of The Spanish Verb Conjugator present the reflexive pronouns in parenthesis indicating that they may or may not be used according to the definition needed. (Side note: the Spanish verbs  that are most often used reflexively will not have reflexive pronouns in parenthesis.)

Reflexive Spanish Verbs: More Examples
It’s important to be able to understand the subtle difference between the verbs “ir” and “irse.” Perhaps by using this common verb as an example, it will lead to a greater understanding of reflexive verbs in general.

There are some Spanish verbs that are primarily used in the reflexive; for example, acostarse, despertarse, divertirse, etc. (Re: previous side note: so within the SVC, they will not have parenthesis around the reflexive pronouns). I designed the The Spanish Verb Conjugator to make this distinction for you without digging into the linguistic reasons why. It’s easier for beginners to just try and remember which verbs are used reflexively and which verbs can be used both reflexively and non-reflexively, as dictated by the verb's definition.

Here are some examples of verbs that change meaning when used reflexively, and that are included in the core group of 110 Irregular verbs from A to Z of The Spanish Verb Conjugator:

                         acordar:  to agree                   acordarse:   to remember
                         caer:       to fall                        caerse:        to fall down
                         poner:     to put                       ponerse:      to become, to put on clothes, to set (sun)
                         probar:    to test, to prove       probarse:     to try on clothes
                         sentir:     to feel, to regret       sentirse:       to feel and emotion, ill/well

(Re: previous side note: so within the SVC, the verbs above will have parenthesis around the reflexive pronouns because they are used both reflexively and non-reflexively; to reiterate, the verbs that are most often used reflexively will not have parenthesis around the reflexive pronouns because that is their most natural state. In this way, the SVC trains the beginner to make this distinction between all reflexive Spanish verbs.)

Reflexive Spanish Verb IRSE In Context: Latin Grammy Nominee “Me Fui”
When I was a student in Costa Rica, it confused me when I heard someone say, “me voy” (I’m leaving) when they were called from another room, or someone was waiting for them outside. This frequently used reflexive verb (irse) was overlooked in my own Spanish classes, and it wasn't included in any of the textbooks that were available when I taught high school Spanish. So I felt it was important to include in my verb guide and in today's post.

"Me voy" is the present tense yo form of "irse." So that would make "me fui" the preterit past tense yo form of “irse,” which means “I left.” To put this common reflexive Spanish verb in context, here is an excellent example: the song “Me fui” by Bebe & Carlos Jean (songwriter Bebe) which was nominated for 'Song of The Year' at the 10th Annual Latin Grammy Awards in 2009.

The following links below will bring you to the Official Video (that is not available for embedding), and lyrics in Spanish and the English translation. I have also embedded a video below the links that gives a little background info on the artist, Bebe, I think she is very interesting and very unique. Enjoy! / ¡Qué disfruten!

 Click here for the "Me fui" YouTube Video Official

Click here for "Me fui" lyrics in Spanish with English translation.

 

Friday
Apr162010

Se Habla Español 'Se' What?: Learning How to Conjugate Reflexive Spanish Verbs

Reflexive Spanish verbs are very common in everyday Spanish.
It is nearly impossible to avoid using reflexive Spanish verbs. Verbs are used reflexively in Spanish more frequently than English. For these reasons, I felt it was important to include reflexive Spanish verbs in my verb guide, The Spanish Verb Conjugator, The Beginner’s Guide to Mastering Spanish Verbs, and in today's post.

Please note, however, that reflexive Spanish verbs are appropriate to study once you understand how to use the Spanish subject pronouns and conjugating regular verbs. So if this topic is premature for you, save it for later. Don’t overwhelm yourself more than necessary. You can preview this topic to offer perspective in any case.

Have you ever seen a sign in a store window advertising bilingual service that reads, “Se habla español”? When I was a beginner, this phrase confused me. I wondered why it didn’t just read, “Hablamos español” (We speak Spanish) without the reflexive pronoun (se).

“Se habla español” is the passive voice which means “Spanish is spoken” (here). This is a good example of how reflexive Spanish verbs are commonly used yet confusing to beginners whose native language is English.

Reflexive Spanish verbs make communication in Spanish more efficient.
As a beginner, another area that confused me was learning how to translate phrases in English that started with the word “get” or in the past “got.” If you look up the word “get” in an English to Spanish dictionary, there isn’t a single word or phrase listed to define it. That’s because it is implied when using reflexive Spanish verbs.

Sentences like: “I get bored in Science class,” can be communicated in Spanish as “Me aburro en la clase de ciencias.” (present tense of aburrirse); or “Did you get sick?” translates into one single reflexive verb phrase, “Te enfermaste?” (preterit of enfermarse).

Reflexive Spanish verbs make it easier to learn how to use object pronouns.
As a beginner, I was so frustrated with verb conjugation in Spanish that when it came to object pronouns I tried not to use them at all. I thought it would be okay to just name the objects of the action instead of replacing them with a pronoun. It worked for a while, but as my verb conjugation skills improved, it became obvious that I needed to learn how to use object pronouns.

Reflexive Spanish verbs are the perfect introduction to learning how to use the other object pronouns, direct and indirect. When you understand the difference between the subject of the action and the object of the action, you can apply the concept to using reflexive pronouns, direct object pronouns, and indirect object pronouns in Spanish.

The following excerpt from The Spanish Verb Conjugator provides an outline to the basics of learning how to use Reflexive Spanish Verbs.

Whether the verb ending is “ar,” “er,” or “ir,” the infinitive reflexive verb will end in “se.” For example, “bañarse,” “caerse,” or “divertirse.” Reflexive verbs can be regular or irregular. In addition to the verb conjugation, a reflexive pronoun will precede the verb and reflect the subject of the conjugated verb. The “se” at the end of the infinitive verb is not retained when the verb is conjugated.

For example, “bañarse” (to bathe oneself) a regular -ar reflexive verb in the present tense:

“bañ” is the stem; “ar” is the ending; “se” is the infinitive reflexive pronoun    
        me    baño           I bathe myself
        te      bañas         you (inf.) bathe yourself
        se     baña           he bathes himself, she bathes herself, you (f.) bathe yourself
        se     bañan         they bathe themselves, you all (f. & inf.) bathe yourselves
        nos   bañamos    we bathe ourselves
        os     bañáis        you all (inf.) bathe yourselves

Reflexive verbs are used most frequently in the following ways:
a.)    Some verbs can be used reflexively to convey “myself,” “yourself,” “himself,” “itself,” etc.
        when the subject and the object of the action are the same person(s) or thing(s). For
        example, “I look at myself in the mirror.” (Me miro en el espejo.)

b.)    Verbs in English that imply “get” / “got” or “become” / “became” are used reflexively in
        Spanish. For example, “I get tired” (Me canso); “I got bored” (Me aburrí).

c.)    To communicate “each other” or “one another,” reflexive verbs are used: “We speak to
        each other every day.” (Nos hablamos todos los días.)
        
d.)    Reflexive verbs in the third person (se) are used for the passive or impersonal voice. For example:
        “They say that/It is said that...” (Se dice que...) or “How does one say...?” (¿Cómo se dice...?);
        Spanish is spoken here.” (Se habla español)

In the next blog post I will highlight the reflexive Spanish verb “irse” (to leave) as an excellent example of a mainstream irregular reflexive Spanish verb. I will compare it to its counterpart: the non-reflexive and super common Spanish verb, "ir" (to go). Until then...hasta luego.

Friday
Apr092010

Best Music of Latin America: "En Cambio No" by Laura Pausini

"En Cambio No" was nominated for a Latin Grammy for 'Record of the Year' in 2009. Of all the nominations it was my favorite. In the YouTube video embedded below, it is a "karoke" version with the lyrics running along with the song, which turns out to be a nice language in context lesson.

I also considered posting the Latin Grammy performance, but the male dancers were kind of distracting (not in a good way either). If you want to check out the official video (with a storyline), go to YouTube to view the best quality version from Warner Music Latina (I can't embed it here):

Click here for the official Warner Music Latina video of
"En Cambio No" by Laura Pausini

Click here for the English translation for "En Cambio No"