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Entries in Spanish verb conjugation (9)

Friday
Apr162010

Se Habla EspaƱol '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.

Monday
Mar292010

10 High Frequency Irregular Spanish Verbs: I Call Them "Yo-Go's"

What are “Yo-Go’s”?
I coined a name for this group of irregular Spanish verbs to help my students remember them, and it is a term used by other teachers and students. “Yo-go’s” are commonly used irregular Spanish verbs that have the
“-go” ending only in the yo form when conjugated in the present tense. The “yo” form is the first person singular form: when “I” is the subject of the verb.

The letter “g” seems to come out of nowhere because it is not a letter found in the verb’s stem. When conjugating these verbs, you have to remember to add it only to the “yo” form. I don’t include verbs that already have the letter “g” in the verb stem in the “yo-go” group (verbs like: jugar, llegar, and seguir) because the letter “g” is already part of the verb stem for all the conjugations of the verb. 

One of the first “yo-go’s” that you learn in beginning Spanish is “tengo.” It comes from the verb “tener” which means “to have” and in certain expressions it means “to be”: tengo hambre (I’m hungry), tengo sed (I’m thirsty), tengo frio (I’m cold), tengo calor (I’m warm), etc. Below is a list of all seven “yo-go” verbs.

 

 Why are “Yo-Go’s” important?

Besides sharing the “-go” ending in the yo form in the present tense, the letter “g” will show up again in the conjugations of these verbs when you learn the commands (the imperative mood) and the subjunctive tense. If you make the distinction when learning the present tense, it will be easier for you to remember it when you are studying the commands and the subjunctive later. 

The subjunctive is a tense that is typically studied at the advanced level; however, it is more frequently used in Spanish than English. The subjunctive tense is considered more formal in English, but it is very common in Spanish. You will even hear small children use this tense frequently because their parents model it for them. As children learning our native language, our listening skills develop before our speaking skills, so it’s a good idea to be aware of the subjunctive even if you don’t use it yet.

How can “Yo-Go’s” help me?
I identified this irregular verb group to make it easier for beginners to remember the “sneaky-g” when conjugating these verbs in the present tense and when you are learning the commands and the subjunctive later. You will typically study the commands before the subjunctive, so make a mental note to remember (to recycle) the conjugations when appropriate. A nit-picky note: the letter “g”, however, will be followed by the letter “a” (not “o”) in the commands (all but two conjugations–tú and vosotros) and all of the conjugations of the subjunctive. 

“Yo-Go’s” are a perfect example of my teaching philosophy and the basis to my verb guide, The Spanish Verb Conjugator, The Beginner’s Guide to Mastering Spanish Verbs: use the present and past tenses as a bridge to the advanced tenses. The groundwork will already be assembled should you decide to continue on with your Spanish studies. It’s a built-in feature to prepare you for the future, but it can feel like a burden in the beginning.

My hope is that you can tackle the challenges with awareness instead of giving up in frustration. Hang in there! Everything worthwhile comes with challenges that may test your convictions. Otherwise it would be, well...easy. Don’t get me wrong, I love “easy,” but I do believe that some things, like learning Spanish, wouldn’t be as satisfying to accomplish if they weren’t a little tricky.   

As part of my philosophy also: if you don't make it to the advanced level that's okay too. You can still accomplish a lot of living in the Spanish language with basic skills. I know this for a fact. And guess what happens if you lower your expectations and maintain your basic Spanish skills? They only get better.

Saturday
Mar272010

Dual Past Tenses of Spanish Verbs: How do I Choose Between Them?

Build basic verb conjugation skills in the present tense first
One of the most challenging tasks of learning how to conjugate Spanish verbs is choosing between the past tenses of Spanish: the preterit and the imperfect. Perhaps because this challenge follows a rigorous sequence of verb conjugation milestones: 

1.  Learning the subject pronouns

2.  Learning how to conjugate verbs in the present tense:

  • regular -ar, -er, and -ir ending verbs
  • irregular verb patterns in the most common Spanish verbs 

3.  Learning how to conjugate verbs in the preterit past tense:

  • regular -ar, -er, and -ir ending verbs
  • irregular verbs in the preterit (there’s a lot)  

4.  Learning how to conjugate verbs in the imperfect past tense:

  • regular -ar, -er, and -ir ending verbs
  • irregular verbs in the imperfect (there are only three!) 

Getting to this point is a huge accomplishment! Once you get used to using Spanish subject pronouns and conjugating regular verbs, you’ve laid the foundation of verb conjugation in Spanish. Next in line is learning the irregular verb patterns found in high frequency Spanish verbs, and finally applying all of these new concepts to dual past tenses in Spanish.  

From my own experience as a student and as a teacher, if you can make it through the past tenses of Spanish verbs, the following verb conjugation work doesn’t seem nearly as difficult. If you should decide not to continue to study the advanced tenses (or just dabble a little in some of them), the skills you’ve acquired this far will still allow you to navigate in Spanish very well. It’s a win-win situation.

Practice when to use each past tense
I’ve strived to motivate and support the beginner through these initial challenges with my verb guide, The Spanish Verb Conjugator, The Beginner’s Guide to Mastering Spanish Verbs. You can use it as your ‘training wheels’ until your verb conjugation skills improve. Reflexive verbs and “Verbs Like Gustar,” which are commonly used in the present and past tenses, are also included in my verb guide as well. All of the basics are covered to get you rolling. The following book exerpt summarizes when to use each past tense.

The preterit and the imperfect are constantly joined at the hip when dealing with the past in Spanish. Choosing between them is not easy. Just like balancing on your own without training wheels, learning to balance between the preterit and imperfect is a skill to develop with practice. 

The preterit past tense in Spanish is used when events in the past are completed with reference to the beginning or end of the action. It is also used for a series of completed events in the past.

I washed the dishes.” Lavé los platos; or 
I washed the dishes, I swept the floor, and I cleaned the bathroom.” 
Lavé los platos, barrí el piso y limpié el baño.

The imperfect past tense in Spanish is used to describe action in progress or for habitual, repeated actions in the past.   

I was washing the dishes.”; or “I used to wash the dishes.”
Lavaba los platos.

The imperfect describes the background as other actions occur simultaneously or interrupt the action. The interrupting actions are often in the preterit tense.  

“I was washing the dishes and I was sweeping the floor when you called me.” 
Lavaba (imperfect) los platos y barría (imperfect) el piso cuando me llamaste (preterit). 

Remember that you are describing the past in the way that you want to paint the picture of what happened. Is the point in time that you are referring to completed? Is there focus on the beginning or end of the action? Was it already in progress? Was it habitual, something you used to do?

Create strategies to help you decide which past tense to use
Not only will it save you time, but it is essential to rely on strategies or techniques that help you choose between the past tenses on-the-spot. The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) through the University of Minnesota, developed the "Spanish Grammar Strategies Web Project." It is designed to enhance the learning and use of Spanish grammar. 

Here is a direct link to the web page that illustrates some excellent examples of strategies that students and teachers have used to help them make the decision between the preterit and the imperfect. There are video tutorials included. Use these strategies yourself, or maybe they will inspire you to create your own personal strategies.

University of Minnesota/CARLA: Spanish Grammar Strategies Web Project/
Preterite vs. Imperfect

 

 

Friday
Feb192010

The Preterit and The Imperfect Spanish Verbs: A Love Story

There are two past tenses of Spanish verbs: the preterit and the imperfect. It would seem like one past tense is enough for any language. The duality is frustrating for native speakers of English. Perhaps, like a pc and a mac, Coke® and Pepsi®, McDonald’s® and Burger King®, there is a mystical balance behind this cosmic partnership. Both serve a purpose, at least to remind us that we have a choice. And once we accept the duality, our opportunities double too, like speaking in two languages.

The Infatuation Stage

What happens with the inspiration and intention filling our hearts when we embark upon learning a second language, Spanish in particular? Does it sustain us until we become fluent? Or do we lose our enthusiasm somewhere along the way and decide to break it off?

At the outset of the endeavor to learn Spanish, we are proud. We proclaim our commitment to the world, “I’m going to learn to speak Spanish! It’s such a beautiful language. I would love to travel to a Spanish speaking country some day, and it would also help me stand out of the competition to land a good job.” It is a desire coming from a place deep inside, a feeling we can’t quite explain. We are inspired to bring the colorful world of Latin culture and the Spanish language into our lives.

Our experiences with Spanish usually start in high school, but some of us are late bloomers and jump in later at the community college or university level. Perhaps we are professionals or travelers fulfilling that life-long dream to learn Spanish. Or maybe we purchase a self-study program to use on our own.

The Honeymoon  

We start out with the alphabet, pronunciation, vocabulary, greetings, and talking about the weather. Adjectives and vocabulary words simply require memorization and gender agreement (identifying masculine and feminine words). Everything is going pretty well, and then the day comes when verbs are introduced. There are more definitions to memorize, but the subject pronouns and different verb endings for each subject take us in a direction we never intended to go. These grammatical concepts are totally different than verb conjugation in English. Up until this point, we were able to use our native English language to bridge the gap. It’s a good strategy when building vocabulary, but it doesn’t seem to work now.

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