All the Spanish Verb Tenses, Explained in One Big Post
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One key to natural fluency in a new language is the proper use of its verb tenses. While it takes some time to learn when and how to use all the Spanish verb tenses, it’s at least possible to understand their differences.
In this post we give an overview of all the Spanish verb tenses so you can become familiar with each, with plenty of easy examples to see them in use.
Just a warning, this post is super long since it introduces all the Spanish verb tenses! But it’s a great place to start when you want to compare them and decide which is right for your context. For deeper explanations we have dedicated posts for each tense, which are linked in each section. Happy learning!
Four Spanish moods for conjugation
In Spanish, verb conjugation falls into four moods, depending on what we’re trying to express, with each mood having its own tenses. Don’t worry, we’ll get into each tense further along. For now let’s just have an overview of the four moods:
- I study Spanish. – Yo estudio español.
- You ate a lot of pasta. – Tú comiste mucha pasta.
- She will work tomorrow. – Ella trabajará mañana.
- Maybe he’ll call later. – Quizás él llame más tarde.
- It is so good that you went to the party. – Es bueno que ustedes hayan ido a la fiesta.
- Maybe we’ll go to the cinema later. – Tal vez vayamos al cine más tarde.
- Cook the dinner! – ¡Cocina la cena!
- Wash your hands! – ¡Lava tus manos!
- Clean your room! – ¡Limpia tu cuarto!
- If you do your homework, you can go out. – Si haces la tarea, podrías salir.
- If I buy the ingredients, would you cook pizza? – Si compro los ingredientes, ¿cocinarías pizza?
- Would you dance with me? – ¿Bailarías conmigo?
Now that you have an idea of what sort of sentences fall into each mood, we can consider the different tenses each mood uses. Next, we’ll go through each of the Spanish verb tenses mood by mood.
Don’t worry, we’re not going through all of the conjugations for every tense here. We have specific posts which treat each tense in more detail, including conjugations: we include links to each one in their respective sections below.
This post is rather intended to provide a good overview of all the different tenses and their differences so you can recognize each and choose the right one when speaking and writing in Spanish.
Nonetheless, we’ll provide first person singular (yo) conjugations for two common verbs in each tense to give as examples: ir and comprar. At the end of the post we give example sentences for both of these words with every one of the tenses.
All the Spanish Verb Tenses
Here’s the list of All the Spanish Verb Tenses, with quick links to their respective sections below.
- Indicative mood
- Subjunctive mood
- Imperative mood
- Imperative affirmative
- Imperative negative
- Conditional mood
- Conditional compound
Now let’s get started!
This mood is used to talk about reality or facts. This is always the case, regardless of the tense (simple, perfect, or progressive). Using the indicative mood we can talk about and describe actions at the moment they occur, whether it’s the past, present, or future.
Indicative mood: Simple tenses
As the name mentions, we use the present tense to talk about things that happen now, in the present. We use this tense to talk about facts, realities, current situations, and more.
- I study graphic design. – Yo estudio diseño gráfico.
- We cook our lunch every day. – Nosotros cocinamos nuestro almuerzo todos los días.
- I have many plants in my garden. – Yo tengo muchas plantas en mi jardín.
As the name suggests, the imperfect past tense is used to talk about past actions.
But it’s not the only use for this tense. You can also use it to talk about things that were habitual in the past, actions that were not completed in the past, or characteristics and emotional states that took place in the past.
- I studied law, but then I switched to architecture. – Yo estudiaba derecho, pero luego cambié a arquitectura.
- We exercised every day, but we don’t have time anymore. – Hacíamos ejercicio todos los días, pero ya no tenemos tiempo.
- I had many plants in my garden, but they died in the winter. – Yo tenía muchas plantas en mi jardín, pero murieron por el invierno.
Simple past differs from the imperfect past tense with respect to whether the action had a clear ending point. If something happened in the past, with a clear start and end date, or the action was completed, then we use the simple past tense. This tense is also commonly known as the Spanish preterite tense, or pretérito indefinido in Spanish.
- I studied law at Boston University. – Yo estudié derecho en la Universidad de Boston.
- We cooked our lunch yesterday for the whole week. – Nosotros cocinamos ayer nuestro almuerzo para toda la semana.
- I had many plants in my garden when I was a girl. – Yo tuve muchas plantas en mi jardín cuando era niña.
The English equivalent is “will + verb”.
We use this tense to express the actions that will take place in the future.
- I will study law when I finish high school. – Yo estudiaré derecho cuando termine la secundaria.
- Later, I will cook my lunch for tomorrow. – Yo cocinaré más tarde mi almuerzo para mañana.
- I will have many sunflowers in my garden. – Yo tendré muchos girasoles en mi jardín.
Note that another common method for expressing the future in the indicative mood is to place “voy a” before an infinitive (or “va a,” or “vas a,” etc.). While this construction is definitely useful, it is not a distinct tense since it just uses the verb “ir” in the present tense.
Check out our post on the Future Tense Spanish, which looks at both of these ways to express the future, as well as the future perfect tense which we’ll see below.
Indicative mood simple tense conjugation
Indicative mood: Perfect tenses
All the actions expressed with perfect tenses concluded close to the moment we’re talking about.
All the sentences that are expressed in the perfect present, past, or future need to use the auxiliary verb haber, with the action verb always in its participle form. The auxiliary verb and the participle verb can never be separated, no matter what.
Personal pronoun + haber (conjugated) + verb participle + complement
You just need to learn the conjugation of the verb haber, as well as the participle of your action verb.
We use the present perfect tense when something started and ended in the past, but it happened very close to the moment we are talking about.
In addition, it’s one of the best and easiest to use when you haven’t yet learned the past conjugations.
- I have studied for the test this morning. – Yo he estudiado para el examen esta mañana.
- My sister has baked the birthday cake. – Mi hermana ha horneado el pastel de cumpleaños.
- That’s why the workers have gone on strike – Por eso los trabajadores han declarado una huelga.
We use the past perfect tense to talk about an action that was completed before another action, or to talk about actions that are implicit and happened in the past.
- I had already studied this lesson before the teacher explained it. – Yo ya había estudiado esta lección antes que el profesor la explicara.
- My sister had baked the birthday cake already this morning. – Mi hermana había horneado el pastel de cumpleaños desde esta mañana.
- For that reason, the workers had gone on strike. – Por esa razón, los trabajadores se habían ido de huelga.
We use the future perfect tense only when talking about future actions that will take place before another future action. Things that haven’t happened yet, but we are very sure that they will happen.
- I will have studied for the exam when my mom arrives. – Habré estudiado para el examen, cuando mi mamá llegue.
- We will have cooked everything before the party starts. – Habremos cocinado todo antes que empiece la fiesta.
- The workers will have ended the strike when they talk to the boss. – Los trabajadores habrán terminado la huelga cuando hablen con el jefe.
Indicative mood perfect tense conjugation
|Yo he viajado
|Yo había viajado
|Yo habré viajado
|Yo he comprado
|Yo había comprado
|Yo habré comprado
Indicative mood: Progressive tenses
We use progressive tenses to tell that something is happening at the moment, or that it was happening at the moment we’re describing. The use of progressive tenses is very common.
The equivalent in English is when verbs end in “-ing” (e.g. reading, playing, cooking). In Spanish this verb form is called the gerundio.
The formula is very easy, the verb estar conjugated in present or imperfect past, combined with the gerundio.
Estar (conjugated) + gerundio + complement
If you’re doing it right now, you say it with present progressive.
- I am studying right now, I can’t go out. – Yo estoy estudiando ahora, no puedo salir.
- She is talking on the phone with her grandmother. – Ella está hablando por telefóno con su abuela.
- They are watching the news. – Ellos están viendo las noticias.
If something happens in the past while another action is taking place, we use past progressive for the action that was ongoing.
- I was studying when my friends invited me to go out. – Yo estaba estudiando, cuando mis amigas me invitaron a salir.
- She was [talking] on the phone with her grandmother when you called her on the cell phone. – Ella estaba hablando por teléfono con su abuela cuando la llamaste al celular.
- They were watching the news while they were making dinner. – Ellos estaban viendo las noticias mientras hacían la cena.
Indicative mood progressive tense conjugation
|Yo estoy yendo
|Yo estaba yendo
|Yo estoy comprando
|Yo estaba comprando
We use the subjunctive mood to express desires and hypotheses. We use it to talk about things that are not real yet, which might be possible, or even things that never happened but we wish they had.
We have a more in-depth post explaining the subjunctive mood overall, as well as posts specific to various subjunctive tenses (links are in each section below).
Subjunctive mood: Simple tenses
We use the present subjunctive for hypothetical situations.
- I’ll probably study late on Friday. I don’t think I can go out. – Probablemente yo estudie hasta tarde el viernes. No creo que pueda salir.
- Maybe my brother can help you with the math homework. – Tal vez mi hermano pueda ayudarte con la tarea de matemáticas.
- When I go back to that store, I might buy that dress. – Cuando vuelva a esa tienda, puede ser que compre ese vestido.
The present subjunctive is also very commonly used to ask politely for something in the form of a desire.
- They want us to listen to Taylor’s new album. – Quieren que escuchemos el nuevo álbum de Taylor.
- I want you to cook that pesto pasta I like so much. – Quiero que cocines esa pasta al pesto que tanto me gusta.
- I prefer that you send the documents today. – Prefiero que envíes los documentos hoy.
Like the present subjunctive, the imperfect subjunctive expresses theoretical situations which would have happened in the past. It’s also used to politely express desires, as well as in hypothetical “if… then” phrases. Let’s see a few examples of each.
We use the imperfect subjunctive when we allude to previous experiences or unlikely events and possibilities. Rather than knowing that something happened, we may think or hope that it did.
- I wanted you to come to my birthday party. – Quería que vinieras a mi fiesta de cumpleaños.
- I don’t think it was a mistake. – Nocreo que fuera un error.
- I’m not sure she took the right decision. – No estoy seguro de que ella tomara la mejor decisión.
The imperfect subjunctive is also used to express desire in the form of a courtesy:
- I would like you to study graphic design. – Me gustaría que estudiaras diseño gráfico.
- It would be a good idea to ask for help with the math homework. – Sería buena idea que pidieras ayuda con la tarea de matemáticas.
- I would buy the dress if I had the money. – Yo compraría el vestido, si tuviera el dinero.
The imperfect subjunctive is often used in sentences describing theoretical situations using “if.”
- If they lived here, you would be happier. – Siellos vivieran aquí, serías más feliz.
- If I were you, I would do things differently. – Si yo fuera tú, haría las cosas diferente.
- We would travel more if we had more time. – Viajaríamos más si tuviéramos tiempo.
Subjunctive mood: Perfect tenses
Just like we saw in the indicative mood, the perfect tenses of the subjunctive mood are used with the same straightforward formula:
Personal pronoun + haber (conjugated) + verb participle + complement
You just need to learn the conjugation of the verb haber in the subjunctive tenses, as well as the participle of your action verb.
The present perfect subjunctive is very useful when you want to explain something that started or happened in the past, but still affects the present or will affect the future.
- I hope you have studied a lot for your admission test. – Espero que hayas estudiado mucho para tu examen de admisión.
- Please let me know when you have spoken with the clients. – Por favor, avísame cuando hayas hablado con los clientes.
- We hope you enjoyed the show. – Esperamos que hayan disfrutado el espectáculo.
We use the past perfect subjunctive to talk about events in the past that you could not do. It is a way of regretting not having done something.
- I would have studied graphic design, but there was no place in the university. – Yo hubiera estudiado diseño gráfico, pero ya no había cupo en la universidad.
- If you had talked to customers on time they would not be upset. – Si hubieras hablado con los clientes a tiempo no estarían molestos.
- Surely you would have enjoyed the show, what a pity that there were no tickets. – Seguro hubieran disfrutado la función, que lástima que ya no habían entradas.
Subjunctive mood conjugations
|Present perfect subjunctive
|Past perfect subjunctive
|Yo haya ido
|Yo hubiera ido
|Yo haya comprado
|Yo hubiera comprado
We use the imperative mood to give orders and commands. Anything that is an instruction (written or spoken) uses this mood.
Since the imperative is used to tell people to do something, it is only used with the personal pronouns tú, usted, ustedes, and nosotros.
There are two forms of imperative conjugation, depending on whether the command is in the affirmative or the negative. Check out our dedicated post on Spanish Commands for a full explanation of how the imperative is used, or our specific post on nosotros commands to see how to use the “let’s + infinitive” form. For specifics, we even have lessons on Spanish dog commands, and useful tú commands for teachers and babysitters.
- Study more and talk less. – Estudien más y hablen menos.
- Go to the doctor, you can not self-medicate. – Ve al médico, no puedes automedicarte.
- Look at this news, what do you think? – Mira esta noticia, ¿qué opinas?
- Don’t talk to your ex while I’m away! – ¡No hables con tu ex mientras estoy lejos!
- Don’t go to the pub tonight, we need to leave early tomorrow. – No vayas al bar esta noche, necesitamos salir mañana temprano.
- Don’t close the windows, leave them open. – No cierres las ventanas, déjalas abiertas.
Imperative mood conjugations
|(Tú) No vayas
|(Tú) No compres
We use the conditional mode to express a possibility, a desire, or a request. Basically, if you were to introduce a possibility in English using words like could, would, should have, or probably, you’ll be using the conditional for these situations in Spanish.
We can also use the conditional to talk about hypothetical situations using “if” clauses: if one thing happens, then the other is likely to happen. The actual conjugation with “if” clauses gets a bit more complicated depending on when each situation happens, so for a more in-depth discussion on the possibilities check out our Beginner’s Guide to the Conditional Tense.
There are two tenses in the conditional: simple and compound. Let’s see them in action!
In the simple conditional tense, we only have one action verb conjugated in conditional.
- Of course, I would study graphic design if only the university had places left. – Por supuesto, que yo estudiaría diseño gráfico si quedaran cupos en la universidad.
- I couldn’t eat such a big pizza – Yo no podría comer una pizza tan grande.
- Would you come to my house tonight? – ¿Vendrías a mi casa esta noche?
With the conditional compound tense, we conjugate the verb haber in conditional, and then follow it with the action verb in participle.
- I would have studied, but I fell asleep. – Yo habría estudiado, pero me quedé dormido.
- I would have gone to the doctor if I hadn’t left work so late. – Yo habría ido al médico si no hubiera salido tan tarde del trabajo.
- I would have cooked his dinner all week if I had lost my bet. – Yo habría cocinado su cena toda la semana si hubiera perdido mi apuesta.
Conditional mood conjugations
|Yo habría ido
|Yo habría comprado
Well we’ve shown you each of the moods and verb tenses with both ir and comprar. Now let’s make some sentences with both verbs using all of the tenses! By comparing them all together, hopefully you’ll get a good idea of how they each differ.
First let’s see the examples of all the conjugations with “Go traveling – Ir de viaje”
|Yo voy a viajar en enero.
|I am going to travel in January.
|Yo iba a viajar en enero, pero no conseguí pasajes.
|I was going to travel in January, but I did not get tickets.
|Yo fui a Colombia en enero de este año. Quiero repetir ese viaje.
|I went to Colombia in January of this year. I want to repeat that trip.
|Yo iré de viaje a Colombia el próximo año.
|I will travel to Colombia next year.
|Yo no he ido de viaje recientemente.
|I have not traveled recently.
|Yo no había ido de viaje.
|I had not gone on a trip.
|Seguro habré ido de viaje antes que se acabe este año.
|I’m sure I’ll have gone on a trip before this year is over.
|Yo me estoy yendo de viaje. Regreso en una semana.
|I am going on a trip. I come back in a week.
|Yo me estaba yendo de viaje cuando me llamaste.
|I was going on a trip when you called.
|Cuando vaya de viaje a Colombia te avisaré
|When I travel to Colombia I will let you know.
|Yo iría de viaje, si tuviera dinero.
|I would go on a trip, if I had money.
|Present perfect subjunctive
|Lo haré cuando me haya ido de viaje.
|I will do it once I have gone on a trip.
|Past perfect subjunctive
|Yo hubiera ido a ese viaje, pero tenía que trabajar.
|I would have gone on that trip, but I had to work.
|¡Ve de viaje con tus amigas!
|Go on a trip with your friends!
|¡No vayas a viajar sin mí!
|Don’t go traveling without me!
|¿Irías de viaje conmigo?
|Would you travel with me?
|¿Tú te habrías ido de viaje con ellos?
|Would you have gone on a trip with them?
Let’s see the conjugations with “Buy food – Comprar comida”
|Yo compro comida rápida todas las semanas.
|I buy fast food every week.
|Yo compraba comida ahí todos los días.
|I bought food there every day.
|Yo compré estas frutas ayer en el mercado de agricultores.
|I bought these fruits yesterday at the farmer’s market.
|Compraré mi comida en el nuevo restaurante.
|I will buy my food in the new restaurant.
|Gracias, pero ya he comprado mi comida.
|Thanks, but I’ve already bought my food.
|Yo había comprado fruta para el desayuno.
|I had bought fruit for breakfast.
|Yo habré comprado la comida para cuando termines de trabajar.
|I will have bought the food for when you finish working.
|Estoy comprando comida.
|I’m buying food.
|Estaba comprando la comida cuando me llamó.
|I was buying the food when he called me.
|Después que compre la cena, vamos a ponerle gasolina al carro.
|After I buy dinner, we’re going to put gas in the car.
|Quería que yo comprara la comida.
|He wanted me to buy the food.
|Present perfect subjunctive
|Te busco, cuando haya comprado la cena.
|I’ll pick you up, once I’ve bought dinner.
|Past perfect subjunctive
|Yo hubiera comprado la comida, pero ella prefirió cocinar.
|I would have bought food, but she preferred to cook.
|¡Compra la comida para la fiesta!
|Buy the food for the party!
|No compres comida, que ya hay suficiente.
|Do not buy food, there is already enough.
|¿Comprarías la comida para esta noche?
|Would you buy the food for tonight?
|Yo habría comprado la comida, si me hubieras dicho.
|I would have bought the food, if you had told me.
Wow, we’ve just covered all the Spanish verb tenses in one shot. Was that a lot to take in at once, or did it help to be able to compare each one in turn?
The main thing to remember here is that each tense has its own use in Spanish, and that they’re all accessible as you progress in the language. Bookmark this post for a quick reference whenever you need, and follow its links to the individual tenses for deeper explanations of each one.
You’re well on your way to understanding and using more and more Spanish verb tenses!