21 Types of Spanish Verbs

Verbs classified according to function, form, meaning, and mood

Two visitors at the Castillo San Felipe, Cartagena, Colombia
Visitando el Castillo San Felipe de Cartagena, Colombia. (Visiting Cartagena, Colombia's Castillo San Felipe.).

Rebecca E Marvil / Getty Images

There may be as many ways of classifying Spanish verbs as there are people doing it, but discovering how Spanish treats different verbs differently is nevertheless a key part of learning the language. Here's one way of looking at the types of verbs, keeping in mind, of course, that verbs can fit into more than one classification.

1. Infinitives

Infinitives are verbs in their most basic form, the way you find them listed in dictionaries. Infinitives by themselves tell you nothing about who or what is performing a verb's action or when. Spanish infinitives—examples include hablar (to speak), cantar (to sing), and vivir (to live)—are the rough equivalent of the "to" form of English verbs and sometimes of the "-ing" form. Spanish infinitives can function as verbs or nouns.

2, 3, and 4. -Ar, -Er, and -Ir Verbs

Every verb fits into one of these types based on the last two letters of its infinitive. In Spanish there is no verb that ends in anything other than one of these three two-letter combinations. Even verbs that are made up or imported such as surfear (to surf) and snowboardear (to snowboard) require one of these endings. The distinction among types is that they are conjugated based on the ending.

5 and 6. Regular and Irregular Verbs

The vast majority of -ar verbs are conjugated in the same way, and the same is true for the other two ending types. These are known as regular verbs. Unfortunately for Spanish students, the more used a verb is, the more likely it is not to follow the regular pattern, being irregular.

7 and 8. Defective and Impersonal Verbs

The term defective verb is usually used to refer to a verb that isn't conjugated in all its forms. In traditional Spanish, for example, abolir (to abolish) has an incomplete conjugation set. Also, soler (to usually do something) doesn't exist in all tenses. Most defective verbs are also impersonal verbs, meaning that their action isn't performed by a distinct person or thing. The most common such are the weather verbs such as llover (to rain) and nevar (to snow). Since there's no logical reason to use forms that mean something like "we rain" or "they snow," such forms don't exist in standard Spanish.

9 and 10. Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

The distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs is important enough to Spanish grammar that the classification is given in most Spanish dictionaries—vt or vtr for verbos transitivos and vi for verbos intransitivos. Transitive verbs require an object to make a complete sentence, while intransitive verbs do not.

For example, levantar (to lift or raise) is transitive; it must be used with a word that indicates what is lifted. (In "Levantó la mano" for "He raised his hand," mano or "hand" is the object.) An example of an intransitive verb is roncar (to snore). It cannot take an object.

Some verbs can be transitive or intransitive depending on the context. Most of the time, for example, dormir is intransitive, as is its English equivalent, "to sleep." However, dormir, unlike "to sleep," can also mean to put someone to sleep, in which case it is transitive.

11. Reflexive or Reciprocal Verbs

A reflexive verb is a type of transitive verb in which the verb's object is also the person or thing performing the action of the verb. For example, if I put myself to sleep, I could say, "Me durmí," where durmí means "I put to sleep" and me means "myself." Many verbs that are used in a reflexive way are listed in dictionaries by adding -se to the infinitive, creating entries such as dormirse (to fall asleep) and encontrarse (to find oneself).

Reciprocal verbs take the same form as reflexive verbs, but they indicate that two or more subjects are interacting with each other. Example: Se golpearon uno al otro. (They beat up on each other.)

12. Copulative Verbs

A copulative or linking verb is a type of intransitive verb that is used to connect the subject of a sentence with a word that describes it or says what it is. For example, the es in "La niña es guatemalteca" (The girl is Guatemalan) is a linking verb. The most common Spanish linking verbs are ser (to be), estar (to be), and parecer (to seem). Verbs that aren't copulative are known in Spanish as verbos predicativos.

13. Past Participles

A past participle is a type of participle that can be used to form the perfect tenses. Most past participles end in -ado or -ido. As in English, past participles can also usually be used as adjectives. For example, the past participle quemado , from the verb quemar, meaning to burn, helps form the present perfect tense in "He quemado el pan" (I have burnt the bread) but is an adjective in "No me gusta el pan quemado" (I don't like burnt bread). Past participles can vary in number and gender like other adjectives.

14. Gerunds

Present adverbial participles, often known as gerunds, end in -ando or -endo as the rough equivalent of English "-ing" verb forms. They can combine with forms of estar to make progressive verb forms: Estoy viendo la luz. (I am seeing the light.) Unlike other types of participles, Spanish gerunds can also function much like adverbs. For example, in "Corré viendo todo" (I ran while seeing everything), viendo describes how the running occurred.

15. Auxiliary Verbs

Auxiliary or helping verbs are used with another verb to give it vital meaning, such as a tense. A common example is haber (to have), which is used with a past participle to form a perfect tense. For example, in "He comido" (I have eaten), the he form of haber is an auxiliary verb. Another common auxiliary is estar as in "Estoy comiendo" (I am eating).

16. Action Verbs

As their name suggests, action verbs tell us what someone or something is doing. The vast majority of verbs are action verbs, as they include the verbs that aren't auxiliary verbs or linking verbs.

17 and 18. Simple and Compound Verbs

Simple verbs consist of a single word. Compound or complex verbs use one or two auxiliary verbs and a main verb and include the perfect and progressive forms mentioned above. Example of compound verb forms include había ido (he has gone), estaban estudiando (they were studying), and habría estado buscando (she will have been seeking).

10, 20, and 21. Indicative, Subjunctive, and Imperative Verbs

These three forms, known collectively as referring to a verb's mood, indicate the speaker's perception of a verb's action. Simply put, indicative verbs are used for matters of fact; subjunctive verbs often are used to refer to actions that the speaker desires, doubts or has an emotional reaction to; and imperative verbs are commands.