What Are Verbs, and How Are They Used in Spanish?

Grammar Glossary for Spanish Students

Los dos bailan el tango.
Los dos bailan el tango en las calles de Buenos Aires. (The two dance the tango in the streets of Buenos Aires.). Buena Vista Images/Getty Images

Verbs are used in Spanish much they same way as they are in English. However, there are some key differences, particularly that Spanish has numerous forms of each verb through a process known as conjugation, while English forms are typically limited to not more than a handful per verb.

Definition of 'Verb'

A verb is a part of speech that expresses action, existence or mode of being.

In both English and Spanish, a verb, to be used in forming a complete sentence, must be accompanied by a noun or pronoun (known as a subject).

In Spanish, however, the subject can be implied rather than explicitly stated. So in Spanish as sentence as "Canta" (he or she sings) is complete while "sings" isn't.

These sample sentences give examples of Spanish verbs performing each of these three functions.

  1. Expressing action: Los dos bailan el tango. (The two are dancing the tango.) Los equipos viajaron a Bolivia. (The teams traveled to Bolivia.)
  2. Indicating an occurrence: Es lo que me pasa cada mañana. (It is what happens to me every morning. Note in this Spanish sentence, there is no equivalent of "it.") El huevo se convirtió en un símbolo de la vida. (The egg became a symbol of life.)
  3. Indicating a mode of being or equivalence: No estoy en casa. (I am not at home.) El color de ojos es un rasgo genético. (Eye color is a genetic trait.)

The Spanish word for "verb" is verbo.

Differences Between Spanish and English Verbs

The biggest difference between verbs in English and Spanish is the way they change to show who or what is performing the verb's action and the time the verb's action occurs.

English, for example, when speaking of something the occurs in the

In Spanish, however, there are six forms: como (I eat), comes (you, a person close to me, eats), come (he or she eats), comemos (we eat), comés (more than one of you eat), and comen (they eat).

In English, a "-d" or "-ed" can be added to most verbs to indicate that the action took place in the past.

In Spanish, the ending depends on who did the action. Most verb tenses have five or six such forms.

English is also freer with its use of auxiliary verbs than Spanish is. In English, for example, we can add "will" to indicate something will happen in the future, as in "I will eat." But Spanish has its own future verb forms (such as comeré for "I will eat").

Spanish also has auxiliary verbs, but they aren't used as much as in English.

Finally, Spanish makes extensive use of the subjunctive mood, a verb form used for actions that are desired or imagined rather than real. For example, "we leave" by itself is salimos, but in translating "I hope we leave," "we leave" becomes salgamos.

Subjunctive verbs exist in English but are fairly uncommon and are often optional where they'd be required in Spanish. Because many native English speakers are unfamiliar with the subjunctive, Spanish students in English-speaking areas typically do not learn much about the subjunctive until the second year of study.