The Present Tense in Spanish
Bear in mind that ‘present tense’ can be a misleading name, since, in Spanish, it can be used to describe timeless and future events.
When to Use the Present TenseFirstly, it is used to describe what the situation is now:
En este momento, mi madre habla por teléfono.
At the moment, my mother is speaking on the phone.
Secondly, you can use the present tense to discuss what happens sometimes or usually:
En casa, muchos americanos sólo hablan el español.
Many Americans only speak Spanish at home.
Llueve mucho en Inglaterra.
It rains a lot in England.
You would also use this tense for something which is definitely going to happen quite soon, especially for pre-arranged events, as happens in English:
Mañana, me voy a Madrid.
Tomorrow, I am going to Madrid.
Equally, it describes what has been happening up to now, and may continue to happen.
Llevamos media hora acquí.
We have been here for half an hour.
Estudio el español desde have cuatro meses.
I’ve been studying Spanish for four years.
It also describes a perpeptual state – things that are always true.
Soy de Argentina.
I am from Argentina.
Es buena persona.
He (or she) is a good person.
Finally, in colloquial speech, the present tense is often used with a questioning intonation to soften a command into a request. English has a similar device.
¿Me trae la cuenta, por favor?
Will you bring me the bill, please?
¿Me dice la hora, por favor?
Can you tell me the time, please?
The Present IndicativeBy the term ‘present indicative’, we mean the ‘ordinary’ tenses, as opposed to the subjunctive forms, which will be described elsewhere on this site. (Don’t worry too much about that at this stage.)
Formation of the Present IndicativeThere are three main types of Spanish regular verbs - those whose infinitive forms end in –ar, -ir, or –er.
To make create the present tense, take the infinitive form, and remove the –er, -ar or –ir endings, so you are left with what is known as the stem of the verb.
-ar VerbsFor an –ar verb like comprar, to buy, add the following endings to the stem, which in this case is compr-
Yo (I) Compro
Tú (You, singular, familiar) Compras
Él, Ella or Usted (He, She, You, singular, polite) Compra
Vosotros (You, plural, familiar, only really used in Spain) Compráis
Ellos, Ellas, Ustedes (You, plural, polite) Compran
-er VerbsLet’s take the verb comer – to eat. The stem is ‘com’:
Tú (You, singular, familiar) Comes
Él, Ella or Usted (He, She, You, singular, polite) Come
Vosotros (You, plural, familiar, only really used in Spain) Coméis
Ellos, Ellas, Ustedes (You, plural, polite) Comen
-ir VerbsLet’s have a look at the verb vivir – to live. The stem is ‘viv’:
Tú (You, singular, familiar) Vives
Él, Ella or Usted (He, She, You, singular, polite) Vive
Vosotros (You, plural, familiar, only really used in Spain) Vivís
Ellos, Ellas, Ustedes (You, plural, polite) Viven
Continuous Present TenseIn English, this is expressed as ‘I’m talking’, ‘I’m writing’ and so on. In Spanish, though, it can only refer to an action which is actually in progress at the time of the sentence. So that if you were calling out ‘I’m falling’ for example, it would only make sense if you were actually mid-air.
To compose the present continuous tense, use the appropriate form of the present indicative of the verb estar:
Then add it to what is known as the gerund. This translates in English as the ‘ing’ form.
For –ar verbs, add ‘ando’ to the stem of the verb, so for hablar the gerund is hablando.
For –er and –ir verbs, add ‘iendo’ to the stem of the verb, so for comer the gerund is comiendo.
So – estoy hablando – I am talking. And so on.