Like the Japanese would say, “Simple is best.” As a Spanish Language Specialist, I simplify the language and make learning easy and accessible. For this reason, rather than give you the list of the top 100 Spanish verbs to memorize, I am giving you the top 10 irregular verbs that from my very own experience are the most commonly used, and the ones that will give you the most access to the language.
1. Ser, to be. Probably the most common of all Spanish verbs is ser, the first of two verbs that mean to be. Ser is used when referring to one’s profession, nationality, and personality, as well as the date and time.
- La jefa es muy inteligente – The boss is very smart
- Ellos son abogados – They are lawyers
- Hoy es miércoles, 12 de marzo – Today is Wednesday, March 12th
2. Estar, to be. The second to be verb is used when referring to location, as well as physical and emotional states. I always say, “motion & emotion” when referring to estar. It is irregular in the first person singular. The rest of the conjugations are regular.
- Estoy en casa – I am home
- Argentina está en Suramérica – Argentina is in South America.
- Ella está triste – She is sad
3. Ir, to go. This incredibly irregular verb is followed by the preposition a, then followed by a noun or followed by an infinitive. When followed by a noun, it refers to going somewhere:
- Mis hermanas van a Madrid – My sister are going to Madrid
- Voy a casa – I’m going home
When followed by an infinitive, ir is used to refer to future events or, as it is called in Spanish, “el futuro próximo,” the near future:
- ¿Vamos a estudiar esta semana? – Are we going to study this week?
- Ellos van a bailar toda la noche – They are going to dance all night
Some expressions to memorize include:
- Ir de compras – to go shopping
- Ir de vacaciones – to go on vacation
- Ir de excursión – to go on an excursion
4. Haber, there is/there are. Haber is usually used to imply existence with the conjugation hay in present indicative, as in:
- Hay clase de español hoy – There is Spanish class today
- Hay muchos estudiantes – There are a lot of students
Notice how haber does not have a plural option. You only use hay for the present, hubo for simple past, and “había” for the imperfect: It is also used as auxiliary verb for present perfect: Yo he estudiado español por cinco años (I have studied Spanish for five years), where haber is the Spanish equivalent of the auxiliary to have in English.
5. Tener, to have. First person singular is irregular, the rest is a stem-changing ie verb where the root changes to ie. As is the case with all stem-changing verbs, first person plural nosotros does not change. Tener can be used when referring to possessions, relatives, ailments, etc.:
- Tengo dolor de cabeza – I have a headache
- Ella tiene tres hermanas – She has three sisters
- Tenemos un perro – We have a dog
Tener is also used for age (él tiene 22 años – he is 22 years old) and for many idiomatic expressions, including:
- Tengo hambre – I am hungry
- Tengo sed – I am thirsty
- Tengo frío – I am cold
- Tengo calor – I am hot
- Tengo sueño – I am sleepy
- Tengo prisa – I am in a hurry
- Tengo ganas de… – I really want to…
6. Hacer, to do, to make. You’ll often be asked what do you do, perhaps in reference to work or to your week. The conjugation is irregular only for first person singular.
- Yo hago la tarea en casa – I do my homework at home
- Ellas hacen demasiado trabajo – They do too much work
Some uses of hacer to memorize are:
- Hacer la tarea – to do the homework
- Hacer la cama – to make the bed
- Hacer ejercicio – to exercise
- Hacer deporte – to play sports
- Hacer yoga – to practice yoga
- Hacer quehaceres domésticos – to do housework
Like in English, when you are asked what you do the answer does not necessarily include the verb to do. For example: “¿Qué haces los viernes?” (what do you on Fridays) could be answered with a simple “Visito a mis padres” (I visit my parents).
7. Querer, to want, to love someone. Querer is another example of a stem-changing ie verb. The main usage is to talk about what you wish or desire:
- Quiero una casa grande – I want a big house
- Él quiere tener mucho dinero – He wants to have a lot of money
The other usage is to talk about loving someone:
- Isabel quiere a su esposo – Isabel loves her husband
- Yo quiero mucho a mis padres – I love my parents
It could also be used when referring to a pet:
- Quiero tanto a mi perro – I love my dog so much
- Juan quiere a sus mascotas más que a las personas – Juan loves his pets more than he loves people
8. Decir, to say, to tell. As you start narrating stories and anecdotes in Spanish, you’ll need to be familiarized with the verb decir. It is irregular in first person singular, the other conjugations are stem-changing i, where the root e becomes an i.
- Yo siempre le digo a mi estudiante que haga la tarea – I always tell my student to do the homework
- Ella le dice que sí – She tells him yes
If you are using decir to refer to something you said to someone, you will need to include an indirect object pronoun. In the first of the examples above, the indirect object pronoun is le because something is said to him or her (third person singular).
9. Pensar, to think, to have planned out. You’ll be doing a lot of thinking in Spanish, and the more you learn, the more you’ll want to express your plans, opinions or thoughts on something. Pensar is an ie stem-changing verb. Generally, pensar is followed by an infinitive verb to refer to something you are planning to do:
- Ellas piensan hacer pilates hoy – They plan to do pilates today
- ¿Piensas ir de vacaciones pronto? – Do you plan to go on vacation soon?
Pensar is followed by the conjunction que to express your opinion on something. This creates a second clause, such as:
- Pienso que es importante viajar – I think it is important to travel
- Él piensa que somos injustos – He thinks we are not fair
Good phrases to remember are:
- Pienso que sí – I think so
- Pienso que no – I don’t think so
10. Poder, to be able to, can. The verb of the mightiest, poder is used alone or with an infinitive. Like pensar and querer, poder is another stem-changing, in this case a stem-changing ue verb.
- Sí, yo puedo – Yes, I can
- Ella puede tocar el piano muy bien – She can play the piano really well
One phrase worthy of memorizing is: “¡Sí se puede!,” meaning, “Yes, we can!” Though stemming from Cesar Chavez’s 24-day fast back in the 70s, it has become the motto of one too many civil rights movements, organizations, and political campaigns, including President Barack Obama’s.