There is not a lot of literature out there on the so-called “power verbs.” As someone who specializes in foreign language acquisition, I label power verbs as verbs that can either be used alone (or with a noun, adjective or adverb) or followed by an infinitive verb. In other words, because of their duality, they are powerful and able to give you more access to conversation. The differentiator is whether you can use a verb with another verb. If you cannot, it is not a power verb.
I’ve identified 9 power verbs in the Spanish language, including irregular verbs. All power verbs are listed below in order of usage, the most commonly used being at the top, though this can vary from person to person. I’ve also included some sample sentences, but as you know, the beauty of language is how limitless is it.
Please note that all verbs that follow the same rules as gustar I have included under one category, which is why it has been saved for last.
Do you know any other power verbs?
1. Tener, to have. First person singular is irregular, the rest is a stem-changing ie conjugation where the root changes to ie, but the ending is conjugated, as any other regular verb. As is the case with all stem-changing verbs, first person plural nosotros does not change, neither does vosotros. Tener can be used when referring to possessions, relatives, ailments, or things you must get done. Note that when using tener with a verb, the conjunction que must precede the infinitive verb.
- Tengo muchos hermanos – I have many siblings.
- Tienes que hacer la tarea antes de la clase de español – You have to do the homework before Spanish class.
Tener is also used for age. Don’t make the mistake of translating “I am 20 years old” with the verb ser. You must use tener: Tengo 20 años – I am 20 years old.
Tener is also used for quite a few idiomatic expressions, including:
- Tener hambre – to be hungry
- Tener sed – to be thirsty
- Tener frío – to be cold
- Tener calor – to be hot
- Tengo sueño – to be sleepy
- Tener prisa – to be in a hurry
- Tengo ganas de… – to really want to…
An entire article could be written on tener. More to come in the future, I’m sure!
2. Ir, to go. This is an irregular that doesn’t follow any patterns, as do the stem-changing verbs. When followed by a noun, it refers to going somewhere. 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. You must include “a” before the infinite verb.
- Voy a España este año – I am going to Spain this year.
- Ella va a estudiar hoy – She is going to study today.
Some common 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
3. Querer, to want/love. Like tener, this is a stem-changing ie verb. Use it to talk about the people and pets you love, cravings, and wishes. Keep in mind that Spanish has two verbs for love: querer and amar. The latter is usually reserved for your lucky lover.
- Te quiero, cariño – I love you, darling.
- ¿Quieres casarte conmigo? – Do you want to marry me?
4. Poder, can/could. It is a stem-changing ue verb, where the o changes to ue in the root, but the end of the verb is conjugated as any other regular verb.
- ¡Tú puedes! – You can do it!
- ¿Puedes conducir? Aquí están las llaves – Can you drive? Here are the keys.
5. Saber, to know. Finally a regular verb! But with a first person irregular conjugation. You could use it to talk about knowing information or knowing how to do something. It cannot be used to refer to knowing a person. The correct verb for that is conocer, which is not a power verb.
- No sé, la verdad – To be honest, I don’t know.
- No sé conducir – I don’t know how to drive.
6. Esperar, to wait, to hope. It is a regular verb, completely so! When speaking of waiting for someone, use esperar. You’ve got dreams you hope to achieve in the future? Esperar is for you.
- Te espero en el bar a las 8:00 – I’ll be waiting for you at the bar at 8:00.
- Él espera comprar una casa en el futuro – He hopes to buy a house in the future.
7. Necesitar, to need. Express your needs with necesitar, a regular verb.
- Ellos necesitan estudiar más si de verdad quieren aprender español – They need to study more if they really want to learn Spanish 😉
- ¿Qué necesita usted? – What do you need?
8. Pensar, to think, to plan to. This is a stem-changing ie verb. When used with a verb, it refers to future plans or things you are thinking about doing.
- Está loco por ti. Piensa en ti todo el tiempo – He is crazy about you. He thinks about you all the time.
- Pienso mudarme a México – I plan to move to Mexico.
9. Gustar. A special verb, gustar can be conjugated as a regular verb, but about 98% of the time gustar has a special conjugation. It is usually only conjugated with the third person (gusta or gustan) because the verb agrees with whatever is liked. You must use indirect object pronouns with gustar: me, te, le, nos, os, les.
- Me gustan las fiestas latinas – I like Latin parties.
- ¿Os gusta vuestro trabajo? – Do you guys like your job?
Other verbs like gustar include:
- encantar – to love something
- interesar – to interest
- importar – to matter, to be important
- preocupar – to worry
- molestar – to bother
- aburrir – to bore