The 8 essential verbs that you must know in Spanish

For English speakers, Spanish grammar is usually “full” of verb tenses, six different terminations for each verb tense and a lot of irregular verbs. And this is precisely why we’re highlighting the verbs that will carry you through most things that you’ll want to say in Spanish. Memorize these verbs, memorize their conjugations and soon enough you’ll be speaking Spanish like a pro!

Verb Ser (to be, permanent states)

There are two ways of translating “to be”: ser and estar. “Ser” is used for:

  • permanent states, e.g. “Soy Española” (I am from Spain);
  • characteristics which are essential and permanent, how and what someone is, e.g. “Fernando es alto” (Fernando is tall), “Maider es simpática” (Maider is nice), “María es jóven” (Maria is young);
  • to explain where and when something took place, e.g. “El partido es domingo” (the game is on Sunday) or “El partido es en Madrid” (the game is in Madrid);
  • with the preposition “para” (for), to indicate a recipient (e.g. “El libro es para Sara);
  • to indicate the possession of an object, its material or its price, e.g. “El anillo es de Cláudia” (The ring is Cláudia’s), “El anillo es de oro” (The ring is made of gold), “¿Cuánto es el anillo? Son 50 euros.”

Verb Estar (to be, temporary states)

Unlike “ser”, “estar” is used for temporary states. Here are situations where you should use “estar”:

  • temporary characteristics, e.g. “Está triste/alegre” ([he/she] is sad/happy), “Estoy enfermo” (I’m sick);
  • to explain where something is, e.g. “La Puerta de Alcalá está en Madrid” (the Puerta de Alcalá is in Madrid);
  • the looks of somebody, e.g. “Alberto está lindo esta noche” (Alberto is beautiful tonight), “Mi abuela está muy jóven” (My grandmother is (looking) quite young”).

You can read more about this in our article the Differences between Ser and Estar.

Verb Ir (to go)

You’ll never get enough of this verb. As in English, the verb “to go” is used for dozens of expressions, plus for a tense called futuro próximo. It’s like a Swiss knife - you can use it to explain your plans, to describe your travels and, of course, in any context where you would use the verb to go. If the conjugation of verbs like to travel, to start or to depart fail you, you can use “ir” and get your way around!

And here are some expressions using the verb “ir” that you should keep in mind:

  • ir a pie (going by foot), ir en autobús / bicicleta / carro / metro (going by bus, bicycle, car, metro);
  • ir de finde / de vacaciones (going away on a weekend/ on holidays);
  • ir de paseo (going for a walk, going for a stroll);
  • ir de compras (go shopping);
  • ir de fiesta (go partying, go out);
  • Futuro próximo: “ir” in the Present Simple + a+ verb (e.g. “voy a cantar”, “él va a bailar”).

Haber (to have [auxiliary verb], to have [to do something], must, there is)

Haber is one of the Spanish verbs that can be translated as “to have”. As “to have” in English, it’s an auxiliary verb that is used to form several verb tenses (e.g. “he comido”, “había ido”, “hubiéramos hecho”).

Apart from being an auxiliary verb, it also means “to have to” or “must”. For example, “hay que estudiar mucho para hablar bien Español.” ([you] have to study a lot to speak Spanish well) or “habrá que hacerlo” (it must be done).

Haber can also mean that something exists. For example, “hay azúcar en casa” ([we] have sugar at home), or “hay una manifestación en las calles de Barcelona” (there is a protest in the streets of Barcelona).

Verb Tener (to have)

When you want to say that you have something, it’s “tener” the word you’re looking for. “Tengo un perro” (I have a dog), “tengo un ordenador y tengo mi oficina” (I have a computer and I have my office). Tener is also used to state one’s age, e.g. “Tengo 30 años” (I’m 30 years old), which is something English speakers should pay attention to. Other expressions with “tener” include the following ones:

  • tener frío / calor (I’m cold/ hot);
  • tener sed / hambre (I’m thirsty/hungry);
  • tener dolor de estómago / riñón/ cabeza (I feel pain in my stomach / kidney / head, or I have an stomachache / headache);
  • tener prisa / miedo / celos / confianza / cuidado / vergüenza (I am in a hurry / afraid / jealous / trust / careful / ashamed)
  • tener ganas de (I feel like…);
  • tener razón / éxito (to be right / successful);
  • tener suerte / azar (to be lucky / unlucky - to have luck / bad luck);

Verb Poder (to be able, can)

Poder is a verb that will take you far. It can be translated as “to be able [to do something], to can”. You’ll use this in all sorts of contexts as a sign a courtesy, eg. ¿Podría ver el menú? (Could I see a menu?), ¿Puedo usar el banho? (May I use the bathroom?); or as a sign of permission, e.g. ¿Podemos beber alcohol aquí? (Can we drink alcohol here?). It’s one of the verbs you’ll hear the most in daily life.

Occasionally, “poder” can also mean “fed up with, upset”. For example, “No puedo más con mi jefe” (I can’t stand my boss anymore).

Verb Hacer (to do, to make)

“¿Qué haces?” is a common question. The verb is “hacer” (to do, to make”) and you can use it in a variety of contexts, for the lack of a better word. “Haz tus deberes” (do your homework), “hago la comigo para mis hijos” (I prepare / make the food for my kids), “nunca lo había hecho” (I had never done it), “este vestido te hace más vieja” (this dress makes you look older)”.

Verb Querer (to want, to like, to be fond of)

“Te quiero” means “I like you”, but you probably knew that by now. Yet “querer” has so many more faces to it. “Quería un café, por favor”, is what you’ll say to order a coffee in Spain. You can use it to order anything (not just coffee!) and it will surely be one of the verbs you’ll use the most if you’re just visiting. “Querer” occasionally means “to mean” / “to have intention to”, such as “Quiso ofenderme al decir eso” ([he/she] wanted to offend me by saying that), or “Siempre quise visitar Paris” ([I] always wanted / had the intention to visit Paris.