25 Essential Beginner Spanish Verbs

Spanish Verbs

Skill Level: Beginner Level

So many Spanish verbs to learn, where to begin? You’ve already begun to learn some, but you’re a little overwhelmed.  Verbs, I assure you, are the most important part of any language. They are the action words, the words that give life to your speech. They act as the glue that holds all the other words together in a sentence. Once you identify the verbs in a sentence your ability to understand its meaning jumps up at least 50% in my opinion. I can hear what you’re thinking right now, “But there are so many which ones should I learn first?” Yes, there are a lot, but there certainly is a list that you should focus on to drop in your toolbox in order to increase your ability to understand and communicate.

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When I started learning Spanish I focused on the basic verbs that were the most useful for everyday situations. We’re not going to look at conjugations right now.  So let’s go through the list below.

I. Learn and II. Repeat

Again the first step in learning is to get acquainted with the material being presented. So let’s go over the list below and they are in no particular order. Please understand that there are other essential verbs besides the ones on this list, but you must start somewhere. While you review the list you should repeat them out loud several times to become comfortable with their pronunciation. This will alo the start the process of memorizing them.

25 Essential Spanish Verbs to Learn for a Beginner

English Verb Spanish Verb Reason to learn it.
To speak, to talk Hablar One of the main communication verbs and most used in the language. You can use it to ask if someone speaks English too, “¿Usted habla inglés?”
To listen (to),to hear Escuchar Another communication verb and way to confirm a message was received.
To understand Entender Great confirmation verb to check if you are communicating effectively.
To write Escribir Again another communication verb and great tool to use when you need something written to help you understand something.
To read Leer Another communication verb. Can be used to ask someone to say something out loud or simply to follow along. Written language is allows easier to understand.
To eat Comer One of the most important bodily functions.
To sleep Dormir Another vital bodily function.
To do,
to make
Hacer One of the most versatile verbs in the language.
To like Gustar Express what pleases you or you don’t approve of.
To open Abrir Necessary action to complete multiple tasks.
To close Cerrar Another necessary action to complete tasks.
To need Necesitar You always express things that you lack.
To say Decir Perhaps the most important communication verbs and maybe one of the top three verbs overall. You need to learn new words; therefore, you need to ask how to “say” them.
To clean Limpiar A normal everyday task.
To leave, to go out Salir Necessary to talk about when people depart in past, present and future.
To go Ir Another one of the top used, most versatile verbs.
To go in, to enter Entrar How else would you ask someone to come inside?
To buy Comprar You need to purchase things, right?
To stop Parar Sometimes it’s necessary to end an action.
To start Empezar Everything has a beginning.
To happen Pasar You must communicate an occurrence.
To end, to finish Terminar All good things must come to an end and you should be able to say it.
To see Ver One of the 5 senses, a verb you will use quite often.
*to be Ser *Without a doubt, the MOST IMPORTANT VERBS in Spanish.
*to be Estar Estar and Ser both mean “to be” but are used in different circumstances. (More on this in a future post.)

III. Practice

You must see them over and over again to truly memorize them. That’s where flashcards will come in handy. Please download and print off the ones I created. If you can recite the verbs without much effort then you have done a fabulous job memorizing them. You will have to practice them several times. There are other ways to practice.

Other Ways to Practice with Spanish Verbs for Beginners

  • Read Spanish children’s books. You will see many essential verbs appear often while reading something that you can handle.
  • Write to Online Friends. Chatting or just emails are some of the best ways to increase vocabulary since you typically use many of the same verbs multiple times.
  • Write to Me. Use the contact information below.

IV. Use

Conversation, conversation, conversation. There’s no real secret here. You want to learn to speak Spanish, then speak Spanish. All the other practice drills are just that- drills to prepare you for the real thing. They help you memorize vocabulary and correct any mistakes. Use these verbs as often as you can.

Please feel free to write to me with questions.

Hablamos pronto,

Rick

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How to find Spanish speakers in Your Area

Level: All Levels

In the summer of 1995 I sadly finished another college internship at Disney World and returned home to Ohio. It was my second time doing the program within a year’s time. I didn’t want to leave for many reasons, but one was because the amount of Spanish speakers that I would encounter would drop off the face of the earth. There just aren’t that many native Spanish-speakers in Ohio especially compared to Central Florida and this is both the visitors from out of the country and residents.

So how was I going to practice Spanish with seemingly no one to practice with?

It did look gloomy, but there was hope. That ray of light that shines through when all hope seems lost. I wanted to learn so badly that there was nothing that was going to stop me. I found Spanish speakers any way I could.  One of the first things I did was work a part-time job at a Mexican restaurant. There I met someone that would have a great impact on my language skills for the rest of my life. The funny thing was he was Puerto Rican, not Mexican. Rafael taught me what few people would do and that is to illustrate the slight differences in pronunciation between similar sounds in both English and Spanish. For example, the “de” in “de nada” is soft, more like the “th” in the words “they, the, this”. When you pronounce it like the hard sound in English as in the words “dog or David” then you speak with an accent. I never would have noticed if he hadn’t told me. Nevertheless, the point here is I looked for people. This is just one example.

There are other lessons I learned in Ohio about Spanish that I still could list off to you to this day. I will give you some ideas further down. I discovered an important key to finding the right people and situations to improve my language proficiency, not all are equal. The main thing you are looking to do when seeking out Spanish speakers is to make friends with natives, even if they are just acquaintances. The ideal person is the one that wants to help you, who has patience and better yet if they can explain grammar and why things are said the way they are.

Celebrate every new word, every time you understand when a native speaks to you or a new phrase.  Learning 10 new words, 50 a 100 is still more than you knew before. You start with words and some phrases, just words and phrases. Later you learn how to use verbs, the action words that act like glue to make the other words stick together which turn into sentences. You get better at making those sentences and you get better at understanding them being spoken to you as time goes on and then BOOM- you are very effective at communicating in Spanish.

I promise you there are native Spanish speakers somewhere in your area. You do NOT have to travel to another country to learn Spanish.  This brief list gives you a variety because I know that not all are possible for everyone.

List of Places to Find Native Spanish Speakers in Your Area

  • Spanish church: the service itself is good to learn from but the more important part is making friends before and after.
  • Family owned Latin American restaurants or cafes (Mexican, Dominican, Venezuelan, Colombian, Puerto Rican, etc.): the non-chain places are more likely to have native speakers working the whole restaurant, from hostess to server. I frequented a place and learned a lot just by creating conversation. Visit when it’s not busy.
  • Latin American Supermarkets or Convenience Stores: Not only learn the different names of foods from the signs but everyone usually is either native or second generation who speak it fluently. Even the ones here in the US remind me very much of the ones in Venezuela. See how more closely knit everyone is. All the customers and employees know each other.
  • Dance Classes (salsa, merengue): want to spice things up and have some fun? Learn how different dancing and music mean to Latin Americans and make some friends along the way.
  • Spanish tutors: you don’t need to drop a ton of money on a zillion lessons but just a few can help and again you can make friends with them and their friends. Latin Americans are very social people and often build a big circle of friends. You can find the tutors nowadays much more easily with the use of the internet. I found a tutor through my mom’s school where she taught and learned a lot just the few visits I went.
  • Universities: some students plan parties, festivals and other events. Sometimes native speakers are official tutors at the university for other students.
  • Latin American Festivals: great food, music and lots of people to meet. These are great opportunities for Latin Americans to meet each other especially in places where there aren’t many. There should be some that take place in your area.
  • Beauty Salons: Many Latin American women love to style hair and do nails and often start their own businesses.
  • Neighbors: Often there is someone in your neighborhood that’s a native speaker, even if just one. And people know people.
  • Farmers Markets and Flea Markets: This is a great place for Latin Americans to make some money while sharing their culture, plus a tasty way for you to experience it too.

You all will encounter obstacles while traveling down your Spanish journey. You will say things like, “I’m too busy”, “I’ve got kids”, “I don’t know any Spanish so how can I practice, where do I begin”, and others.  It can be hard, but you can find ways. Please, please, please do not feel like you have to be on a schedule to learn, that you need hours and hours of time every week to learn because you don’t.

Don’t stop after the first few attempts to find people to practice with. It took me a few attempts before having success. But again, if you live in an area where there are not many Spanish speakers do not let this discourage you, seek them out, they are there.

Spanish Pronunciation Guide: Vowels and Vowel Combinations

Level: All Levels

The most asked question in learning Spanish is, “How do you pronounce the words?”  The great thing for learners of Spanish is the words are pronounced just like they are written for the most part. This should be music to your ears since English is nothing like that.  It is much more complicated. Take the words “pear” and “beard” for example. The “ea” in both these words sound different. In Spanish this doesn’t happen. There are only a few tricky things to remember but they are easy and most sounds that exist in Spanish you can already pronounce. Sound good so far?

I have decided to break down pronunciation into categories so you can focus at it one piece at a time. So for this post we focus on vowels. Just like in English there are single vowel sounds and vowel combinations. In Spanish there are many less combinations though. A couple notes before we begin, this post is meant as a reference. Come back to it to help you pronounce words, but the guide alone will not teach you to pronounce Spanish words without actually speaking the words to someone. This is a starting point the only way me or any other English speaker learned to pronounce Spanish was by speaking and speaking a lot.

The other thing to note is if you wish to speak with as little accent as possible then realize there are slight differences between English and Spanish. The way you use your tongue, roof of your mouth and lips is different. Native Spanish speakers touch the tip of their tongues to the roof of their mouths (el taladar) often. In English we form many words with our lips and nasal passages. We also tend to unconsciously blow while pronouncing many of our words for example when we say Tom or even the word “pronounce” there is a quick, soft blow between the “T-o” and “p-r”. To eliminate your English accent in Spanish you do not blow.

The Basic Vowels

These vowel sounds are always the same.

a              Sounds like the  short “o” in the English words October,  robot, socks.  Here’s how to pronounce some Spanish words with “a”:                            tanto /TAN-toe/, basta /BA-sta/, Pablo /PAH-bloe/

e             Sounds like the short “e” in the English words bent, deck, rest. In Spanish you will see the letter “e” in the words momento /mo-                        MEN-to/, evento /e-VEN-to/, episodio /e-pee-SO-dyo/

i               Sounds like the “ea” vowel combination like in the English words each, rear, seat. You will find this in the Spanish words iglesia /ee-                   GLAY-see-ah/, siglo /SEE-glo/, comida /ko-MEE-dah/

o             Sounds similar to the long “o” like in the English words born, for, bone. In Spanish you will find it in the words sonido /so-NEE-do/,                     fondo /PHONE-do/, Jose /HOAS-ay/. Please note that this “o” sound is cut short at the end of words. The word “go” ends with a                         long “o” sound that gets pronounced a split second longer than the final “o” as in the words above sonido and fondo.

u             Sounds like the sound you make if you got punched in the stomach “oo” or as in the double “o” as in food or boot. In Spanish you                   will find this letter in the words mudo /MOO-do/, ruta /ROO-tah/, fruta /FROO-tah/.  Please note it does not sound like the double                   “o” as in the word good. In “good” the sound is too short.

Vowel Combinations

Two Syllable Vowel Combinations

There are two kinds of vowel combinations: 1) with accent mark; 2) no accent. Grammar books with break them down more into more categories, but I do not think it’s a good idea for students to read too much about pronunciation. Pronunciation is best learned from listening and speaking.

  1. With Accent

The accent mark over a vowel means you stress that vowel sound.  In other words, that’s where your intonation goes up.

Vowel Combinations with Accent Marks

a              pronounced /ah-EE/,   /ah-OO/ as in “food”

e             /eh-EE/,   /eh-OO/ as in “food”

i               ía /EE-ah/,  íe /EE-eh/

o             /oh-EE/

u             úa /OO-ah/ as in food and the same for the rest of the double “o” sound here,  úe /OO-eh/, úi /OO-ee/, úo /OO-oh/

Vowel Combinations without Accent Marks

These combinations do not have any stressed syllables. They are just run together to make one sound. These pronunciations are close but not exact.

a              ai /ya/   au /ow/

e             ei /ay/ like in the word “day”,  eu /ayoo/  “ay” as in “say” and “oo” as in “food”

i               ia /eeya/,  ie /yeh/,  io /ee-oh/,  iu /yu/

o             oi /oy/

u             ua /wa/,  ue /weh/,  ui /we/, uo /wo/

More Vowel Combinations without Accent Marks

These combinations have two syllables but do not have accent marks written above them; therefore, no stressed syllables.

a              ae /ah-ay/,   ao /ah-oh/

e             ea /eh-ah/,  ee /eh-eh/,  eo /eh-oh/

o             oa /oh-ah/,  oe /oh-eh/,  oo /oh-oh/

 

Spanish Vocabulary Memorization: My Flashcard Technique

It’s been a while since I used flashcards because at this point I truly see the same objects and actions in both English and Spanish. To me a table is a “mesa”, a street a “calle”, a cat a “gato”, to eat is “comer” and so on. They’re all the same and you will get there too. I’d bet you’ve already gotten there with some words. Here’s a technique you may like that I used to build Spanish vocabulary fast. I used picture flashcards as much as possible.  I mention in another one of my posts about building vocabulary fast through images instead of translating with the use of picture dictionaries and picture flashcards.  Here  I will show you how I did it.  I am not an artist, but I can draw a little. So I used to draw images of actions and objects on one side of an index card and the Spanish word on the other. Don’t worry if you cannot draw at all I will recommend some other ways to get around it. Try these exercises.

Create Your Own Flashcards with Drawings

I. Create the cards

1. Buy some cheap index cards.

2. Cut them in half to save on cards.

3. Choose a category like your bedroom.

4. Draw various objects on one side of each card until you have a pile of 10-15.

5. Look up the word in a Spanish-English dictionary, phone app or electronic translator.

6. Write the word on the opposite side of the drawing.

II. Memorization Technique

1. Look at all the cards one at a time. DO NOT try to memorize through the first run.

2. Next turn all the cards with the drawings facing up. And one-by-one attempt to say the word on the other side. DO NOT stop just look    at each card one time.

3. Create two piles. Put the cards you don’t know in one pile and the ones you do know in the other.

4. Repeat these steps until you get all the cards correct.

5. The next step is to complete one run without getting any incorrect.

6. The final step is to randomly pull cards out of order to see how well you know them. In your free time randomly repeat this exercise to     increase the likelihood you memorize your new words. Here’s my most important tip though. Upon learning any new word or phrase to       ensure you memorize it for the long term you must use them at least three times within two weeks of learning them.

Tips to Create Flashcards for People that Do Not Draw

1. Search Images on Bing, Yahoo or Google.  Do a search for the category of free printable Spanish flashcards, for example, zoo animals,         colors, vegetables, etc. Just know that it may take several minutes to find exactly what you want.

2. Clip Art and Tables in Microsoft Word.  If you are comfortable working with Word then create tables and fill them with text first then the    images.

Bonus Spanish Flashcard Exercise for the Home and Office

This is the easiest exercise and perhaps most effective. Use index cards to create flashcards with just the words (no English translation please) for the objects in your home and office. Then simply tape them to the objects. Keep them posted up for several weeks. Please take the extra step to actually look at them and say them aloud. You will automatically associate the words and objects together and you won’t have to drill yourself to learn them because you will just casually look at them as you go through your day. Years from now you that image of your microwave with the card “microondas” will be stuck in your head!