One of the hardest parts of learning Spanish is the verbs. If you haven’t heard, verb is the word. (Lame. Forgive me.) Verbs are probably the subject that even students earning online masters degrees in Spanish have a difficult time keeping straight.

As a fifteen-year-old sophomore in high school, I started learning Spanish and was immediately overwhelmed with the verbs. Not only were there so many of them, there were so many irregular ones—or so it seemed at the time. (Okay, it still seems that way.) Irregular verbs became the bane of my Spanish-language-learning existence.

I’m happy to report that those days are over! Really! After having thought about this for a while, I realize now that I just get it. This … this is immensely exciting, folks! I used to think of verbs as shoes:

If you’re Spanish, you may find this hilarious. I know Mario did when I first showed him. You see, many verbs are stem-changing verbs, but I prefer their informal appellation: boot verbs. You never realized footwear could be used to learn a language, now did you? In fact, this is a very useful way of learning stem-changing verbs. You see, all the verbs that fit in the boot change their stem.

Note: the vosotros form was marked out because they did this in high school! What was their problem? “You’ll most likely never go to Spain.” Chyeah. I see how that worked out.

Verb: Contar
Tense: Present

Yo cuento
Él/ella/usted cuenta
Nosotros contamos
Vosotros contaís
Ellos/ellas/ustedes cuentan

You see how only the nosotros and vosotros forms don’t change? That’s because—and solely because—they don’t fit in the boot. Yep. Boots for the win!

And this only the present tense! You Spanish speakers get this since you (obviously) speak English, but our verbs in English are really simple. No need to conjugate for the most part; you just need to add an s in the singular third-person present tense, and you’re good to go. (Thus, I get, you get, she/he gets, etc.)

I used to find this daunting. There were so many verbs to memorize and so many different ways to conjugate them, even if the boot thing did help. What changed? I don’t know, really, but one day it just clicked!

Nowadays, when I see a verb like alzar (and consequently realzar), I know instinctively how to conjugate it, in all the tenses. (Okay, not instinctively. This took a lot of work, people!) By the way, it’s like this:

Verb: Alzar
Tense: Preterite

Yo alcé
Él/ella/usted alzó
Nosotros alzamos
Vosotros alzasteis
Ellos/ellas/ustedes alzaron

Now that I have the whole conjugation thing down, it’s my goal to master the immense quantity of verbs. I’ve got my work cut out for me.

(Newest verb learned: desentreñar. Newest non-verb learned: picana.)

20 thoughts on “Verbosity

  1. They never taught us vosotros either!! It really bugged me, I felt very incompetent when I studied abroad in Madrid! It’s crazy thinking back how ingrained these conjugations and tenses become after lots and lots and lost of practice! I’m a nerd and love conjugating verbs haha

    1. Yeah, like–nosotros and vosotros don’t fit inside the shoe, so they don’t change their stem. There are different types of stem-changing verbs: from “o” to “ue” (contar–cuento–contamos), from “e” to “i” (tener–tiene–tenemos), from “u” to “ui” (querer–quiero–queremos), but as you can see the nosotros form doesn’t change the stem.

      I hope my explication helped!

  2. The infamous shoe! Ha, this was how my high school Spanish teacher taught verb conjugation. Actually, no, he called it “the boot.” (Potatoes, pah-tah-toes.)

  3. Oh man – you’re throwing me back to 7th grade! (there was also a conjugation song, but I can’t go there). Thank goodness for this shoe.

    As for our beloved “vosotros” .. my first day of class in Granada, here’s my prof: “Oye Americanos .. una cosa. Vosotros SI existe!” What a pain that it was locked in a gray tinted box all through my entire textbook career .. “only for use in Spain.” Vaya.

  4. This reminds me all too well of my daily struggle with the French language. I initially began learning Spanish a few years ago but quickly switched to French with no hesitation after I met my French bf ;)

  5. Enjoyed this post. I remember learning shoe verbs! oh… that was 10 years ago since I’ve taken a spanish class. oy. Your post remind me how much studying I have ahead of me. If you write more posts like this, could you include what the verbs mean. I know Contar but don’t know Alzar and the others I mention… so when I’m reading your blog when I should be doing things like studying, I can say, “my distractions are actually helping me get better at Spanish.”

  6. Weird. No one ever suggested that footwear imagery to me. I’m probably too far along for it to do me any good, though. Interesting, nonetheless.

    You’d think it’d work better for Italian, no? :-)

  7. never heard of the boot before, but I like it! I think I learned vosotros in college but I remember that we didn’t spend much time on it because, after all, only Spain uses it. Then, last year when we met friends in Madrid, I was struggling to come up with the vosotros forms of many verbs. and, so I attempted to explain this to my new Spanish friends (who knew no English btw…). I did eventually get them to understand. finally Jorge said “ah, conjugar!!” Si, si!!

What do YOU think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s