How To Learn Spanish Grammar

The key to learning Spanish grammar is to keep your expectations realistic and your goals within reach. There is a saying in Spanish, “Un elefante se come bocado a bocado’—”The elephant is eaten one bite at a time.”

But before you start eating the giant elephant that is Spanish grammar, it would be a great idea to take a look at the task before you.  Think about this: It took you at least 10 years to begin mastering English grammar. You had to learn verb tenses and rules like pronoun case (I vs. me). Then there’s subject/verb agreement, the difference between adjectives and adverbs, and so on.

Spanish grammar is more complicated than English. Fortunately, if you’re good at English grammar, you can transfer a lot of your learning to Spanish. Concepts like nominative and objective case in pronouns will be easier to understand, for example.

Take Baby Steps First

Let’s take a bite of the elephant and start with some basic things you can do to learn Spanish grammar. You learned English by baby steps. First, you learned the names of things–nouns. Then you added action words like “go,” and “eat.” Use the same steps in learning Spanish grammar. Build your vocabulary and don’t forget that Spanish nouns come in the masculine and feminine gender—el (los), la (las).

Build Your Vocabulary

Learn at least one new Spanish word each day. Write it out and pronounce the new word. Words are the building blocks of grammar, and with practice you’ll learn to connect the parts and see the relationships and similarities between Spanish and English grammar.

Look For Patterns

Finding consistent patterns in Spanish grammar makes the job of learning easier. For example, every basic form of a Spanish verb ends in the letters -ar, -er, or -ir.  (The basic form is the verb’s meaning, as in hablar means “to talk,” but does not indicate who is doing the talking (person) or when (the tense).

So, in regular verbs, those endings are tacked on to what are known as verb stems. A verb stem consists of the part of the verb in front of the ending. For example, in hablar, the stem is habl-.

Verb Conjugation Is Crucial

Which leads us to probably the most difficult thing to master in Spanish Grammar—verb conjugation. In English we conjugate a verb by adding the person (I, you, she, etc.) to the tense (present, past, future, etc.).  So the present tense, first person of the English verb “talk” is “I talk.”

In Spanish, “I talk” is (yo) hablo. In Spanish we add the “-o” to the verb stem “habl-.“ The pronoun yo (I) in Spanish is optional and only used for emphasis to add a richer meaning.

Concentrate On The Present Tense Of Spanish Verbs

Learn the present tense before tackling all those other tenses. Spanish has 7 simple tenses and seven compound tenses, along with spelling changes to give commands. Then there are the subjunctive mood forms, which are covered in advanced Spanish courses.

Fortunately, if you do a good job of learning the present tense, you can apply what you learned along with the exceptions in irregular verbs—which, happily, follow consistent patterns.

Learn The Most Common Verbs

Also, concentrate on the most used forms of the Spanish verbs “to be”—ser and estar. Both are irregular in the present tense, and each is used to indicate permanence (ser) or location or temporary state (estar).

Mastery of another well used irregular verb, ir, which means “to go,” and tener, which means “to have”, can jump start your fluency in Spanish. Note, too, that you can find consistency in irregular verbs; for example, the first person, present tense forms of the irregular verbs ser, estar, and ir are soy, estoy, and voy—each ending in the letter y.

Why You Should Know Present Tense Conjugations

Concentrating on the present tense verbs is the foundation of moving on to the other tenses. For example, later you will learn that the past tense for hablo is hablé—same verb stem, but different ending.  

So, leave all those other tenses behind. You have enough work to do in the present tense. For example, you’ll encounter verb stem spelling changes in a few verbs like encontrar (to find). The verb stem includes the letters “ue.” For example, Spanish for I find is encuentro. Those spelling changes only occur in the present tense, but you’ll need to know that when you learn about forming the imperative mood, which is used to give commands.

Get An Online Native Spanish-Speaking Tutor

Another great way to learn Spanish grammar is from a native speaker. I am your resident online expert at I live in beautiful Barcelona, Spain. You can contact me, tell me when you want to start, and tell me about your goals with the Spanish language.

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