So you're thinking about learning Spanish, but aren't sure where to start. Conjugations sound difficult (the word itself is scary) and the concept of nouns having genders (tables are feminine, books are masculine) is hard to wrap your mind around. What should you do?
I recommend starting with vocabulary words. Because English and Spanish both have roots in Latin, there are many words you'll be able to immediately recognize—even if this is literally your first day studying Spanish.
We'll do a few things in this post:
- Introduce 21 Spanish verbs you'll recognize upon sight
- Explain how you can use those words
- Talk a bit about why these similarities exist in the first place
21 Spanish verbs you'll definitely recognize
1. Pasar (to pass)
- ¿Puedes pasar la sal, por favor?
Can you pass the salt, please?
2. Servir (to serve)
- ¿Te puedo servir algo de beber?
Can I get (serve) you something to drink?
3. Existir (to exist)
- Si existe una solución, la encontraremos juntos.
If a solution exists, we will find it together.
4. Entrar (to enter, to come in)
- ¿Puedo entrar a tu casa para tomar agua?
Can I enter your house to get some water?
5. Producir (to produce)
- El sol produce vitamina D en la piel.
The sun produces vitamin D in the skin.
6. Ocurrir (to happen, to occur)
- ¿Qué ocurrió?
7. Recibir (to receive)
- Voy a recibir una llamada importante en unos minutos.
I'm going to receive an important call in a few minutes.
8. Presentar (to present, to show, to introduce)
- Tengo que presentar un informe mañana.
I have to present a report tomorrow.
9. Convertir (to convert, to turn into)
- Quiero convertir mi hobby en mi profesión.
I want to turn my hobby into my profession.
10. Aceptar (to accept)
- Voy a aceptar el trabajo.
I'm going to accept the job.
11. Permitir (to permit, to allow)
- ¿Me permites pasar por favor?
Would you allow me to pass, please?
12. Mover (to move)
- Voy a mover el sofá a la otra pared.
I'm going to move the sofa to the other wall.
13. Preparar (to prepare)
- Necesito preparar mi presentación para mañana.
I need to prepare my presentation for tomorrow.
14. Utilizar (to utilize, to use)
- Los médicos utilizan este sistema para determinar el tratamiento.
Doctors utilize this system to determine the treatment.
15. Considerar (to consider)
- Es importante considerar las opiniones de todos antes de tomar una decisión.
It is important to consider everyone's opinions before making a decision.
16. Resultar (to turn out, to result in)
- La reunión resultó ser muy productiva.
The meeting turned out to be very productive.
17. Formar (to form, to set up)
- La lluvia puede formar charcos en el suelo.
Rain can form puddles on the ground.
18. Acompañar (to accompany, to go with)
- ¿Me acompañas al cine?
Will you accompany me to the cinema?
19. Encontrar (to find, to encounter)
- No puedo encontrar mi teléfono.
I can't find my phone.
20. Recordar (to remember)
When I first saw this verb, I thought it meant to record. It actually means to remember. I remember it with this little trick: to remember something, you must first record it into your memory.
- No puedo recordar su nombre en este momento.
I can't remember their name right now.
21. Terminar (to end, to finish)
Although this verb does not correspond directly to the English verb to terminate, it's still pretty easy to remember—termination means that something is coming to an end.
- ¿Puedes ayudarme a terminar esta tarea?
Can you help me finish this assignment?
How to conjugate (and use) Spanish verbs
As you scrolled through the above words, you might have noticed something: the headword and the bolded word in the example sentence didn't always look exactly alike. In the sentence for producir (produce), for example, we said this:
- El sol produce vitamina D en la piel.
The sun produces vitamin D in the skin.
So, why do we say el sol produce instead of el sol producir?
The answer is what's known as conjugation, which refers to verbs changing forms depending on who the person doing the action is. While that term might be new, you're already familiar with the process. Consider the following English sentences:
- I write a book.
- He writes a book.
In English, verbs often take an -s or -es when in the third person singular form (he, she, it).
This exact same process exists in Spanish.
Having said that, Spanish has a much more robust system of conjugation than English does. We cover Spanish conjugation in detail in our post Learn Spanish: All the Basics, One Ridiculously Detailed Guide, so read that if you're ready for a deep dive.
For now, here's a crash course.
To conjugate Spanish verbs:
There are a few simple steps. No matter what the verb form you want or who is doing the verb, you will:
- Take any verb
- Remove -ar, -er, or -ir from the end of it to get the "root" of the verb
- Add one of several endings to this root in order to show tense (present, past, etc) and subject (you, they, we, etc)
- Note that some more complex verb structures might require you to use two verbs in conjunction
Below we'll show you the present tense and preterite (simple past) tense conjugations for a few different verbs.
(It's much easier than that, we promise.)
To conjugate -ar verbs
- Take any verb ending in -ar: pasar (to pass), for example
- Remove the -ar to get the verb's root: pas-
- Add an ending to the verb (ending will likely include an -a): pasé means I passed
To conjugate -er verbs
- Take any verb ending in -er: comprender (to understand, to comprehend), for example
- Remove the -er to get the verb's root: comprend-
- Add an ending to the verb (ending will likely include an -e): comprendo means I understand
To conjugate -ir verbs
- Take any verb ending in -ir: recibir (to receive), for example
- Remove the -ir to get the verb's root: recib-
- Add an ending to the verb (ending will likely include an -i): recibiste means you received
Why do Spanish and English share so much vocabulary?
Simply put, languages do not exist in vacuums. They are grouped into what are called language families, and just like real family members, languages from the same family share many of the same "genes". If you learn one language, then start exploring another language from the same family, you'll find many similarities. For example, there is overlap between 89% of Spanish and Portuguese words. If you learn Spanish, you'll likely find that you can quite comfortably read Portuguese!
That in mind, Latin is the reason that Spanish and English have so many shared vocabulary words. Spanish is a true Romance language—a descendent of Latin. English is actually a Germanic language, but we borrowed a large amount of vocabulary from Latin.
A few rules to "transfer" your English to Spanish
There are several thousand vocabulary words that you can directly transfer from English to Spanish. It's not a perfect science—these are more like trends than rules. All the same, it's reliable enough to give you a major headstart.
You'll naturally pick these tricks up as you go, but here are five rules to get you started:
- English -tion → Spanish -ción: Information → información; production → producción; organization → organización
- English -ous → Spanish -oso: famous → famoso; curious → curioso; generous → generoso
- English -ous → Spanish -ible/-able: comfortable → comfortable (or cómodo); flexible → flexibile; visible → visible (note that the pronunciation chances a bit. Spanish words are often stressed on the second to last syllable. As such, it's not VIsible but viSIble.)
- English -ant/ent/int → Spanish -ante/-ente/into: important → importante; president → presidente; succinct → sucinto
- English -ology → Spanish -ología: psychonlogy → psicología; gastronomy → gastronomía; biology → biología
If you're curious, Wikipedia has a very long list of words that are shared between English and Spanish.
Mastering Spanish will take a long time, but because of its similarities with English, you can get started right away. Compared to people learning a language like Arabic or Mandarin Chinese, you're actually getting a major head start!
While we've introduced many words that are familiar in both languages, you should also be on the lookout for "false" friends: not all words that look alike mean the same thing! Embarazada, for example, means not embarrassed but pregnant.