Estábamos, estamos, estaremos juntos. A pedazos, a ratos, a párpados, a sueños.
Spanish is a beautiful and emotional language. What better way to learn this romantic language than through poetry? In this article, we'll look at the most common tenses in the context of poetry and see how they are used to form beautiful sentences that will touch your heart. Perhaps you'll even pick up a line or two to impress a date or a loved one. Let's start!
Spanish and English each have three verb moods: indicative, subjunctive and imperative. Mood is a grammatical category distinguishing verb tenses. All verbs other than infinitives, participles, and gerunds are in one of those moods when used alone.
The indicative mood is the most common and it is used to relate facts and objective statements. In Spanish, the indicative mood features four tenses: present, past, future, and conditional.
In the quote written at the beginning of this article, we can observe the conjugation of the verb estar (to be) in the past (estábamos), present (estamos), and future (estaremos).
In Spanish, there are three categories of verbs. The category is determined by the last two letters of the infinitive (-ar, -er, or –ir), which is the base form of the verb. With a regular verb, the stem stays the same and the ending changes. When the conjugation follows a different pattern, it is called an irregular verb.
To conjugate regular -ar verbs, simply drop the ending (-ar) and add one of the following:
To conjugate regular -er and -ir verbs, simply drop the ending and add one of the following:
- -emos (-er) / -imos (-ir)
- -éis (-er) / -ís (-ir)
The poem below is part of Veinte Poemas de Amor y una Canción Desesperada (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair), one of the most famous works of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. In this extract from Poema 14, we can see the conjugation of a regular verb llegar (to arrive) and an irregular verb jugar (to play).
Juegas todos los días con la luz del universo Every day you play with the light of the universe.
Sutil visitadora, llegas en la flor y en el agua. Subtle visitor, you arrive in the flower and the water.
The most irregular verbs in Spanish are also the most common, so you see the conjugated forms of these verbs often. One very irregular verb is ser (to be), conjugated as: soy, eres, es, somos, sois, son.
See the next example below:
Eres más que esta blanca cabecita que aprieto You are more than this white head that I hold tightly
como un racimo entre mis manos cada día. as a cluster of fruit, every day, between my hands.
In the present tense, there are some verbs whose vowels change within the stem. These stem-changes occur in all persons except nosotros and vosotros, which maintain the regular stem. There are a few varieties of stem-changes, but the most common stem change is i to ie. For example, the verb querer (to want) follows this rule as the example below illustrates:
Quiero hacer contigo I want to do with you
lo que la primavera hace con los cerezos. what spring does with the cherry trees.
The present perfect describes an action that happened in the past and continues or repeats itself into the present. Additionally, it also describes an action that happened in the recent past. El Poeta a su Amada (The Poet to his Beloved) is a tender poem written by César Vallejo for learning the present perfect. In Spanish, the present perfect tense is formed by using the present indicative of the auxiliary verb haber (to have) with the past participle (crucificado) of the verb in question. The auxiliary haber and the past participle are never separated.
Amada, en esta noche tú te has crucificado Beloved, this night you have been crucified
sobre los dos maderos curvados de mi beso on the two curving timbers of my kiss
To make the sentence negative, add the word no before the conjugated form of haber (auxiliary verb). We can see it in the next excerpt from Vallejo’s poem, Para el Alma Imposible de mi Amada (To the Impossible Soul of my Beloved):
Amada: no has querido plasmarte jamás Beloved: you have never wished to embody
como lo ha pensado mi divino amor my divine love imagined for you.
The past participle is formed by dropping the infinitive ending and adding either -ado or -ido. Some past participles are irregular, for example: abierto, compuesto, deshecho, resuelto, visto, escrito.
has construido tu casa you’ve built your home
has emplumado tus pájaros you’ve fledged your birds
has golpeado al viento you’ve beaten the wind
con tus propios huesos with your bones
The lines above are an excerpt from Arbol de Diana (The Tree of Diana), the fourth book of poetry by Alejandra Pizarnik, an Argentinian poet. As we can see in this example, if we drop the endings of construir, emplumar and golpear (constru-, emplum-, golpe-), we can form the past participle of these regular verbs. Fortunately, the past participles of regular verbs are quite predictable.
Preterite vs. Imperfect
Se entró de tarde en el río, She went into the river at dusk,
la sacó muerta el doctor; she was dead when the doctor pulled her out;
dicen que murió de frío, some say she died of the cold,
yo sé que murió de amor. but I know she died of love.
This poem was written by Jose Martí. Martí’s most famous legacy from Guatemala is the poem La Niña de Guatemala (The Girl of Guatemala), which is about the death of his love. This is a wonderful Spanish poem that exposes students to the preterite tense. The preterite is used to describe actions that have been completed at one point in the past or that continued for a specific amount of time in the past and are now finished.
On the other hand, we have the imperfect tense, which is used for past actions that are not seen as completed. There are only two sets of endings for regular imperfect verbs, one for -ar verbs (aba, abas, aba, ábamos, abais, aban) and one for both -er and -ir verbs (ía, ías, ía, íamos, íais, ía, ías). Simply remove the infinitive ending and add the correct imperfect ending depending on the subject of the action.
En tus ojos peleaban las llamas del crepúsculo In your eyes the flames of the twilight fought on.
Y las hojas caían en el agua de tu alma And the leaves fell in the water of your soul.
hacia donde emigraban mis profundos anhelos towards which my deep longings migrated
y caían mis besos alegres como brasas and my kisses fell, happy as embers.
This is another poem that is part of Veinte Poemas de Amor y una Canción Desesperada by Pablo Neruda. Poema 6 describes a memory on an autumn day of a woman who was loved by the writer.
Luckily, only three verbs are irregular in the imperfect: ser (to be): era, eras, era, éramos, erais, eran, ir (to go): iba, ibas, iba, íbamos, ibais, iban, and ver (to see): veía, veías, veía, veíamos, veíais, veían.
Informal Future vs. Simple Future
The informal future is often used to talk about the immediate future and can be translated as “I am going to (do something).” It is formed by the verb ir conjugated in the present indicative, the preposition a, and the infinitive of the action to be performed. Remember, ir is irregular and the conjugations in the present tense are: voy, vas, va, vamos, vais, van.
Y mientras anochece de pronto la mañana, And as night soon falls into morning
yo sé que, aunque no quieras, vas a pensar en mí. I know, although you don’t want to, you’re going to think of me.
In this excerpt from the poem Canción de la Lluvia (The Song of the Rain) by José Ángel Buesa, we can see the informal future being used. It is constructed by using the present tense of ir (vas, in the second person) + a + the infinitive of the verb (pensar).
The simple future, on the contrary, is used to express the possibility of what someone may be doing in the present. Unlike the informal future, it is only one word created by adding endings to the infinitive of a verb. All verb conjugations have the same endings: é, ás, á, emos, éis, án. See the example below:
Y tendrá un sobresalto tu corazón tranquilo, And it will startle your peaceful heart
sintiendo que despierta tu ternura de ayer. feeling that which awoke your tenderness from yesterday.
In the following example, the endings of the future tense are underlined. Poema del Renunciamiento (Poem of Renunciation) was written by José Ángel Buesa, a Cuban poet known for his melancholic poetry.
Pasarás por mi vida sin saber que pasaste. You will walk through my life without knowing what you did,
Pasarás en silencio por mi amor, y, al pasar, You will walk in silence through my love and when you do
fingiré una sonrisa, como un dulce contraste I will pretend with a smile, like a sweet contrast
del dolor de quererte... y jamás lo sabrás. from the pain of loving you… and you will never know.
There are some common verbs that are irregular in the future tense. Their endings are regular, but their stems change:
- caber (to fit): cabr-
- poner (to put): pondr-
- decir (to say): dir-
- haber (to have): habr-
- salir (to leave): saldr
- hacer (to make / to do): har-
- poder (can): podr-
- tener (to have): tendr-
- querer (to want / to love): querr-
- valer (to be worth): valdr-
- saber (to know): sabr-
- venir (to come): vendr-
The following poem Todavía (Still) belongs to Mario Benedetti, an Uruguayan romantic poet. The stem is underlined in this extract:
y si beso la osadía and if I kiss the audacity
y el misterio de tus labios and the mystery of your lips
no habrá dudas ni resabios there will be no doubts or bitter aftertaste
te querré más I will love you more
You can explore this world and open the doors to a world filled with fascinating poetry. I guarantee this will motivate you to learn this language!