Choosing the Correct Verb Form

Obviously, you will not always have a pronoun as a subject. Sometimes you will use the actual noun as the subject. To determine which form of the verb to use when a noun is the subject, just consider what pronoun you would use if you were to change that noun to a pronoun in a second sentence about the subject. For example, you want to write the sentence, “John dances well.” What pronoun would go in the blank if the next sentence were, “_____ does it every day.” You probably responded “he” immediately. If you wanted to write this sentence in Spanish, you would ask yourself, “What is the Spanish subject pronoun that means 'he'?” Hopefully you'll remember él and then use the form of the verb that goes with él. You do not have to write the pronoun; just use the actual noun and the form of the verb that goes with the pronoun you know would replace that noun. Here's another example:

  •          María canta bien. Mary sings well. 

The form canta is used with ella, the subject pronoun that would represent María.

When more than one name is the subject, the ellos/ellas form of the verb is required. For example:

  •         Lupe y Soledad cantan bien. Lupe and Soledad sing well. 

The form cantan is used with ellas, the subject pronoun that would replace Lupe y Soledad. Whenever a list of names is the subject, the ellos/ellas form of the verb is used. If you think about it, the same thing happens in English. Consider the example, “Jane, Taneka, and Heather go to the store. They go shopping every day.” Notice that the verb form “go” is used for both sentences because the subjects are the same even if one is stated in pronoun form.

When a sentence starts with any name(s) and the pronoun I, the subject of the sentence is basically we. In Spanish, the nosostros/nosotras form of the verb will be used any time the subject is one or more names + yo.

For example:

  •          Juanita, Julia, y yo cantamos. Juanita, Julia, and I sing. 
             Julia y yo cantamos bien. Julia and I sing well. 

Take note that a verb with an –s on the end of it in the English sentence does not necessarily have an –s on the end in the Spanish translation. It is a common mistake to want to write “she sings” with cantas. Since she is the pronoun ella, you must use the form of the verb that goes with ella: canta. Just remember that the form of the verb that ends in – s in Spanish goes with the pronoun tú.

  •          Él canta. He sings. 
             Tú cantas. You sing. 

The secret to using the correct verb form is to refuse to think in English. Here are some tips to keep in mind when conjugating a verb with a noun:

  •  Determine the subject of the sentence and what pronoun would replace it.

  •  Determine which ending of the verb goes with that pronoun, and add it to the base of the verb you want to use in the sentence.

  •  Don't even think about what the English verb form would be.

When the subject of a sentence is it, the Spanish will simply use the él/ella form of the verb and write absolutely no pronoun. The subject is understood because of the form of the verb. This will happen with sentences about weather and seasons: It is cloudy (está nublado). It is summer (es verano). Any time you're writing a sentence that starts with “it,” just use the él/ella form of the verb and forget about using any pronoun.

Any time the subject can be easily ascertained, the pronoun is eliminated. Because three pronouns: él, ella, and usted all share the same form of the verb, it is important to use the subject or subject pronoun any time the identity of the subject is difficult to determine. You can't just write canta unless it's really obvious who's singing from some prior sentence. The same is true for ellos, ellas, andustedes. The verb form cantan is shared by all three, so it's important to use these pronouns for clarity. However, you'll often see sentences that begin without any subject when a previous sentence has made the subject obvious. For example:

  •           Trini escribe muy bien. Esribe novelas y dramas. 
              Trini writes very well. She writes novels and plays.

In the second sentence, it is assumed that the subject is the most recently named noun. It is the responsibility of the speaker to write at least a pronoun for the second sentence if the subject is not the last possible subject mentioned in the first sentence.