Spanish Basics


This lesson covers the basics of Spanish. For a more in-depth explanation of Spanish grammar, look at the lessons in Unit 3 and Unit 4. The topics covered in this lesson include:

  • nouns
  • the present tense of verbs
  • the irregular verbs estar and ser
  • how to ask questions
  • the Spanish numbers from 1 to 20.


This lesson is a brief overview of the basics of grammar in the Spanish language. We begin with an introduction to Spanish nouns. The present tense of verbs is then covered, including the very common Spanish verbs estar and ser. This lesson also discusses how to ask questions in Spanish, and gives the Spanish words for the numbers from 1 to 20.

The purpose of this lesson is to give you enough of a foundation in Spanish grammar that you can start learning the common Spanish phrases taught in unit 2. As you start getting more familiar with Spanish, you can start looking at the grammar lessons in Unit 3. Don't worry about making mistakes, just focus on getting better at communicating in Spanish.


Nouns are words that describe a person, place or thing. All nouns in Spanish are either masculine or feminine. The plural of nouns is formed by adding an s or es to the end of the noun. The following table shows some examples of nouns in Spanish.

la mujer the woman
el hombre the man
las mujeres the women
los hombres the men
la taza the cup
los lagos the lakes
un zapato a shoe
una silla a chair

For more information on nouns in Spanish, see the lesson on nouns.

Polite and Informal

Spanish has both a polite and informal version of the pronoun you. When you are speaking with someone in Spanish, it is best to use the polite version of you.

There are also two polite versions of the pronoun you. Usted is used when speaking to one person, and ustedes is used when speaking to more than one person. In written Spanish usted is often shortened to Ud. and ustedes is often shortened to Uds.

There are examples of using the polite versions of the pronoun you in the rest of this lesson.

Present Tense of Verbs

The simple present tense of verbs is more common in Spanish than in English. The Spanish sentence Voy a la tienda. can mean I go to the store., I am going to the store., and I do go to the store.

Spanish has three types of verbs, verbs that end in ar, er, and ir. The following tables show the present tense of regular verbs for the three categories of verbs. There are also many irregular Spanish verbs and they are covered in the Grammar unit.

hablar (speak)

yo hablo I speak
tú hablas you speak (to one person, familiar)
usted habla you speak (to one person, polite)
él habla she speaks
ella habla she speaks
nosotros hablamos we speak
vosotros habláis you speak (to more than one person, familiar)
ustedes hablan you have (to more than one person, polite)
ellos hablan they speak
ellas hablan they speak (referring to more than one female)

comer (eat)

yo como I eat
tú comes you eat (to one person, familiar)
usted come you eat (to one person, polite)
él come she eats
ella come she eats
nosotros comemos we eat
vosotros coméis you eat (to more than one person, familiar)
ustedes comen you eat (to more than one person, polite)
ellos comen they eat
ellas comen they eat (referring to more than one female)

vivir (live)

yo vivo I live
tú vives you live (to one person, familiar)
usted vive you live (to one person, polite)
él vive she lives
ella vive she lives
nosotros vivimos we live
vosotros vivís you live (to more than one person, familiar)
ustedes viven you live (to more than one person, polite)
ellos viven they live
ellas viven they live (referring to more than one female)

Subject pronouns are not used as often in Spanish. For example, since hablo means I speak, the subject pronoun yo is not required.


¿Bebe usted café o té? Do you drink cofee or tea? (polite)
¿Bebes café o té? Do you drink cofee or tea? (informal)
Ella abre la puerta. She opens the door.
Corren a la tienda. They run to the store.
Compramos algunos regalos. We buy some presents.
Estudio en la biblioteca. I study at the library.

With practice, the various grammatical endings used with Spanish verbs will become very familiar. If you would like more information about Spanish verbs, visit the present tense, past tense, future tense, and irregular verbs lessons.

To Be

Spanish has two words for the English verb to be, estar and ser. Both of these verbs are very irregular. Estar is used to indicate the location of people and objects, to indicate a temporary state of being, and to indicate a person's mood. Ser is used for indicating more permanent conditions, times, dates and locations of events.

pronoun ser estar
yo soy estoy I am
eres estás you are (familiar)
usted es está you are (polite)
él/ella/ello es está he/she/it is
nosotros somos estamos we are
vosotros sois estáis you are (familiar plural)
ustedes son están you are (formal plural)
ellas/ellos son están they are

Note: ll is pronounced like the y in yes.


Estoy cansado. I am tired.
Ella está en el jardín. She is in the garden.
Soy de España. I am from Spain.
Estoy en España. I am in Spain.
Soy Carlos. I am Carlos.
Carlos es inteligente. Carlos is intelligent.
Son las tres. It's three o'clock.
Somos estudiantes. We are students.
Están de acuerdo con María. They agree with Maria.


In the written language, questions start with a ¿ and end with a ?. In the spoken language, sentences can be turned into questions by emphasizing the end of the sentence. As in English, Spanish also has words that indicate a question.

The following table lists some common Spanish questions words.

¿Cómo? How?
¿Cuánto? How much?
¿Cuántos? How many?
¿Qué? What?
¿Cuándo? When?
¿Dónde? Where?
¿Adónde? To where?
¿Por qué? Why?
¿Para qué? What for?
¿Quién? Who?


¿Quién es usted? Who are you? (speaking to one person)
¿Qué es? What is it?
¿Qué dijiste? What did you say?
¿Por qué están ustedes aquí? Why are you here? (to more than one person)
¿Dónde está ella? Where is she?
¿Lo tiene usted? Do you have it?
¿Van allí? Are they going there?
¿Podemos ir? Can we go?
¿Trabaja Carlos mañana? Is Carlos working tomorrow?

Numbers 1 - 20

Here are the numbers from one to twenty in Spanish.

1 uno
2 dos
3 tres
4 quatro
5 cinco
6 seis
7 siete
8 ocho
9 nueve
10 diez
11 once
12 doce
13 trece
14 catorce
15 quince
16 deiciséis
17 deicisiete
18 deiciocho
19 deicinueve
20 viente



Rewrite each sentence using the Spanish translation of the words in parentheses.

1) ___ café y té. (I drink)

2) ___ la puerta. (We open)

3) ___ en la biblioteca. (They study)

4) ___ con la mujer. (She speaks)

5) Carlos ___. (is tired)