Spanish Conjugations can be tough… but they don’t have to be! Let’s learn the present tense forms of Ser using a memory palace.
Let’s get conjugating.
Intro: Join us on a rigorous, step-by-step journey to fluency. I’m Timothy and this is LearnCraft Spanish.
Yesterday we learned the word es, but as you may know, es is only one part of Ser, a big Spanish verb with many different forms to learn.
We have to use different forms of verbs in English, too; we have to change the word “is” to different forms based on what we’re talking about. So for example, let’s say we’re dealing with this nonsensical sentence:
Food is my friend.
And then let’s play the potato head game by changing the nouns that come before and after the word “is”.
These are my friends.
The word “is” changed to “are”. And we can change it further:
I am your friend.
He was my friend.
So the word “is” has changed forms based on the sentence around it. And that’s because this verb isn’t just one word, it’s more like a whole family of words that all mean the same thing, but they appear in different ways depending on the context.
The parent of all of these words in English is the verb “to be”. And in Spanish, the parent is Ser, spelled S-E-R. So the word es that we learned yesterday is just one of many, many forms of Ser, just like the word “is” is one form of the verb “to be”.
What we’re learning to do is what we call conjugating, or changing the verb to agree with what it goes with. In English, if the person is “I”, you say “am”. But if the person is “they”, you say “are”.
Generally speaking, for most of the Spanish-speaking world, there are five types of people associated with any verb: there’s “I”, there’s “you”, there’s “he”/”she”/”it”, there’s “we”, and there’s “they”. Each of these gets a different verb conjugation. So we already know es for he, she, or it. For example, “he es my friend” or “that es a good idea”. But today we’re going to learn the other four forms.
I’m going to present these forms to you in two different ways: First without a memory palace and then with a memory palace. That way you can choose which way you prefer to learn. So for starters, let’s just list the different conjugations:
I am is I soy (spell).
You are is you eres (spell).
We are is we somos (spell).
They are is they son (spell).
So again, I soy, you eres, he/she/it es, we somos, and they son.
Now let’s see if you can remember all of that. We’ll test these with a few sentences. How would you say “They are my friends”? They son my friends.
Ellos son mis amigos.
How about “we are students”? We somos students.
Nosotras somos estudiantes.
What about “I am his daughter”? I soy his daughter.
Yo soy su hija.
How about “they are students”? They son students.
Ellos son estudiantes.
And how about “You are my cousin”? You eres my cousin.
Tú eres mi primo.
All right, how did that go? You may have done OK with that, but in our experience, memorizing verb conjugations is one of the biggest weaknesses for pretty much everyone who learns Spanish. Unfortunately the verb Ser doesn’t just have these five forms to learn; it actually has over 40 different forms that are all very commonly used, and that you need to be able to retrieve smoothly when speaking in Spanish.
And that’s why we tend to recommend using a memory palace for verb conjugations, even if for nothing else in Spanish. Tens of thousands of people have used our verb memory palaces to start using hundreds and hundreds of Spanish verb conjugations seamlessly, and they’re not for everyone, but I recommend giving this a try just to see if it works for you. Just hang in there for a few minutes and see if, for example, it helps you associate the word “soy” with yourself and “son” with a group of other people in the contexts we talk about here. Yes, you have to learn a couple of silly stories to make it work, so it’s a little extra work up front, but it pays off when the conjugations start to pile up over time. It’s worked for countless other students, and I think it might work for you too.
So let’s start building a memory palace for verb conjugations, and we’ll start by getting used to where everything is. Instead of just listing the different persons, we like to lay them out in a scene, kind of based on where everyone might be if you’re talking to a group of people. First there’s the “I” form, which we’ll put at the bottom of the picture, as if you yourself are the one taking the picture with a camera. Then there’s “we”, which goes next to you at the bottom of the picture, almost out of shot, as if the “we” group is right next to you. Then there’s “you”, which is person directly in front of you, just like we did in the memory palace for direct objects, so it’ll be near the top of the picture. There’s also “he, she, or it”, which goes to the left side. And there’s “they”, which will go on the right side.
Just to warm up and make sure we’re ready for this, let’s imagine creating this memory palace for English verb conjugations. If that were the case, what word would go at the top of the picture? In the sentence “You are my friend”, the word we use is “are”, so that’s the one associated with the person “you”. What would go at the bottom of the picture? We say “I am”, so it would be am. What about “he”? That would be is. And it would be the same thing for “she” or “it”; “he is, she is, it is”. Now what about “they”? You would use are. And then “we” is also are.
Now we’re going to learn these same forms of the verb Ser, which translates as “to be”. We’ll use this same structure, with the people in the picture laid out like this, but we’ll replace the English verb conjugations of “to be” with Spanish verb conjugations of Ser.
And the structure of this scene is very important, because Spanish has a lot of verb conjugations to memorize. You may have noticed that in English, we re-use forms for the different people. The word “are” is used for we, they, and you. So it’s in three places in this picture. That’s not the case in Spanish; we have to learn five different forms for all five different spots. And in fact, as we learn more about this verb in the coming episodes, we’re going to have to learn more and more forms for different tenses, such as the past tense and the subjunctive mood. These lists of words tend to get super jumbled if you don’t use memory tricks to keep them straight, which is why we’re building a memory palace for this verb, just like we did for pronouns. And we’re going to keep all five different “persons” in the palace vivid and interesting.
So here we go. Imagine that you and some friends have gone into a large carnival house. One of the attractions in this funhouse is a bouncy house, run by not a human, but by a snake. You’re a little freaked out by this, so you choose to talk about this snake but not directly to it. The snake is on the left side of the picture, and it has everyone lining up and measuring themselves to make sure that they’re tall enough to enter the bouncy house. Basically, the test that the snake is having you perform is: “Are you a tall person or not?”
Now, unfortunately, the height standards are actually very strict. You aren’t tall enough to get in. You’re just a few centimeters too short. But to try to pass the test, you’ve strapped some soy sauce bottles to your feet. So as you approach the line, you declare loudly, “I am a tall person!” Well, that’s what you mean to say. But instead of “I am a tall person”, you accidentally say “I soy a tall person.”
Meanwhile, you have a friend who is even shorter than you. This friend is an inventive kid with curly red hair and freckles, and he’s come up with an invention: A hovercraft that blows air down in two vertical columns, or “air rays”, that look like legs. It’s just air but it LOOKS like legs, so this kid could pass for a tall person if you don’t look too closely. He calls the hovercraft his “air ray” machine. You tell him, “That’s right! You are a tall person!”… but by accident, what you say is “You eres a tall person.” This word is spelled E-R-E-S.
So to say “I am”, you think about yourself and say I soy. To say “you are”, you think about the kid in front of you, and you say “you eres”.
Meanwhile, you’re with a group of people, two of which are taller than you and two of which are very short. Some of them are tall enough, but some of them aren’t. When you try to declare, “We are tall people”, you accidentally think of the phrase “some of us are tall people”, and you end up saying “We somos tall people.” This word is spelled S-O-M-O-S, somos.
So before we go any further, remember this scene. Picture yourself with the soy, your friend in front of you with the “air rays” or eres, and your group of friends with the word somos. We’ll go ahead and test this before learning two more words. I’m going to present some sentences, and your job is to translate the verb into Spanish based on what you remember from this memory palace.
First: You are my friend. …That’s the kid in front of you with the air rays, so it’s “You eres my friend.”
Tú eres mi amigo.
Next: We are the students. … The “we” here is the group of people around you, where “some of us” are tall. So this is “We somos the students.”
Nosotros somos los estudiantes.
Next: “I am a good friend.” … Remember what it feels like in this scene to have soy sauce bottles strapped to your feet. “I soy a good friend.”
Yo soy un buen amigo.
Now let’s talk about the snake, who represents he is, she is, or it is. This reptile keeps saying esssss, esssss all the time, which is a bit creepy. You talk about the creature with your friends, in particular noting that the snake itself is not tall enough to enter the ride. To say “the snake is not a tall person”, you say “The snake no es a tall person.”
Meanwhile, on the right side of the image, a group of pandas have been waiting for most of the afternoon, right next to a window. They’ve been blasted by the sunlight for so long that their fur has started to turn red. You remark, “They are tall pandas!” But thinking about the sun that’s burning their fur, you say “They son tall pandas.” Try to picture vividly the snake to the left, next to the bouncy house, and the pandas to the right next to the window. And remember that they represent es and son.
This may seem like a lot of work just to learn 5 conjugations, but the point here is to get them vividly stuck in your visual memory so that when you learn 500 more Spanish verb forms, you don’t ever get them confused with each other. For a visual aid here, we’ve provided a drawing of this scene at LCSPodcast.com/13.
All right, now let’s see how well you can remember all 5 people by testing this with some rapid-fire contexts. For these, don’t worry about any words in the sentence other than just the verb.
She is my friend… She es my friend.
I am a student… I soy a student.
We are tall people… We somos tall people.
It is a student… It es a student.
You are a diligent worker… You eres a diligent worker.
They are my friends… They son my friends.
Keep remembering each of the characters in this scene, especially yourself, the friend with curly red hair, the pandas, and your own motley crew of tall and short friends. In the memory palaces that we present going forward, for Ser and for other verbs, your friend with curly red hair will always represent “you”, and the pandas will always represent “they”.
So we just learned five forms of Ser to use as verbs in sentences… but what about the word ser itself? S-E-R? It’s basically the equivalent of the term “to be” in English. Ser is the name of the verb, the umbrella term that represents all these conjugations that we learned. So in English we say that “is”, “are”, and “am” are all conjugations of “to be”. In Spanish, soy, eres, es, son, and somos are all conjugations of Ser.
But it’s also possible to use the word Ser in sentences, specifically as a noun. It represents the idea of being something, or to be something.
Here’s an example. We can take the sentence template “I like food”, and we can turn it into “I like to be a student.” This translates as “I like ser a student.”
Me gusta ser estudiante.
So the whole concept of “to be a student” is being treated as a noun, and that’s what the basic form, ser, is for.
We’ll dive deeper into a lot of flexible ways to do that later this week, but for now let’s practice a couple more examples.
To be president would be cool.
Ser president would be cool.
I want to be a good student.
I want ser a good student.
All right, now time to quiz with all of our forms of Ser, along with some of what we’ve learned previously. Note that I’m going to throw in few uses of “is”, “am”, and “are” that DON’T get translated as conjugations of Ser, so watch for any uses of “is”, “am”, or “are” in English that aren’t specifically referring to what something is.
They want to be good friends.
They want ser good friends.
Quieren ser buenas amigas.
What is there in the kitchen?
¿Qué is there in the kitchen?
¿Qué hay en la cocina?
She and I are sisters.
She y I somos sisters.
Ella y yo somos hermanas.
They are my friends.
They son my friends.
Ellas son mis amigas.
That is a problem.
That es a problem.
Eso es un problema.
I am working with them.
I am working con them.
Estoy trabajando con ellos.
This is my brother.
This es my brother.
Este es mi hermano.
I’m a good guy, really!
I soy un good guy, really!
¡Yo soy un buen tipo, de verdad!
I think they are running around here.
I think que they are running por here.
Creo que están corriendo por aquí.
The man and the woman are my relatives.
El man y la woman son my relatives.
El hombre y la mujer son mis parientes.
This next example uses a feminine voice.
I promise I am a good student(f).
I promise que I soy una a good student.
In this next example, the student you’re talking to is feminine.
You aren’t a model student?
You no eres una model student?
¿Tú no eres una estudiante modelo?
You are in the wrong place.
You are en the wrong place.
Estás en el lugar equivocado.
That is slipping away.
Eso is slipping away.
Eso se nos está escapando.
He wants to be governor.
He wants ser governor.
Quiere ser gobernador.
In this next one, “them” is feminine.
The ladies know them.
Las ladies las know.
Las damas las conocen.
You are not my mother!
You no eres my mother!
¡Tú no eres mi madre!
In this next example, “them” is masculine.
Why didn’t the girl see them?
¿Por qué la girl no los saw?
¿Por qué la niña no los vio?
The guys are with someone.
Los guys are con someone.
Los chicos están con alguien.
We are friends and that is a good thing.
We somos friends y eso es a good thing.
Nosotros somos amigas y eso es algo bueno.
For more practice with all of this, and to see the picture we’ve drawn of the memory palace, go to LCSPodcast.com/13.
Tomorrow we’re going to explore the mysteries of forming sentences in Spanish with verbs but no named nouns.
This show is brought to you by LearnCraftSpanish.com. The Spanish voice in this episode was our coach Michael Agudelo. Our music was provided by the Seattle Marimba Quartet, and I’m Timothy, encouraging you to do the hard work of learning Spanish. Acquiring a second language is one of the most fulfilling things you can do, so start your fluency journey today at LCSPodcast.com.