Language Guide
Verbs
Spanish Verb Types

Spanish Verb Types

There are several different verb types in Spanish, including transitive verbs, intransitive verbs, pronominal verbs, reflexive verbs, and reciprocal verbs. It's helpful to know what they are and how they're different. Let's get started!

Transitive Verbs

Transitive verbs are verbs that need a direct object. A direct object is essentially the person or thing the subject performs an action upon.

Transitivity Test

You can yourself ask the questions What? or Who? to determine what the direct object of a verb is.

Transitivity Profile: Tener

Tener is a transitive verb, which means it needs a direct object. Look at the example of tener given below.

Tengo una manzana.
I have an apple.
 

Transitivity test

Let's try the transitivity test out on this example

  • I have what? - An apple (una manzana).

So, una manzana is the direct object of the transitive verb tener.

Transitivity Profile: Comer

Look at the example of comer given below.

Comió una galleta.
He ate a cookie.
 

Transitivity test

Let's try the transitivity test out on comer.

  • He ate what? - A cookie (una galleta).

So, una galleta (a cookie) is the direct object of the transitive verb comer.

Transitivity Profile: Sorprender

Sorprender is another example of a transitive verb.

Sorprendimos a mi novio.
We surprised my boyfriend.
 

Transitivity test: Let's try our handy transitivity test on this verb.

  • Who did we surprise? - My boyfriend (mi novio).

So, mi novio is the direct object of the transitive verb sorprender.

The preposition a is used when a direct object is a specific person (or something personalized). When used in this way, it is called the a personal  (personal a).

Intransitive Verbs

Intransitive verbs are verbs that do not need a direct object. Intransitive verbs often form one-word sentences in Spanish.

Transitivity Profile: Correr

Corre cada día.
He runs every day.
 

Transitivity test:

  • You can't answer ask either What? or Who? about this sentence. Cada día only tells you how often. The sentence could also just have been one word: Corre.  (He/She runs.) Therefore, this verb is intransitive in the sense shown.

Transitivity Profile: Dormir

Duerme en su cama.
She sleeps in her bed.
 

Transitivity test:

  • You can't answer ask either What? or Who? about this sentence. En su cama only tells you where. The sentence could also just have been one word: Duerme.  (He/She sleeps.) Therefore, this verb is intransitive in the sense shown.

Transitivity Profile: Gustar

Los plátanos me gustan.
I like bananas. (Literally: Bananas are pleasing to me.)
 

Transitivity test:

  • You can't answer ask either What? or Who? about this sentence in Spanish. The subject is los plátanos (bananas), which please me (an indirect object). Confused? Check out our article on verbs like gustar.

Pronominal Verbs

Pronominal Verbs are often incorrectly called reflexive verbs, when in reality reflexive verbs are just one type of pronominal verb. Reciprocal verbs are other type of pronominal verb you'll run across.

Pronominal verbs must be conjugated along with a reflexive or reciprocal pronoun.

Reflexive Verbs

With reflexive verbs like those in the examples below, the subject performs some action for or upon him/herself.

Me veo.
I see myself.
 
Se escribe una nota.
He writes himself a note.
 
Te cepillas los dientes.
You brush your teeth.
 

Body parts do not use possessive pronouns like mi (my) or tu (your) in Spanish. Instead, they are conjugated with a reflexive verb and use a definite article.

Example: Me lavo los dientes.  (I brush my teeth.)

Reciprocal Verbs

With reciprocal verbs like those below, two subjects perform the same action on each other.

Nos abrazamos.
We hug each other.
 
Se casaron.
They got married.
 

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