Spanish Verb Types

Overview

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.

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

Transitivity Profile: tener

Tengo una manzana.
I have an apple.
 

Transitivity test:

  • I have what? - An apple.

So, una manzana (an apple) is the direct object of the transitive verb tener.

Transitivity Profile: comer

Comió una galleta.
He ate a cookie.
 

Transitivity test:

  • He ate what? - A cookie.

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

Transitivity Profile: sorprender

Sorprendimos a mi novio.
We surprised my boyfriend.
 

Transitivity test:

  • Who did we surprise? - My boyfriend.

So, mi novio (my boyfriend) is the direct object of the transitive verb sorprender.

The preposition a is used when the direct object is a specific person (or something personalized), and 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? with this sentence. Cada día only tells you how often. The sentence could also just have been one word: Corre.  (He/She runs.)

Transitivity Profile: dormir

Duerme en su cama.
She sleeps in her bed.
 

Transitivity test:

  • You can't answer ask either What? or Who? with this sentence. En su cama only tells you where. The sentence could also just have been one word: Duerme.  (He/She sleeps.)

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? with 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 pronoun.

Reflexive Verbs

With reflexive verbs, the subject is acting upon itself.

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, two subjects perform the same action on each other.

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

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