Spanish Auxiliary Verbs

Instructor: Angelica Roy

Angelica is an educator and a journalist. She has a master's degree in education, a bachelor's degree in linguistics and languages, and a second major in journalism.

Auxiliary or helping verbs are used in conjunction with principal verbs to complete the grammatical meaning of a sentence. In this lesson, you will learn the most common auxiliary verbs in Spanish.

Auxiliary Verbs in Spanish

In Spanish, the auxiliary verbs are used in conjunction with principal verbs to complete the grammatical meaning of a sentence. When they are conjugated, they lose their individual meaning to form other tenses or to aid the main verb.

The following examples contain some of the most common auxiliary verbs (in bold) in Spanish.

  • María y Juan estaban preparándose para salir de vacaciones. (Maria and Juan were getting ready to go out on vacation.) In this sentence, we are using the auxiliary verb estar (to be) as a helping verb for the perífrasis verbal or a progressive tense in the past tense.

  • La reservación en el hotel estaba hecha. (The hotel reservation was already made.) In this case the auxiliary verb estar is used as a passive voice of state or condition (not an action).

  • Juan solo tenía que comunicarse con la aerolínea para confirmar su vuelo, pero no pudo hacerlo. (Juan had to get in touch with the airline, but he could not do it.) The auxiliary verb tener que ('to have to' or 'must') is used here to express obligation in the imperfect tense. While the verb poder (to be able) is used to express ability to do something.

  • Su jefe acababa de solicitarle el informe de ventas que Juan no había terminado aún. (His boss has just asked him for the sales report that Juan had not finished yet.) Here, the helping verb acabar de translates as 'just' and it is followed by a verb in the infinitive form only. The next auxiliary haber (to have) is the helping verb to construct sentences in the perfect tenses.

Translation: What were they going to do now?
couple

  • Juan llamó a María y le dijo que debía comunicarse con la aerolínea inmediatamente. (Juan called Maria and told her that she had to get in touch with the airline immediately.) The verb deber ('to have a duty to') is used to express a formal requirement or a need to so something. The translation is 'must' in the present tense or 'should' as in debería. In our sentence, debía is in pretérito imperfecto, and a good translation is 'had to'.

  • Así que María empezó a llamar, pero no hubo respuesta. (So, Maria started to call, but there was no answer.) The verb empezar a is a helping verb that translates 'to start to' do something, and it is always followed by a verb in infinitive.

  • María siguió llamando hasta que le contestaron. (Maria kept calling until they answered.) The verb seguir acts and auxiliary verb in this sentence meaning 'to continue to', and it is always followed by a gerund.

  • La respuesta de la aerolínea fue: 'lo sentimos, pero su reserva fue cancelada.' (The airline response was, 'we are sorry, but your reservation was cancelled.') The auxiliary verb here is ser ('to be') and it was used to construct the passive voice.

Lo sentimos, pero su reserva fue cancelada.
Sorry

  • ¿Qué iban a hacer ahora? (What were they going to do now?) The verb ir a is used for the future tense as in English 'be going to'.

  • Juan llegó a casa y le dijo a María, 'ya para de preocuparte, volveremos a llamar a la aerolínea a solicitar otro vuelo.' (Juan arrived home and told Maria, 'stop worrying, we will call the airline back to request another flight.') The verb andar regularly means 'to walk', but this auxiliary means 'to be'. It is used followed by a gerund. Parar de means 'to stop' doing something, and it is always followed by an infinitive. Volver a means to do something again; it is followed by an infinitive.

  • Cuando Juan terminó de llamar, ya había solucionado el problema. (When Juan finished calling, he had already solved the problem.) Terminar de (to finish doing something) is followed by an infinitive. Haber is the auxiliary for the perfect tenses.

  • La empleada de la aerolínea le dijo: 'vengan a reclamar los pasajes mañana antes del vuelo'. (The clerk told them, 'come to claim the tickets tomorrow before the flight.') Venir a (to come to) is always followed by an infinitive.

  • Cuando llegaron al aeropuerto sus pasajes ya estaban impresos. ¡Qué alivio! (When they arrived at the airport, their tickets were printed already. What a relief!) Estar for passive voice of state or condition (not an action).

Cuando llegaron al aeropuerto sus pasajes ya estaban impresos.
Auxiliary

Most Common Auxiliary Verbs

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