Verbs, verbs, verbs… ¿Claro?

Let me start by being clear about my being clear.

These grammatical differences that I am about to point out, do not directly help you to speak Spanish better, only consistent use, practice, and immersion can do that. However, this post will help increase your understanding of the mechanics and terminology behind some Spanish grammar enabling you to analyze how it is being used. This will allow you to be confident that you’re saying exactly what you mean and give you the freedom to play with the language like an artist plays with paint on canvas.


Now on with the topic of the hour!


Verbs, verbs, verbs…

There are so many terms relating to verbs and how to categorize, describe and use them that it can be very confusing to keep all of it straight even when they are being explained correctly! The following, is a result of my own search for some clarification and I hope this will help you too.

Quick Terms

Subject – is generally the person or thing that the sentence is about.

Object – is the person or thing affected by the verb.

Verb – is a word that describes an action or a state of being (I did, I am, etc.)


“Tomar”, a very versatile verb. (


Verbs are either a transitive verb [i.e., verbs that need an object to complete their meaning.] or an intransitive verb [i.e., verbs that don’t need an object to complete their meaning.] All other types of verbs are combinations or a derivations of these two.

And this is where the overlapping group of verbs known as pronominal verbs come in. This group is unique because all three types within it require a corresponding pronoun to be considered a complete idea.

  1. Transitive (verbs that do need an object to complete their meaning.)

    • Ejemplo: Tengo una manzana …I have an apple.)
  2. Intransitive (verbs that do not need an object to complete their meaning.)

    • Ejemplo: habla cada día …He speaks every day.)
  3. Pronominal (verbs that need a reflexive pronoun to complete their meaning.)

    1. ‘Verbs like “gustar”‘ [pronominal verb] (or what I’m calling, a natural pronominal.)
      • Ejemplo: The verb “arrepentirse” is a great example of this, because it can be used with or without an object but requires a subject pronoun, and though it looks reflexive, it is not.
    2. Reflexive [pronominal verb] (the subject performs some action for or upon him/herself.)
      • Ejemplo: Te cepillas los dientes …You brush your teeth)
    3. Reciprocal [pronominal verb] (two subjects perform the same action on each other.)
      • Ejemplo: Se cesaron …They got married)


I suspect that verbs like ‘gustar’ are mostly left over from their traditional Latin roots which is why they appear to mimic other pronominal verbs. But alas, I digress.

On top of knowing these three main groups of verbs, there are also two different ways to use verbs, called voices; an active and a passive voice.


Jack (subject) will take (active verb form) the matter (object) forward.


The matter (subject) will be taken (passive verb form) forward by Jack (agent).


When speaking about a verb’s voice, it doesn’t matter whether that verb describes an action, like “correr; (to run)” or whether it describes a state, like “tener; (to have)”. The adjectives, active and passive in this case only refer to whether the subject is “doing” or “receiving”. Are they doing the action or are they undergoing the action? “Influence-er” or “influence-ee”?

Now as if things aren’t complicated enough with all of this, and even aside from the -ar, -er, -ir verb forms and their five tenses worth of conjugations to learn, Spanish also comes equipped with an entire line of verb conjugations to signify three different moods as well!

Something I’ll tackle another day perhaps. For now, let me see if I can at least simplify remembering the differences between the three major verb groups, transitive, intransitive and pronominal.


Okay then! Let’s start from the top, or close to it.

In the above example of tomar, you can see that in its “natural state”, it is used in a transitive fashion, though it also has an intransitive and some pronominal uses.

…Blah, blah, blah …jargon, jargon, jargon, right?!

Sometimes the brain falls asleep despite itself in the midst of so much terminology so, let’s try instead thinking of each verb as having a job and they are grouped together by the types of “jobs” they perform. We’ll call them, “verb departments.”

Be advised that the alternate terms seen in quotes are really a mnemonic (a memory device or aide) not actual grammatical jargon.

“Department of the Transitive” – “Transitions”

Because a transitive verb works in a sentence to show that the flow of influence, actual or conceived, is moving from the subject to the object of a sentence I choose to remember this function or relationship through the word “transitions.”

“Department of the Intransitive” – “Just Is”

Because an intransitive verb doesn’t specify a flow of influence, it just brings attention to its existence, I remember this as a verb that just is expressed.

“Department of the Pronominal” – “Reflections”

Because a pronominal verb needs a pronoun to “reflect” back onto I use the word “reflections” as a memory device. The “Sub Departments of the Reflexive and the Reciprocal” use pronominal forms that are “reflective” in this same way, though each for different reasons.

For example, I prefer to think of a reciprocal verb as a “plural expression” of this reflective quality that pronominal verbs seem to have in common because it expresses a mutual reflection of activity between two or more subject/objects.


In these following examples we will use hablar to spotlight how I use these three different mnemonics.

  • Habla a mí [“He speaks to me.”; the speaking action transitions from he to me, so hablar is being used in a transitive manner here.]


  • Habla cada día.  [“He speaks, every day.”; we have no idea whether his speaking effects anything because there is no flow of influence, he just is speaking, so hablar is being used in an intransitive manner here.]


  • Nos hablamos  [“We speak (to one another).”; the action here is reciprocal because the action is being reflected back and forth between two or more subject/objects, and its pronominal use is indicated by a preceding pronoun (or an attached one) such as nos, therefore, hablar is being used here in a pronominal manner.]


On a side note, hablar does not have a strictly reflexive use. If you were saying that you were talking to yourself, me habla, it would actually be considered reciprocal. A mutual conversation with yourself as it were.

*Cue crazy jokes*


¿Es este claro? I hope so.


My goal here has been to help clear up some of the confusion around some grammatical terms relating to verbs, the above three in particular, this should in turn make future learning much less stressful.

Thank you for reading this and as always…


¡Feliz aprendizaje!






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