The simple present is a tense we use in Spanish to talk about routines and to refer to things that are always true, such as scientific facts. But did you know we can also use it to refer to the past or to the future? I bet you’re intrigued now — read on to find out more!
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For review of grammar terms used in the article, make sure to check out the Unpacking the grammar section at the end of the post.
Main uses of the simple present in Spanish
The simple present in Spanish can be used for four very specific purposes. Let’s see each of them below.
- To talk about universal truths or general facts
Do you like science? If you’ve read science books, you might notice they use the simple present all the time, especially when they refer to things that are always true:
El agua hierve a 100 grados Celsius.
Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius.
- To talk about what we do frequently
When we talk about daily routines, the simple present comes in handy. Use it with frequency adverbs and other present time markers:
Siempre tomo café sin azúcar.
I always drink coffee without sugar.
- To ask for or give information about the present
Do you want to know general information about your friends, for example what they like or where they live? Use the simple present as well!
Nosotros vivimos en la Avenida San Martín.
We live on San Martín Avenue.
- To describe actions that are happening at the moment of speaking
Finally, did you know that you can use the simple present to refer to actions happening now?
Busco mis gafas. ¿Las has visto?
I’m looking for my glasses. Have you seen them?
¿Qué haces? –Veo la tele.
What are you doing? -I’m watching TV.
As you can see, the simple present in Spanish can sometimes be equivalent to the present continuous (also called present progressive) in English (to be + verb ending in -ing).
Estoy buscando mis gafas. ¿Las has visto?
I’m looking for my glasses. Have you seen them?
The simple present to refer to the future
- To talk about the near future when something is planned or scheduled
Imagine you’re going to a concert with your friends: everything is ready and you have the tickets. Since this is a scheduled event, you can refer to it with the simple present:
Mañana vamos al concierto a las ocho.
Tomorrow we’re going to the concert at 8.
- To talk about decisions made, at the moment of speaking, about the immediate future
If you make a decision about the immediate future (for example, offering to help someone), the simple present is the best choice:
Tienes muchas bolsas, te ayudo.
You have so many bags, I’ll help you.
- To make predictions about something we’re certain will happen
So, you want to go out for a walk, but you look out the window and it’s very cloudy. You check your weather app and it says it will rain for sure. All the evidence for a rainy day is there! If you’re certain that something will happen, you can also use the simple present:
Hay muchas nubes. Seguro llueve más tarde.
There are many clouds. Surely it will rain later.
Would it be wrong to say, “Seguro va a llover más tarde”? Absolutely not! Remember, when we’re making predictions based on facts and evidence, we can use the future tense with ir a + verb (something like the “going-to” future in English).
- To indicate something that’s about to happen
Finally, we can use the simple present in Spanish with the phrases estar por and estar a punto de, which mean “to be about to do something.” If you want to use any of these expressions, you need to add a verb in the infinitive:
Estamos a punto de servir la cena.
We’re about to serve dinner.
Do you want to learn some expressions you can use in the simple present to indicate the future? Then don’t miss this list we have for you!
For more on how to use the verb “estar” in Spanish, check out our post on ser and estar!
The simple present to refer to the past
- Simple present + desde + date
Julián vive con su abuela desde abril del año pasado.
Julián has lived with his grandmother since April last year.
- Simple present + desde hace + period of time
This combo is useful if you want to emphasize the duration of an action that continues in the present:
Estudio español desde hace dos años.
I have been studying Spanish for two years.
- hace + period of time + que + simple present
Finally, use this phrase to indicate when the last time an event occurred was:
Hace dos años que no voy a Colombia.
I haven’t been to Colombia in two years.
In this last example, note that I want to say that the last time I went to Colombia was two years ago. I use the simple present to emphasize that I still haven’t traveled back there.
While in Spanish we can use the simple present to refer to actions that started in the past but continue in the present, in English, this is equivalent to the present perfect simple (e.g., have studied) or continuous (e.g., have been studying). Did you notice this in the translations for the examples above?
- Acabar de + infinitive
Acabamos de llegar del mercado.
We have just arrived from the market.
Other uses of the simple present in Spanish
- Making suggestions or invitations
¿Pedimos una pizza?
Should we order a pizza?
¿Qué tal si pedimos una pizza?
What if we order a pizza?
¿Por qué no pedimos una pizza?
Why don’t we order a pizza?
- Asking for an opinion or advice
You’re not sure about something and want to ask your friend for advice? Say no more! By asking a question with the simple present, you’ll be just fine!
¿Me corto el pelo o lo dejo largo?
Should I cut my hair or leave it long?
- Offering help
You can also use the simple present in question form to offer help:
¿Te abro la puerta?
Let me open the door for you.
- Asking for a favor
As you’ve seen so far, the simple present in question form is useful for many things. Another purpose for it is asking for a favor:
¿Me ayudas con la tarea de español?
Can you help me with the Spanish homework?
- Giving instructions
Use the simple present to give instructions with words like primero (first) or luego (then):
Para hacer café primero hierves el agua, luego la viertes sobre el café y después lo dejas reposar.
To make coffee, first you boil water, then you pour it on the coffee, and later you let it settle.
- Expressing orders or commands
Similarly to giving instructions, you can also use the simple present when expressing orders or commands. Think of it as an alternative to the imperative, only with a lot more emphasis and strength!
Ya mismo te sientas y terminas tu tarea.
Sit down and finish your homework right now.
- Possible conditions with si (if)
Similar to English, in Spanish, it’s possible to use the simple present in sentences starting with si (if) that express a possible condition:
Si llego temprano, vemos la película.
If I arrive early, we’ll watch the movie.
- Talking about the historical present
In Spanish, it’s possible to use the simple present to describe historical events. This is called the historical present and, as you can imagine, historians love it because it helps them make history entertaining:
El 12 de octubre de 1492 Colón llega a lo que hoy conocemos como Bahamas.
On October 12, 1492 Columbus arrived in what we know today as the Bahamas.
In English, the historical present can sometimes be used to create an effect of immediacy in fictional narratives. But when talking about history, English uses the past tense. In Spanish, however, the historical present is not only used in narratives, but also to describe historical events and even in colloquial language to bring a story to life!
Llego a la fiesta y veo a mi hermano en la puerta. ¡Qué sorpresa!
I arrive at the party and I see my brother at the door. What a surprise!
Forming the simple present in Spanish
Questions in the simple present in Spanish
As you may have noticed, many of the uses explained above require questions. To ask a yes or no question in Spanish, you simply use the same structure you would use for a regular sentence, but you’ll raise your intonation at the end.
Tienes mascotas. You have pets.
¿Tienes mascotas? Do you have any pets?
⤷ Raise the pitch of your voice at the end of the question.
For questions that request more information other than yes/no, you simply add the question word in front of the verb. For example:
¿Dónde vive tu hermana? Where does your sister live?
Did you notice we don’t have any equivalent word for the auxiliary verbs “do” or “does” in Spanish? For questions in the simple present in Spanish, the main verb is more than enough.
Want to learn more about interrogative words in Spanish? Check out our post!
How to form negative sentences
Notice that because Spanish doesn’t use an equivalent to “do” or “does” like English, when forming negative sentences in Spanish you simply place the word no in front of the verb. Easy, right?
No tengo mascotas. I don’t have pets.
Mi hermana no vive en Cartagena. My sister doesn’t live in Cartagena.
As you can see, the simple present is a very useful tense in Spanish. There’s just so much you can do with it: not only does it refer to the present, but it’s also useful in some cases to indicate future or past actions/events.
If you want to start putting all you’ve learned into practice, why not check out this Spanish exercise we have for you? Enjoy!
Para ir a la farmacia camine derecho y doble en la calle Junín.
To go to the drugstore, go straight and turn on Junín street.