I go, you go
Maybe it is plain traditional or maybe it’s the way our learning process has been institutionalized over the years, but the very first tense we hit while learning Spanish conjugations often happens to be present indicative. This is the tense that most closely corresponds to the simple present tense of English and roughly describes habitual or repetitive actions and events, e.g., “I go”, “they eat”, etc.
Here’s how the verb, ir conjugates in this tense:
voy (I go)
vas (you go; familiar)
va (he/she/it goes; also, you go in the non-familiar sense)
vamos (we go)
van (they go, you all go)
|Vamos a la escuela|
Photo credit: Ratha Grimes licensed CC BY 2.0
Since you use this form with the first person singular, which is yo (I), you have a yo in voy although it’s in reverse (“oy”). The only thing this trick won’t help you with is remembering that all forms of ir in this tense start with the letter, “v”. Another visual aid is to imagine yourself as a small boy who goes to school everyday. Note that the words, voy and “boy” sound almost exactly the same.
Now that you are capable of recalling voy, it’s not difficult to recall the rest of the table if you realize that the endings in this tense are pretty much standard and follow the regular pattern, albeit, with the “v” root.
I went, you went
Here’s another tense where the entire conjugated set seems utterly unrelated to the root verb. For instance, the first person singular in this tense is fui (I went) which bears hardly any resemblance with the original verb, ir! Could a little bit of history help us here? Let’s see.
Latin has a word, fugere (to flee) which doesn’t exactly mean the same as the ir of Spanish. But given that both “flee” and “go” have the same innate sense of movement away from one’s original place, the correlation isn’t completely uncanny. It is this Latin verb that gave Spanish its fui. Before we start exploring the mnemonics, let’s first see how the verb conjugates in this tense which, by the way, is officially known as the preterite form:
fui (I went)
fuiste (you went; familiar)
fue (he/she/it went; also, you went in the non-familiar sense)
fuimos (we went)
fueron (they went, you all went)
Now, the question is, how to retain all of this. Let’s start with fui. We have already seen how etymology hints a correlation with the English verb, “to flee” via Latin which should be good enough to explain the “f” root in the entire table. Another trick is to remember that because this form is used with the first person singular pronoun, the “I” form, fui ends in an “i”. Easy? Extend this word to form the plural conjugation as fuimos. We are, in all likelyhood, already familiar with -mos being a standard ending associated with the “we” form.
Likewise, because both “he” and “she” (the third person singular pronouns) end in “e”, the word to be used with them also ends in an “e”, i.e., fue. And it is this word that extends to form the plural in the third person, fueron. We are already familiar with -on as a standard ending in the “they” form, aren’t we?
Finally, the -te ending in fuiste should give you enough hint of its usage in the familiar second person form, the tu form.
We used to go
Grammar calls this the imperfect tense. To us, this is the way we should conjugate a Spanish verb when we are talking about repetitive, habitual, or continuous event in the past. We have also reviewed a Mexican song to help you easily grasp the past tense; it discusses the imperfect a little more at length.
Here’s how we conjugate ir in the imperfect tense:
iba (I used to go)
ibas (you used to go; familiar form)
iba (he/she/it used to go; also you used to go in the non-familiar sense)
íbamos (we used to go)
iban (they used to go)
If you look closely enough, you’d soon realize that these conjugations follow more or less a familiar pattern. the endings in ibas, íbamos, and iban are all well known to us if we have seen regular verbs conjugating in the present tense. The only two things you need to memorize here are the ib- root and the fact that the forms for the first person singular and the third person singular are exactly the same, iba.
The mnemonic I used while learning the root is a stupid visualization that I used to be a good boy who used to go to school everyday without fail. As for the third person singular form being the same as the first person singular one, it’s just one fewer thing to remember and shouldn’t call for any mnemonic innovation in order to stay in your memory.