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How common are -ar verbs, versus -er verbs, and -ir verbs, as defined by their usage? By this, I mean something like "An average spoken conversation has approximately 80% of its verbs use -ar verbs, 15% -er, and 5% -ir".

I'd like to know because when I study conjugations, I first focus on -ar, and then do -er and -ir later on, and I'd like to know whether I'm focusing on the most important category of verbs first.

  • Interesting question. Oddly, I couldn't find the answer with google. I do want to give you a tip though. Once you've got the pattern for the present tense endings down, you can effortlessly extend this to the -er and -ir verbs. All you have to do is replace 'a' with 'e'. – aparente001 Sep 14 '19 at 4:55
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Figures of usage aren't easy to find, but one study, for example, cites the Diccionario de Frecuencias de Justicia as listing 1563 verbs, which are distributed as follows:

  • Class 1 (-ar): 1211 verbs (77.5%)
  • Class 2 (-er): 178 verbs (11.4%)
  • Class 3 (-ir): 169 verbs (10.8%)

(The sum of the percentages doesn't add up to 100% because of rounding.) This distribution seems to have existed for a long time. The numbers are about what I had gathered they should be from previous reading on the matter.

The -ar class is special and probably is treated as special for students because

  • It's by far the class of most verbs that you'll encounter;
  • It's the class with the least amount of irregular verbs;
  • It's the most productive verb class, meaning most new verbs in Spanish are only coined in this class.¹

I understand the numbers above are verb counts, not usage frequencies. In actual usage, of course, you'll find many instances of verbs of Class 2 and 3 like ser, haber, ir, venir, etc. that might shift the figures a lot.


¹ As pointed out in a comment, the suffix -ecer is regularly used to coin new verbs out of adjectives (often together with the prefixes a- or en-), so the -er class is also productive.

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  • 2
    -er is technically productive too, thanks to the -ecer inchoative ending that can be applied to virtually all adjectives. – user0721090601 Sep 14 '19 at 15:31
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Using Enclave RAE I could get lists of verbs from dictionary of the the Royal Spanish Academy, the problem was that each verb was listed as many times as the number of meanings it has. After downloading the result lists and processing them by removing the duplicated entries via Notepad++ I could come up with the following numbers:

  • Verbs ending in -ar: 10448 (88.3%, from ababillarse to zuzar)
  • Verbs ending in -er: 670 (5.7%, from abastecer to yuxtaponer)
  • Verbs ending in -ir: 717 (6.0%, from abatir to zurrir)

Note that these are the total numbers of verbs for each ending registered in the dictionary, so the lists include obsolete verbs, verbs that are only used in some regions, and so on.

So yes, the first category of verbs, the ones ending in -ar, comprises the vast majority of the total of verbs. Nonetheless, in the colloquial language only a selected group of these verbs are used, which may affect the percentages, but the -ar verbs will still be the main group.

You can download the lists of verbs from my shared folder for Spanish Language.

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