When it comes to talking about habits, the Spanish verb soler is incredibly important.
While you can use words like normalmente or regularmente to talk about things you ‘usually’ do, in many instances your Spanish will sound more natural if you use a sentence with soler instead.
In this article, you’ll learn how to use the verb soler to talk about habits and routines including how to talk about your habits in the present and past tenses, plus a few of the important nuances around using this common Spanish verb.
Soler – to tend to / usually
Soler doesn’t have a good equivalent verb in English.
But, you can think of soler to mean ‘to tend to’ or ‘to be accustomed to’.
Also, whenever you have an English sentence with ‘normally’, ‘usually’, or ‘generally’, you can use soler as the translation of these words into Spanish.
English: I usually eat at 7 pm.
Español: Suelo comer a las 7 de la tarde.
While there are equivalent Spanish words for ‘normally’ and ‘usually’:
English: normally / usually.
If you review the frequency occurrence of these words in Spanish, you’ll find that soler occurs much more frequently than ‘generalmente’ and ‘normalmente’.
So, this means that when you want to translate ‘normally’ or ‘generally’ into Spanish, more often than not you should go for a sentence with soler.
Conjugations of soler
When it comes to conjugating the verb soler you have less to learn than other Spanish verbs.
This is because soler behaves as a ‘verbo defectivo’ (a defective verb). This simply means we don’t need to use soler in all Spanish verb forms.
For example, you’ll (almost) never need soler in the future tense, conditional tense, and or even the past simple tense.
Moreover, since soler is referring to habitual actions, you only really need to describe these actions in the present and the past imperfect. This is because it doesn’t make sense to talk about regular routines that haven’t yet been formed in the future.
So, here are the conjugations of soler that you’ll need to know:
|Él / Ella||Suele||Solía|
- Note, of course, you’ll only need the vosotros form if you are interested in learning the Spanish of Spain.
How to use soler in a Spanish sentence
When you want to use soler, there is really only one construction to keep in mind:
Soler + (infinitivo)
This means, when you form a Spanish sentence with soler, you’ll only ever need a conjugation of soler followed by a verb in infinitive form.
Here are some examples:
English: I usually get up late on the weekends.
Español: Suelo levantarme tarde los fines de semana.
English: We generally eat as a family during the week.
Español: Solemos comer en familia entre semana.
English: As a child, I normally used to spend vacations in the mountains.
Español: De pequeño, solía pasar las vacaciones en las montañas.
‘Solía + infinitivo’ vs past imperfect
A really common question that comes up from the students in our Spanish School is:
Which is the best translation of ‘I used to go…’:
2. Solía ir…
In Spanish, to talk about habitual actions in the past, you can use:
- A past imperfect conjugation of a given verb, or
- Soler conjugated in the past imperfect plus the given verb in infinitive form.
So, which do you use and when?
To start, often these phrases are interchangeable. But, there are a few situations where you should go for one over the other.
To understand the nuances, let’s take a close look at the following English sentence:
English: When I was young, I used to go to the beach with my brother.
To work out the best way to translate this sentence into Spanish, there are two questions you need to ask yourself:
- Does it still happen now? and
- Is frequency important to the sentence?
In answer to the first question, if the old habit no longer happens at all, then you should use ‘soler + infinitivo‘. For example:
English: When I was young, I used to go to the beach with my brother. But now he lives overseas.
Español: Cuando era joven, solía ir a la playa con mi hermano. Pero ahora vive en el extranjero.
This is an interesting quirk of soler. When you conjugate soler in the past (‘solía ir…‘), a Spanish native will immediately assume that the old habit or routine you are referring to no longer happens.
In contrast, if the old habit still happens, then you should use the verb conjugated in the past imperfect. For example:
English: When I was young, I used to go to the beach with my brother a lot. But now we go once per year.
Español: Cuando era joven, iba mucho a la playa con mi hermano. Pero ahora vamos una vez al año.
In answer to the second question, if you want to include frequency in the sentence, then you should go with the past imperfect. For example:
English: When I was young, I often used to go to the beach with my brother.
Español: Cuando era joven, iba a la playa con mi hermano con frecuencia.
In contrast, keeping in mind that soler can mean ‘usually’ or ‘normally’, you can simply use ‘soler + infinitivo‘ because this phrase already includes an implied regularity. For example:
English: When I was young, I usually used to go to the beach with my brother on the weekends.
Español: Cuando era joven, solía ir a la playa con mi hermano los fines de semana.
To close out this section, and to reiterate, when it comes to habitual actions in the past, the choice between using ‘solía + infinitivo’ or a verb conjugated in the past imperfect tense is not a big deal. In a lot of situations, both options are perfectly acceptable.
I hope you enjoyed this article on how to use soler.
Which use of soler from this post are you most excited to try?
Are you going to substitute normalmente for a sentence with soler? Are you going to use solía + infinitivo?
Or are you going to try to continue to use the past imperfect tense?