How to Speak Spanish Lesson
Stem-Changing Verbs in the Present Tense
Spanish grammar is wonderfully logical; even the
occasional exception to the rules follows a general pattern. Case in
point: stem-changing (also known as radical-changing) verbs.
In order to understand this concept, it is first
necessary to define “stem.” The stem of the verb is the root, the part
that, unlike the ending, does not change when the verb is conjugated.
It is the part of the infinitive that stays when the –ar, -er or –ir
ending is changed. In the verb hablar (to speak/talk), habl- is
nostros hablamos (we speak)
ellos hablan (they speak)
Hablar is a regular –ar verb, and so the
stem does not change. Watch what happens to the stem-changing –ar verb
jugar (to play (a game, a sport)):
nosotros jugamos (we play)
ellos juegan (they play)
Here’s another stem-changing –ar verb, cerrar
nosotros cerramos (we close)
ellos cierran (they close)
In the case of jugar, the u in the
stem became ue in four of the conjugations (the yo, tú, él and
ellos forms). In the case of cerrar, the e became ie
in the same four conjugations. The third type of stem change is o to ue.
I’ll bet you can predict what happens to the stem-changing verb
recordar (to remember/recall, or record):
(I remember) nosotros
recordamos (we remember)
ellos recuerdan (they remember)
The tricky part about stem-changing verbs is that
there are two parts of the verb to conjugate: the ending and the middle,
or stem. Fortunately, most stem-changing verbs are quite predictable;
the –ar, -er and –ir endings remain the same as in any regular verb, and
only the stem changes in all but the nosotros and vosotros forms. (In
Latin America, vosotros is not widely used, but you’ll still run into it
in written language, including the Bible.) There are, as we have seen,
three main stem changes. Here are some verbs that follow the patterns
we’ve seen so far:
to ie stem change
to start, begin
defender to defend
to start, begin
preferir to prefer
querer to want
**These two have irregular yo forms:
yo tengo, yo vengo. The other forms follow the rules for the
regular e to ie stem change.
to ue stem change
to have lunch
to count, to tell
costar to cost
to return, give back
to meet, find
to wrap, envelop
mover to move
to be able (to do something)
to prove, to try
to return, come back
Let’s try it. Fill in the blanks with
the correct form of the verb in parentheses—then, translate the
sentences to English. Answers at the bottom:
Yo ____________________ hambre. ¿Tú ___________________ comer?
Sí. ¿Qué restaurante _____________________ tú? (preferir)
Mi hermano _________________________ en Pollo Loco muchas veces.
Ah, sí, yo __________________________ que le gusta allí. Está
Está bueno, y la comida no ______________________ mucho. Pero
primero vamos a la biblioteca. (costar)
¿ ___________________________ (tú) un libro? (devolver)
Sí, ahora misma. Después nosotros __________________________ a
¡Antes que yo _________________________ de hambre! (morir)
tengo, quieres. I’m hungry. Do you want to eat?
prefieres. Yes. What restaurant do you prefer?
almuerza. My brother often has lunch at Pollo Loco.
recuerdo. Oh yes, I remember that he likes it there. Okay.
cuesta. It’s good, and the food doesn’t cost much. But first
let’s go to the library.
Devuelves. Are you returning a book?
empezamos. Yes, right now. Then we can start to eat.
muero. Before I die of hunger!
We hope that you enjoyed this online Spanish
lesson. You can learn more about
Learning Spanish Like Crazy
Level 1 by
clicking here. Or
click here for
Learning Spanish Like Crazy Nivel Dos.