Spanish irregular verbs

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Spanish verbs are a complex area of Spanish grammar, with many combinations of tenses, aspects and moods (up to fifty conjugated forms per verb). While conjugation rules are relatively straightforward, a large number of verbs are irregular. Among these, some fall into more-or-less defined deviant patterns, while others are uniquely irregular. This article summarizes the common irregular patterns.

As in all Romance languages, many irregularities in Spanish verbs can be retraced to Latin grammar.

Orthographical changes[edit]

Due to the rules of Spanish orthography, some predictable changes are needed to keep the same consonant sound before a/o and e/i. This isn't usually considered as an irregularity. The following examples use the first person plural of the present subjunctive:

  • c/qu: tocar > toquemos, delinquir > delincamos.
  • z/c: gozar > gocemos, vencer > venzamos.
  • g/j: proteger > protejamos. But in verbs ending in -jar, the j is kept before e: mojar > mojemos.
  • g/gu: negar > neguemos.
  • gu/gü: averiguar > averigüemos.

Other predictable changes involve stress marks, i/y alternances and i-dropping, some of which are sometimes considered as irregularities. The examples are several forms of otherwise regular preterites:

  • Stress mark on stressed i after a/e/o: caer > caímos, leer > leímos, oír > oímos.
  • Stress mark not used in monosyllabic forms: liar > lie, lio; ver > vi, vio. But you can also write lié and lió, if you pronounce these forms as bisyllabic (which would not be correct with vio).
  • Unstressed i is written y between vowels: caer > cayó, cayeron.
  • Unstressed i is dropped between ll/ñ and a vowel: bullir > bulló (not *bullió"), tañer > tañó.

Stem-vowel changes[edit]

There are two kinds of changes that can affect stem vowels of some Spanish verbs: diphthongization and vowel raising. Both changes affect -e- or -o- in the last (or only) syllable of a verb stem. Diphthongization changes -e- to -ie-, and -o- to -ue-. Vowel raising changes the mid vowels -e- and -o- to the corresponding high vowels: -i- and -u- respectively. Some verbs, in their various forms, can exhibit both kinds of changes (e.g. sentir, siente, sintió; dormir, duerme, durmió).

Diphthongization[edit]

Some verbs with -e- or -o- in their stem are inherently diphthongizing, while others are not: their identities must be learned individually. In a diphthongizing verb, the change turns -e- into -ie- and -o- into -ue- when the syllable in question is stressed, which in effect happens only in the singular persons and third-person plural of the present indicative and present subjunctive, and in the imperative (all other tenses and forms are stressed on their endings, not their stems). Note that the dictionary form always has the vowel, not the diphthong, since, in the infinitive form, the stress is on the ending, not the stem. Exceptionally, the -u- of jugar and the -i- of adquirir also are subject to diphthongization (juega, etc.; adquiere, etc.).

Note also that, when word-initial, *ie- is written ye- (errar > yerro) and *ue- is written hue- (oler > huelo, desosar (des-osar) > deshueso). Also, the -ue- diphthong is logically written -üe- after g: avergonzar > avergüenzo.

The following examples show that all three conjugations (-ar, -er, and -ir verbs) include some diphthongizing verbs (only some tenses and persons are shown, for contrasting purposes):

Present indicative[edit]

Verbs Yo Vos Él / Ella / Usted Nosotros / Nosotras Vosotros / Vosotras Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes
pensar pienso piensas pensás piensa pensamos pensáis piensan
contar cuento cuentas contás cuenta contamos contáis cuentan
perder pierdo pierdes perdés pierde perdemos perdéis pierden
moler muelo mueles molés muele molemos moléis muelen
oler huelo hueles olés huele olemos oléis huelen
sentir siento sientes sentís siente sentimos sentís sienten
dormir duermo duermes dormís duerme dormimos dormís duermen

Present subjunctive[edit]

Verbs Yo Vos (*) Él / Ella / Usted Nosotros / Nosotras Vosotros / Vosotras Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes
pensar piense pienses pienses / pensés piense pensemos penséis piensen
contar cuente cuentes cuentes / contés cuente contemos contéis cuenten
perder pierda pierdas pierdas / perdás pierda perdamos perdáis pierdan
moler muela muelas muelas / molás muela molamos moláis muelan
oler huela huelas huelas / olás huela olamos oláis huelan
sentir sienta sientas sientas / sintás sienta sintamos sintáis sientan
dormir duerma duermas duermas / durmás duerma durmamos durmáis duerman

(*) In Central America pensés, contés, etc. are used,[1] but Spanish Royal Academy prescribes pienses, cuentes, etc, according to Rioplatense Spanish.

Imperative[edit]

Verbs Vos Vosotros / Vosotras Usted
pensar piensa pensá pensad piense
contar cuenta contá contad cuente
perder pierde perdé perded pierda
moler muele mo moled muela
oler huele o oled huela
sentir siente sentí sentid sienta
dormir duerme dormí dormid duerma

Note that sentir and dormir also undergo vowel raising. Additional diphthongizing verbs include acordar(se), divertir(se), doler, empezar, encontrar, entender, llover, morir, mostrar, mover, poder, probar, querer, recordar, sentar(se), tener, venir, volar, and volver.

Many verbs with -e- or -o- in the root do not alternate. Common non-diphthongizing verbs include acercar(se), beber, comer, comprar, conocer, correr, creer, deber, dejar, entrar, esperar, lamentar, llegar, llevar, meter, parecer, poner, prometer, quedar, regresar, responder, suceder, temer, and tomar.

Less frequent verbs of this kind are often a source of mistakes for children learning to speak, and also for some adults:

  • rebosaryo *rebueso, él *rebuesa... instead of yo reboso, él rebosa...

Vowel raising[edit]

Vowel raising appears only in verbs of the third conjugation (-ir verbs), and in this group it affects dormir, morir, podrir (alternative for the more common pudrir) and nearly all verbs which have -e- as their last stem vowel (e.g. sentir, repetir); exceptions include cernir, discernir and concernir (all three diphthongizing).

Affected forms[edit]

The forms that exhibit the change can be described negatively as those in which the stem vowel is not diphthongized and the ending does not contain stressed /í/[2] or the /ir/ sequence. In another words, vowel raising affects the forms whose endings do not contain an i which is not part of a diphthong, taking into account that diphthongizing overrides vowel raising.

In effect, for diphthongizing verbs (e.g. sentir, dormir), the vowel-raising forms are:

  • the first and second persons plural of the present subjunctive (sintamos, sintáis, durmamos, durmáis);
  • the gerund (sintiendo, durmiendo);
  • the third person singular and plural of the preterite (sintió, sintieron, durmió, durmieron);
  • all forms of the imperfect subjunctive (sintiera/sintiese..., durmiera/durmiese...) and of the future subjunctive (sintiere..., durmiere...).

For non-diphthongizing verbs (e.g. pedir) it affects these same forms (pidamos, pidáis, pidiendo, pidió, pidieron, pidiera...), plus:

  • in the present indicative, all singular forms and the third-person plural (pido, pides, pide, piden);
  • the remaining forms of the present subjunctive (pida, pidas, pidan);
  • the form of the imperative (pide).

The forms which do not undergo either diphthongizing or vowel raising are:

  • the first- and second-person plural of the present indicative (sentimos, sentís), because these forms have stressed /í/ in their endings.
  • the infinitive (sentir), past participle (sentido), imperfect indicative (sentía...) and the vos and vosotros/as forms of the imperative (sentí, sentid), for the same reason.
  • the future (sentiré...) and conditional (sentiría...), whose endings contain the /ir/ sequence.

Affected verbs[edit]

Verbs which are diphthongizing and vowel-raising include:

  • those ending in -entir (sentir, mentir, arrepentirse...) and -ertir (convertir, advertir...);
  • those ending in -erir (herir, requerir, preferir, digerir...), except aterir;
  • venir and derived verbs (convenir, prevenir...) in the gerund (viniendo...), as the rest of forms undergo other overriding irregularities.
  • dormir and morir.

The diphthongizing -er verb poder exceptionally undergoes vowel rising in the gerund (pudiendo), but the first- and second-person plural of the present subjunctive are regular (podamos, podáis).

Non-diphthongizing vowel-rising verbs include:

  • those ending in -edir (medir, pedir, despedir...), -etir (competir, repetir) and -egir (corregir, elegir...; note forms with j before a/o such as corrijo, corrija).
  • those ending in -eír (reír, sonreír, freír, desleír). Double i that would result is simplified (rieron, not *riieron or *riyeron). Note that stressed i in contact with a/e/o must take an acute accent (río, ríe, ría) but monosyllabic forms of the preterite do not have it (rio, riais, but rió and riáis also valid if you pronounce them in two syllables).
  • those ending in -eñir (teñir, ceñir...). Note that unstressed i between ñ and a vowel is dropped (tiñendo, tiñó, tiñeron, tiñera...).
  • decir and derived verbs (bendecir, predecir...), in the forms that do not undergo other overriding irregularities.
  • embestir.
  • podrir. Note that the affected forms are equal to those derived from the more usual infinitive pudrir, which is regular except in the past participle podrido.

The vowel-raising verb erguir is usually diphthongizing (with ye- forms as yergo...), not-diphthongizing forms are however valid but rare (irgo...).

Diphthongs and hiatuses[edit]

Cambio vs. envío[edit]

Diphthongs in the infinitive may be preserved throughout the conjugation or broken in the forms which are stressed on the stem, depending on whether the i or u in contact with a/e/o take the stress or not. The stressed vowel is marked bold in the examples: cambiar > cambio, but enviar > envío (requiring an acute accent to indicate the resulting hiatus). The Spanish Royal Academy doesn't consider either behaviour as an irregularity, but illustrates each with six "regular" models, one for each possible diphthong in the infinitive: anunciar, averiguar, bailar, causar, peinar and adeudar for diphthong-keeping verbs and enviar, actuar, aislar, aunar, descafeinar and rehusar for diphthong-breaking ones. Remember that the presence of a silent h does not break a diphthong, so a written accent is needed anyway in rehúso.

All verbs ending in -guar are diphthong-keeping, as well as saciar, desairar, restaurar and reinar. Note that two dipththongs are kept in desahuciar > desahucio (again the -h- makes no difference), which thus follows both the anunciar and causar models.

Diphthong-breaking verbs include ahincar, aislar, aunar, aullar, maullar, aupar, aliar, vaciar, contrariar, evaluar, habituar, reunir. The verbs criar, fiar, guiar, liar and piar are also diphthong-breaking (crío, guíe), but when the stress falls on the endings the resulting forms are generally considered as monosyllables and thus written without accent: crie, fie, guiais, lieis.... In spite of that, you can follow the regular accentuation rules if you pronounce these forms as bisyllabic: crié, guiáis...

For the verbs licuar and adecuar both options are valid: adecuo or adecúo.

Note that the ui diphthong in cuidar is kept throughout the conjugation despite the fact of the i getting the stress in forms such as cuido (written without stress mark).

Verbs ending in -uir and -oír[edit]

All verbs ending in -uir (e.g. construir, disminuir, distribuir) add a medial -y- before all endings not starting with i: construyo, construyes, construya... Taking into account that these verbs also undergo the change of unstressed intervocalic i to y (see orthographical changes above), they have many forms containing y.

This also applies to the forms of oír and desoír that do not undergo the -ig- change: oyes, oye, oyen

Again, note that some regular forms of fluir, fruir and huir are written without stress mark if considered monosyllabic, but may bear it if pronounced as bisyllabic: vosotros huis or huís (present), yo hui or huí (preterite).

Note that logically argüir loses the diaeresis before y: arguyo, arguyó...

Other common irregular patterns[edit]

Endings starting with o/a in er/ir verbs[edit]

In er and ir verbs, the first person singular of the present indicative and the whole present subjunctive are the only forms whose endings start with o/a instead of e/i. These two different phonetic environments made Latin forms evolve differently in many verbs, leading to irregularities. Note that:

  • Whenever the first person singular of the present indicative has an irregularity other than diphthongizing, but still ends in -o, the whole present subjunctive shares the same irregularity:
    • hacer > hago, haga...
    • lucir > luzco, luzca...
    • caber > quepo, quepa...
    • ver > veo, vea...; prever > preveo, prevea...
  • When the first person singular of the present indicative does not end in -o, the present subjunctive is also irregular, but in a different way:
    • ser > soy, sea...
    • ir > voy, vaya...
    • haber > he, haya
    • saber > , sepa...

G-verbs[edit]

Before o (in the first person singular of the indicative present tense) and a (that is, in all persons of the present subjunctive), the so-called G-verbs (sometimes "go-verbs" or "yo-go" verbs) add a medial -g- after l and n (also after s in asir), add -ig- when the root ends in a vowel, or substitute -g- for -c-. Note that this change overrides diphthongization (tener, venir) but combines with vowel-raising (decir). Many of these verbs are also irregular in other ways. For example:

salir: yo salgo, tú sales...
valer: yo valgo, tú vales...
poner: yo pongo, tú pones...
tener: yo tengo, tú tienes...
venir: yo vengo , tú vienes...
caer: yo caigo, tú caes...
traer: yo traigo, tú traes...
oír: yo oigo, tú oyes...
hacer: yo hago, tú haces...
decir: yo digo, tú dices...
asir: yo asgo, tú ases...

ZC-verbs[edit]

This group of verbs—which originated in the Latin inchoative verbs but now includes other verbs as well— substitute -zc- for stem-final -c- before o and a. The group includes nearly all verbs ending in -acer (except hacer and derived verbs), -ecer (except mecer), -ocer (except cocer and derived verbs), and -ucir. For example:

nacer: yo nazco, tú naces...
crecer: yo crezco, tú creces...
conocer: yo conozco, tú conoces...
producir: yo produzco, tú produces...

Yacer may alternatively be conjugated with -zc- (yazco), -g- (yago) or a compromise -zg- (yazgo).

Irregular forms in the future, conditional and imperative[edit]

Some -er and -ir verbs (most G-verbs plus haber, saber, poder and querer) also change their stem in the future and conditional tenses. This involves:

  • Just dropping the infinitive e: haberhabré..., sabersabré..., poderpodré..., quererquerré...
  • Dropping the infinitive e/i and padding the resulting *-lr-/*-nr- with a -d-: tenertendré..., ponerpondré..., venirvendré..., valervaldré..., salirsaldré...
  • Dropping the infinitive -ce- or -ec-: hacerharé..., deshacerdesharé..., decirdiré... Predecir, contradecir and desdecir may share this irregularity (prediré...) or, more commonly, use the regular forms (predeciré). For bendecir and maldecir only the regular forms are used (bendeciré...).

Many of these verbs also have shortened imperative forms: tenerten, contenercontén, ponerpon, disponerdispón, venirven, salirsal, hacerhaz, decirdi. However, all verbs derived from decir are regular in this form: bendice, maldice, desdícete, predice, contradice.

Anomalous stems in the preterite and derived tenses[edit]

Some verbs (including most G-verbs) have a completely different stem in the preterite. These stems are very old and often are found in Latin as well. The same irregular stem is also found in the imperfect subjunctive (both in -ra and -se forms) and the future subjunctive. This stems are anomalous also because:

  • they are stressed in the first and third persons singular, ending in unstressed -e and -o respectively (while in all other cases the preterite gets the stress over the suffix).
  • the rest of the endings are the usual for -er/-ir verbs even for the -ar verbs estar and andar.
  • in the verbs with -je preterite (conducir, decir, traer...) unstressed i is dropped between the j and a vowel: ellos trajeron, yo trajera... Note that this doesn't happen with regular or vowel-raising -ger/-jer/-gir/-jir verbs (proteger > protegieron, tejer > tejieron, corregir > corrigieron, crujir > crujieron).

Examples:

estarestuv-: yo estuve, tú/vos estuviste(s), él estuvo..., ellos estuvieron; yo estuviera...
andaranduv-: yo anduve, tú/vos anduviste(s), él anduvo..., ellos anduvieron; yo anduviera...
tenertuv-: yo tuve, tú/vos tuviste(s), él tuvo..., ellos tuvieron; yo tuviera...
haberhub-: yo hube, tú/vos hubiste(s), él hubo..., ellos hubieron; yo hubiera...
cabercup-: yo cupe, tú/vos cupiste(s), él cupo..., ellos cupieron; yo cupiera...
sabersup-: yo supe, tú/vos supiste(s), él supo..., ellos supieron; yo supiera...
venirvin-: yo vine, tú/vos viniste(s), él vino..., ellos vinieron; yo viniera...
poderpud-: yo pude, tú/vos pudiste(s), él pudo..., ellos pudieron; yo pudiera...
ponerpus-: yo puse, tú/vos pusiste(s), él puso..., ellos pusieron; yo pusiera...
hacerhic-/hiz-: yo hice, tú/vos hiciste(s), él hizo..., ellos hicieron; yo hiciera...
reducirreduj-: yo reduje, tu/vos redujiste(s), él redujo.., ellos condujeron; yo condujera...
decirdij-: yo dije, tú/vos dijiste(s), él dijo..., ellos dijeron; yo dijera...

Irregular past participles[edit]

A number of verbs have irregular past participles. This includes verbs which are irregular in many other ways, as poner and decir, but for some other verbs this is their only irregularity (e.g. abrir, romper), while some very irregular verbs (as ser and ir) have regular past participles. Examples:

  • abrirabierto, morirmuerto, volvervuelto, devolverdevuelto...
  • romperroto, escribirescrito...
  • vervisto, preverprevisto, ponerpuesto, componercompuesto...
  • hacerhecho, rehacerrehecho, decirdicho, predecirpredicho (but bendecirbendecido, maldecirmaldecido)...
  • pudrirpodrido.

There are three verbs that have both a regular and an irregular past participle. Both forms may be used when conjugating the compound tenses and the passive voice with the auxiliary verbs haber and ser, but the irregular form is generally the only one used as an adjective:

  • freírhe freído or he frito, but papas fritas.
  • imprimirhe imprimido or he impreso, but papeles impresos.
  • proveerhe proveído or he provisto, una despensa bien provista far more usual than una despensa bien proveída.

Others[edit]

The verbs ser (to be) and ir (to go) both exhibit irregularities in the present, imperfect and preterite forms. Together with ver (to see) and prever (to foresee), they are the only four verbs with irregular imperfect indicative. Their imperative forms are , ve (for both ir and ver, although mirar is more common than ver in commands) and prevé. Their vos imperative forms are , andá (the verb andar replaces ir), ve and prevé.

  Present indicative tense   Imperfect indicative   Preterite
ser ir ver prever ser ir ver prever ser/ir ver prever
yo soy voy veo preveo era iba veía preveía fui vi preví
eres vas ves prevés eras ibas veías preveías fuiste viste previste
vos sois
él, ella es va ve prevé era iba veía preveía fue vio previó
nosotros/as somos vamos vemos prevemos éramos íbamos veíamos preveíamos fuimos vimos previmos
vosotros/as sois vais veis prevéis erais ibais veíais preveíais fuisteis visteis previsteis
ellos/as son van ven prevén eran iban veían preveían fueron vieron previeron

Remember that whenever the preterite is irregular, the imperfect subjunctive (-ra and -se forms) and the dated future subjunctive (-re) share the same irregularity; indeed, these tenses may always be correctly formed by substituting the appropriate endings for the -ron ending of the third person plural preterite: fueron > fuera/fuese,...; fuere....

The verbs dar (to give) and estar (to be) both exhibit irregularities in the present indicative and present subjunctive because their stems cannot be stressed (in dar the stem is just d-, in estar it was originally st-). The form is so written to distinguish it from the preposition de. Both verbs are also irregular in the preterite and derived tenses: dar follows the pattern of regular -er/-ir verbs, while estar has an anomalous preterite stem and follows the corresponding common pattern:

  Present indicative   Present subjunctive   Preterite
dar estar dar estar dar estar
yo doy estoy esté di estuve
tú, vos das estás des estés diste estuviste
él, ella da está esté dio estuvo
nosotros/as damos estamos demos estemos dimos estuvimos
vosotros/as dais estáis deis estéis disteis estuvisteis
ellos/as dan están den estén dieron estuvieron

References[edit]

  1. ^ Diccionario panhispánico de dudas, voseo, section 2.1.2.1.b
  2. ^ Terrell, Tracy D., and Salgués de Cargill, Maruxa, Lingüística aplicada a la enseñanza del español a anglohablantes (New York: Wiley, 1979), p. 97.

External links[edit]