Spanish Grammar: Irregular Verbs – Basics

Spanish Grammar: Irregular Verbs - Basics

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Spanish Grammar: Irregular Verbs – Basics
gramática española: verbos irregulares – los básicos

  • Indicates action in a sentence.
  • Attribute actions to someone or something.

Study

Infinitive verbs are verbs that are unchanged. They are in their most basic form, and can be adapted in many different ways. (An infinite number of ways, so to speak.)

Infinitive verbs in Spanish will always end with AR, ER, or IR.

Infinitive verbs, in English, always mean to do … (action). For example: to run, to read, to speak, to live, to eat, to see, to hear, to work, to study …

AR verbs are all infinitive verbs that end with the letters –AR. Besides the –AR ending, there really is no kind of pattern to why certain verbs are –AR verbs.

AYUDAR : To help

CAMINAR : To walk

CANTAR : To sing

The system of adapting infinitive verbs to different people, places, and things is called verb conjugation.

When we conjugate verbs, we team them up with different Subject Pronouns to attach actions to people, places or things. Like from TO SPEAK to HE SPEAKS.

When we conjugate verbs, we DROP the –AR ending, and then reattach a NEW ENDING that lets us know who or what is acting or being acted upon.

Subject Pronoun + New Ending = Correctly Conjugated Verb!

IRREGULAR VERBS are verbs that not only change the ending during conjugation, but also need to change the root or stem (the beginning part of the word) as well. That means there are spelling changes in the beginning and ending of the verb!

Why are some verbs regular and others irregular?

This is mostly due to spelling and pronunciation rules that Spanish must follow in order to work correctly. When a verb conjugation doesn’t end up following those spelling rules, changes in the stem/root must take place in order to help the verb work right again.

These spelling and pronunciation rules can be very complicated, and are usually reserved for advanced linguistics / phonetics students.

You may be familiar with some irregular verbs already.

SER : To be

Yo SOY : I am

Notice how the ending would normally end in just “o”, but there’s a “y” there too! This is an example of just one kind of spelling change that needs to happen to make the SER conjugation work correctly.

ESTAR : To be

Yo ESTOY : I am

Notice how the ending would normally end in just “o”, but there’s a “y” there too! This is an example of just another kind of spelling change that needs to happen to make the ESTAR conjugation work correctly.

TENER : To have

Yo TENGO : I have

Notice how the ending would normally end in just “o”, but there’s a “g” there too! This is an example of just another kind of spelling change that needs to happen to make the TENER conjugation work correctly.

tú TIENES : You have (fam.)

We saw a change in the “yo” form of TENER, now we see a completely different change in the “tú” form as well. Note how this change is even different from the “yo” form. So we can see different spelling changes within forms of the same verb!

Nosotros TENEMOS : We have

Here is a case where the “nosotros” form stays in a regular form while the other forms like TENGO and TIENES are irregular. Verbs can have regular and irregular forms in the same tense! Be careful!

So, what do we do?

Method #1: Memorize.

While the most time consuming and difficult, in the beginning you’ll just need to memorize which verbs are regular and which verbs are irregular (or have some irregular forms). Writing the verb conjugations out on paper and practicing them out loud can help you learn faster!

Method #2: Categorize.

Most Spanish textbooks like to do this as soon as possible. You’ll see that certain verbs all seem to change their roots/stems in the same way.

You’ll see:

E –> I
E –> IE
O –> U
O –> UE

And many more!

These are great once you begin to learn many different verbs that you can organize into groups. But you’ve got to learn all of those infinitive verbs first!

There are also verbs that are regular in the present tense, but irregular in other tenses (past, future, etc.) Learning these verbs over time will help you from feeling overwhelmed. Take it one verb at a time!

Adapt

¿Qué van a hacer?
What are they going to do?

¿De dónde es usted?
Where are you (formal) from?

¿Quiénes son ellos?
Who are they?

¿Cómo estás tú?
How are you (familiar)?

¿Cuándo se despierta en la mañana?
When do you wake up in the morning?

¿Cuándo se duerme usted por la noche?
When do you sleep at night?

¿Cuántos libros tiene usted?
How many books do you have?

¿Cuántos estudiantes hay en la clase?
How many students are in the class?

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