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More irregular present tense forms: stem-changing verbs

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More Irregular Present Tense Forms: Stem-Changing Verbs

Irregular Spanish Present Tense forms are not limited to the yo form only. There are dozens of verbs that change their stems, when conjugated in the Present Tense, and all of them fall into several categories. Unfortunately, there is neither an immediate reason for the irregularity, nor any special markers to single out the verbs that have irregular Present Tense forms. While they may seem too complicated at first, the exceptions are easily memorable, and if you practice them regularly, you’ll soon find no difficulty in building the correct forms for all persons and numbers.

Stem-Changing Present Tense Verbs

There are 2 details though that will help you systematize all exceptions:

  • Only the vowel in the last syllable of the stem undergoes a change,
  • The change takes place in the yo, tu, el/ella/usted, and ellos/ellas/ustedes forms. Nosotros and vosotros forms have the same vowel as the infinitive.

You may be wondering what happens with single-syllable stems? The answer is simple: the only syllable will also be the last!

To remember WHICH forms are irregular, use this quick memo: picture the conjugation as a table with 2 columns (one for singular forms, the other for plural ones) and 3 rows (1st, 2nd, and 3rd persons). Now mentally highlight the yo, tu, el/ella/usted, and ellos/ellas/ustedes forms. Can you see the L shape? Think of this L whenever you need to remember which Present Tense forms require a stem vowel change.  

Which stem vowels change in the Present Tense forms

Look for the verbs that have one of the following vowels in the final syllable of their stem:

  • e
  • o
  • i
  • u

They will change as follows:

  • e -> ie
  • e -> i
  • o -> ue
  • i -> ie
  • u -> ue

Please note that the vowel E can change in two different ways!

Let’s see the conjugations tables for each instance and examine the changes in detail!

Verbs with -E- that changes to -IE-

This is the most common type of vowel change.

See an example of how the vowel in the final syllable of the stem changes from form to form:

Learn the Present Tense forms of irregular e-ie stem-changing verbs

At the bottom of this article, you will find a big table with lists of the most frequently used Spanish verbs with stem vowel changes in the Present Tense.

Please note also that the e->ie stem-changing verbs venir (to come) and tener (to have) have irregular yo forms, in addition to all the stem vowel changes they undergo:

  • yo vengo
  • yo tengo

You can learn more about the verbs with irregular Present Tense yo forms here.

Verbs with -O- that changes to -UE-

Some verbs that have the letter O in the final syllable of their stems undergo a stem vowel change to UE in the process of conjugation.

Here’s an example of what happens in every Present Tense form of a verb of this type:

Learn the Present Tense forms of irregular o-ue stem-changing verbs

You can find some more common stem-changing verbs with the o->ue vowel change in the big table below.

Please be especially careful with the Spanish verb for “to smell” – oler. The conjugation of this one involves some tricks with the letter h that you’d better learn by heart:

Learn the Present Tense forms of irregular stem-changing verb oler (to smell)

Verbs with -E- that changes to -I-

There are not many commonly used verbs in this group, but the principle of their conjugation still should be memorized. Use the example below:

Learn the Present Tense forms of irregular e-i stem-changing verbs

A list of the most frequently used verbs with the e->i type of stem vowel change is waiting for you below.

Please note: some of the verbs from this list (namely: seguir, conseguir, perseguir, corregir, decir, and elegir) also have irregular yo forms in the Present Tense. You can learn more about them here.

The verbs reírse and sonreírse are also tricky: the vowel e in their stem change to i, but it merges with the í that follows and all Present Tense forms of both verbs have an accented í: yo (son)río, tu (son)ríes, el (son)ríe, nosotros (son)reímos, vosotros (son)reís, ellos (son)ríen.

Verbs with -I- that changes to -IE-

This group only includes two frequently used verbs, and both have the same stem. They are adquirir (to acquire) and inquirer (to inquire). Rely on the conjugation table to learn how to change their Present Tense forms:

Learn the Present Tense forms of irregular i-ie stem-changing verbs

Verbs with -U- that changes to -UE-

The only common verb from this group neatly fits into the exemplifying table:

Learn the Present Tense forms of irregular u-ue stem-changing verbs

Most Commonly Used Stem-Changing Verbs

As I promised, here’s the big table with all the most frequently used verbs that change the vowel in the final syllable of the stem to build some of the Present Tense forms:

Get the list of the most common irregular Present Tense stem-changing verbs

* The verbs marked with an asterisk have more irregular Present Tense forms. Please read our other article on Irregular Spanish Present Tense Forms here

Please note: some verbs may not be listed here, but they may be derived from the verbs included in this table with the help of prefixes, e.g.:

contar → descontar  

They should also undergo the stem vowel change in the appropriate Present Tense forms.

There are so many new things yoг have just learned, so it will take time for the fresh knowledge to settle down... What I mean is: Feel free to peek into the article while taking the quiz!

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