Stem Changing Verbs in Spanish: Explained For Beginners

Stem Changing Verbs in Spanish

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As the name suggests, stem changing verbs in Spanish are verbs that when conjugated in the simple present tense, undergo a vowel change in the last syllable of the stem.

Let’s break this down.

What Is The Stem of a Spanish Verb?

The stem is the part of the verb form that contains the underlying meaning of the verb. To identify the stem, we simply remove the verb’s ending (-ar, -er, -ir) from its infinitive form.

Let’s see some examples:

Verb Infinitive Stem Ending
to cook cocinar cocin- -ar
to drink beber beb- -er
to live vivir viv- -ir

 

Let’s keep things simple for now, and see examples of how we conjugate regular verbs (with regular endings) in the present tense.

Ending -ar

Pronoun Stem Ending Full word
Yo cocin- -o cocino
cocin- -as cocinas
Él, ella, usted cocin- -a cocina
Nosotros(as) cocin- -amos cocinamos
Ellos(as), ustedes cocin- -an cocinan

Ending -er

Pronoun Stem Ending Full word
Yo beb- -o bebo
beb- -es bebes
Él, ella, usted beb- -e bebe
Nosotros(as) beb- -emos bebemos
Ellos(as), ustedes beb- -en beben

Ending -ir

Pronoun Stem Ending Full word
Yo part- -o parto
part- -es partes
Él, ella, usted part- -e parte
Nosotros(as) part- -imos partimos
Ellos(as), ustedes part- -en parten

If you’re not sure how to conjugate verbs in the simple present tense, then check out our post on that topic here.

For now, we are going to examine verbs that don’t follow the regular pattern or structure, i.e. “Stem Changing Verbs”, or “Verbos Radicales” in Spanish.

What is a Stem Changing Verb?

Stem changing verbs in Spanish are a group of verbs that resemble regular verbs, but require you to replace a letter in their stem when they are conjugated.

For example, let’s take a look at the below stem changing verbs, conjugated in the first person.

  • To want: Querer – Quiero (I want)
  • To dream: Soñar – Sueño  (I dream)
  • To repeat: Repetir – Repito (I repeat)

What Are The Five Types of Stem Changing Verbs In Spanish?

There are five types of stem changing verbs in the simple present tense.

1. Stem Changing Verbs: E to IE change.

2. Stem Changing Verbs: O to UE change.

3. Stem Changing Verbs: E to I change.

4. Stem Changing Verbs: U to UE change.

5. Stem Changing Verbs: I to IE change.

How Stem Changing Verbs are formed

Before continuing, we should clarify an important rule.

Stem changing verbs conjugated with the nosotros/nosotras (we) pronoun are treated as an exception to the below guidelines, and instead should be conjugated as regular verbs.

This will become clearer as we look at the below list of the stem-changing verbs in Spanish

1. Stem Changing Verbs: E to IE change

This first pattern drops e in the stem and it is replaced by an ie.

It is worth mentioning that this change affects the largest number of verbs, so it is worth memorizing this rule as soon as possible.

Let’s see a few examples:

Verb Stem with E infinitive form Stem with IE when conjugated
To want querer  Yo quiero
To close cerrar Yo cierro
To lie mentir Yo miento

Some other verbs that follow this pattern are:

-ER ending to go up, to ascend ascender Yo asciendo
to understand entender Tú entiendes
to lose perder Él pierde
to want, to love querer Ella quiere
to turn on, to light encender Ellos encienden
-AR ending to close cerrar Yo cierro
to be right, to hit the target acertar Tú aciertas
to think pensar ÉL piensa
to begin comenzar Ella comienza
to start empezar Ellos empiezan
-IR ending to lie mentir yo miento
to suggest sugerir tú sugieres
to prefer preferir él prefiere
to feel sentir ella siente
to warn advertir ellos advierten


Examples:

  • The kids do not understand this exercise – Los niños no entienden este ejercicio.
  • Anna thinks a lot about her future – Anna piensa mucho en su futuro.
  • Why do you always lie? – ¿Por qué siempre mientes?

2. Stem Changing Verbs: O to UE change

The second pattern indicates that if there is an o in the last stressed syllable of the stem, it will be automatically replaced by ue, just like in the following example:

Verb Stem with O infinitive form Stem with UE when conjugated
to be able to poder puedo
to count contar cuento
to die morir muero

Some verbs that follow this pattern are:

-ER ending to move mover Yo muevo
to resolve resolver Tú resuelves
to be accustomed to  soler Él suele 
to rain llover Llueve
to return volver Ellos vuelven
-AR ending to have lunch almorzar Yo almuerzo
to cost costar Eso cuesta
to remember recordar Él recuerda
to dream soñar Ella sueña
to beg rogar Ellos ruegan
-IR ending to sleep dormir Yo duermo
to die morir Tú mueres

Sidenote: The verb oler (to smell) is somewhat of an outliner, since the stem changes to the letter h”. The pronoun nosotros (we) will continue being an exception of the rule:

English Conjugation Present tense
I smell Yo huelo
You smell Tú hueles
He, she smells, you (formal) smell Él, ella, usted huele
We smell Nosotros(as) olemos
They smell, you (plural) smell Ellos, ellas, ustedes huelen

Examples

  • Do not move the chair, please – No muevas la silla, por favor.
  • I often have lunch with my workmates – A menudo almuerzo con mis compañeros de trabajo.
  • Karina sleeps late on weekends – Karina duerme hasta tarde los fines de semana.

3. Stem Changing Verbs: E to I change

The third rule says that if the stem contains the vowel e in the last stressed syllable, we must change it to i.

This rule just applies for the verbs ending in -IR, especially: -edir (e.g. pedir, impedir), -egir (e.g. elegir, corregir, regir), -eguir (e.g conseguir, perseguir, seguir) and -eñir (e.g. ceñir, reñir).

Verb Stem with E infinitive form Stem with I when conjugated
To measure medir mido

Some verbs that follow this pattern are:

-IR ending to obtain conseguir Yo consigo
to ask for pedir Tú pides
to choose, to elect elegir Él elige
to chase, to run after perseguir Ella persigue
to serve, to be useful servir Ellos sirven
to follow seguir Yo sigo
to correct corregir Tú corriges
to prevent, to stop, to block impedir Él impide
to say decir Ella dice 
to laugh reír Ellos ríen
to fight, to row reñir yo riño
to hang to ceñir tú ciñes
to govern, to rule regir Él rige

 

Examples

  • Choose what you want! – ¡Elige lo que quieras!
  • Javier follows Nicki Minaj on Instagram – Javier sigue a Nicki Minaj en Instagram.
  • The teacher corrects math exams – El profesor corrige los exámenes de matemáticas.

4. Stem Changing Verbs: U to UE change

This is maybe the easiest rule inside of the group of radicals as there is only one verb that follows this pattern: jugar (to play). With this verb, we just substitute the letter u in its steam to ue in all pronouns (except nosotros).

Piece of cake, right?

Verb Stem with U infinite verb Stem with UE when conjugated
To play jugar juego

Examples

  • Some kids play in the playground – Algunos niños juegan en el patio.
  • I play UNO with my friends whenever I can – Siempre que puedo juego UNO con mis amigos.
  • Do you play poker? – ¿Juegas póquer?

5. Stem Changing Verbs: I to IE change

This final pattern is only followed by two verbs: adquirir (to buy, to acquire) and inquirir (to inquire, to question). The rule is pretty much simple, drop the i in the stem and replace it with ie when conjugating.

Verb Stem with I Stem with IE
To buy, to acquire adquirir Yo adquiero
To enquire, to question inquirir Yo inquiero

Examples

  • The district attorney inquiries about the motives of the accused – La fiscal inquiere sobre los motivos del acusado.
  • If you acquire more knowledge, you will strengthen your intellect – Si adquieres más conocimiento, fortalecerás tu intelecto.

Stem changing verbs in Spanish: Practice

Fill the gaps with the correct form of the verb in brackets:

1. Matt no ___ (entender) los ejercicios del Subjuntivo.

2. La bailarina ___ (mover) los pies al son de la salsa.

3. Carlos y su hermanito ___ (repetir) la canción una y otra vez.

4. Yo ___ (jugar) baloncesto de vez en cuando con algunos amigos.

5. Helen y su marido ___ (adquirir) una nueva casa esta tarde. ¡Qué emoción!

6. ¿(Tú) ___ (preferir) ir a la montaña o la playa?

7. El águila es un ave que ___ (volar) a grandes alturas.

8. Esas personas ___ (decir) cosas sin sentido.

9. (Yo) ___ (querer) boletos para el concierto, pero no tengo suficiente dinero.

10. Ellas ___ (soler) cenar junto a sus vecinos cada domingo.

Answers

1. Matt no entiende los ejercicios del Subjuntivo.

2. La bailarina mueve los pies al son de la salsa.

3. Carlos y su hermanito repiten la canción una y otra vez.

4. Yo juego baloncesto de vez en cuando con algunos amigos.

5. Helen y su marido adquieren una nueva casa esta tarde. ¡Qué emoción!

6. ¿(Tú) Prefieres ir a la montaña o la playa?

7. El águila es un ave que vuela a grandes alturas.

8. Esas personas dicen cosas sin sentido.

9. (Yo) Quiero boletos para el concierto, pero no tengo suficiente dinero.

10. Ellas suelen cenar junto a sus vecinos cada domingo.

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