Practice Makes Perfect: Spanish Irregular Verbs Up Close (Practice Makes Perfect Series)

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Firm Sale. If Spanish had no written form, they would be considered regular.

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Think of these verbs as sounding regular, but with a spelling change to reflect this. These changes are found in verbs whose infinitives end in -car, -gar, and -zar, which change to -que, -gue, and -ce, respectively, to preserve the consonant sound of the hard c or g. Present system 2: Present subjunctive 19 Use the following elements, making whatever additions and changes necessary to create grammatically correct sentences.

Of course, pay special attention to using the subjunctive form with the verb in each sentence that requires it. Present system 2: Present subjunctive 21 In Spanish, they are called mandatos, a noun derived from the verb mandar, which means to command or to send. In English, the imperative is the same as the infinitive but without the preposition to: Run to the store! Give me a refund! Learning the usage of the subjunctive is easier if you keep in mind that imperative forms, except the ones noted here, are simply one more use of the subjunctive form. To illustrate this, consider how one use of the sub- junctive is as a verb form in subordinated noun clauses introduced by a main clause.

The main verb in that clause is a verb of commanding, that is, telling someone to do something. Viewed this way, command forms are simply sentences with an unspoken main clause. Pardo to buy the car. Indirect command Que el Sr. Pardo compre el carro. Let Mr. Pardo buy the car. Direct command Sr. Pardo, buy the car! Pardo followed by que, the conjunction that introduces a subordinated clause compre el carro.

The speaker is not addressing Mr. Pardo but someone else instead. Moreover, the subordinated clause cannot stand alone as a statement indicating a fact, not even with que in front of it. As a statement expressing a fact, that is, indicating, asserting or pointing out information, the form would have to be in the indicative mood: [El Sr.

Pardo] compra el carro Mr.

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Pardo buys the car. When que is used in front of the clause, Spanish speakers will understand the expression as an indirect command. Finally, in direct address, the speaker turns to Mr. Pardo and uses the same form to tell him to buy the car. In all three examples, the verb comprar is in the subjunctive form.


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In the first exam- ple, it is used in the way one normally thinks of when using the present subjunctive. In the second example, the subjunctive is used in what is known as the jussive—the name gram- marians use to refer to indirect commands. Finally, the subjunctive form itself performs the function of a direct command in the usted form, which is used for formal or polite address.

First, observe what endings we need for regular verbs. Here are the six principal parts of the traditional model verbs. Once again, this approach works only for regular verbs. Present system 3: Imperatives 25 For the affirmative vosotros command, refer to the infinitive the third of the six principal parts and change the final -r to a final -d.


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The stress falls on that last syl- lable, just as it does in the infinitive. All Spanish verbs, no matter how irregular, form their affirmative vosotros command in this way. However, this form of address is not often found in the Americas. Es importante que sepas esto. There is no appreciable dif- ference in meaning. There are Second, and perhaps more important, all other commands are derived from the Ud. The affirmative and negative vosotros commands are also separated for the same reasons. The simple symmetry of the format itself will help you internalize the patterns in no time—provided you know the first three of the six principal parts.

Finally, it is important to review the placement rules for object pronouns when they are used with imperatives. While there are two options for where object pronouns can be placed with infinitives and gerunds, there are no options for imperatives. With affirmative commands, the object pronoun or pronouns must follow the command and be attached, and a written accent placed on the syllable that receives the stress before adding the sylla- ble or syllables of the object pronoun or pronouns. For negative commands, pronouns are placed between the word no and the negative command, which is always in the subjunc- tive form.

In either situation, if both an indirect and a direct object pronoun are used, remem- ber that they must stay together and that the indirect object pronoun receiver of an action is placed before the direct object pronoun. If a reflexive verb is used along with a direct object pronoun, the reflexive pronoun is placed before the direct object pronoun.

The last example also serves to remind you that with verbs of hygiene, the articles are used instead of possessive adjectives when referring to parts of the body. Give it to me! Go to bed early! All noun objects should be changed to pronouns and placed in the proper posi- tion, according to the rules presented here. The needed verbs are in parentheses. Present system 3: Imperatives 29 Verbs ending in -ar, -er, and -ir have certain endings both unique to them or in common, according to analogous patterns.

However, as we have seen, it is not enough to know the endings of verbs in all the tenses. The irregular patterns in verb stems are best and most efficiently revealed and remembered by the principal parts method. This will be even more apparent when we study the imperfect indicative, one of the three tenses derived directly from the infinitive, the third of the six principal parts. The infinitive represents the infinitive microsystem, found in the sec- ond column of TurboVerb. In addition to pointing the way to the proper set of verb endings, according to whether a verb ends in -ar, -er, or -ir, the infinitive is the best starting point for the derivation of three tenses: the future, the conditional, and the topic of this chapter, the imperfect indicative.

This tense is often clarified more precisely by noting that it is more properly understood as one of two aspects of one past tense, the preterit being the other. This tense is a real gift because, among the thousands of verbs in the Spanish language, only three are irregular in the imperfect: ser, ir, and ver. Even ver is barely irregular; once upon a time, it was spelled veer and even though the infinitive became ver, its imperfect conjugation is analogous to those of creer and leer. Though this is the most predictable of all tenses in the Spanish lan- guage, some features of its patterns, pronunciation, and usage can cause English speakers trouble.

Likewise, as we saw in the present subjunctive, -er and -ir verbs share one set of endings instead of each having its own. One comforting fact about the regularity of the imperfect is that there are no stem changes in the imperfect indicative! When the patterns of the present are set apart from those tenses derived from the next microsystem, the infinitive, the imperfect indicative becomes easy to form. One common pitfall with the imperfect is pronouncing it correctly. Also, in addition to the stressed first syllables in the nosotros and vosotros forms of the three irregular verbs noted previously, the nosotros and vosotros forms of regular verbs have accent marks to show you which syllable is stressed.

Finally, the toughest thing about using the imperfect is knowing when to use it as opposed to the preterit. The imperfect is used to set the stage, describe, give background information, and talk about ongoing incomplete repeated or habitual action, as well as mental and physical conditions in the past. My father was 25 when I was born. Infinitive system 1: Imperfect indicative 33 Furthermore, since the imperfect is concerned with circumstance, it does not move a story along, and so it often is used with the preterit, which supplies the details about action.

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English translations of the imperfect are often periphrastic a verb phrase or can be rendered as such without changing the meaning. Study the following examples: Mis amigos iban al cine My friends used to go to the movies. My friends were going to the movies. My friends would go to the movies. A good rule of thumb is that if you can use one of the other two translations instead of would and not change the meaning, then you almost certainly need the imperfect indica- tive.

Otherwise, you may need the conditional or the imperfect subjunctive, both of which will be covered in later chapters. Since all but three verbs in the imperfect are regular in Spanish, the fill-in-the-blank exercise for this chapter contains mostly regular verbs. The other exercise, however, requires you to change from some other tense or mood to the imperfect indicative of the same verb, in the same person and number. In grammatical terminology, simple means that this tense is a one-word form. At the same time, this is a simple tense in that it is an easy conjugation to learn. This corresponds neatly to the English phrase to be going to.

This structure is known by grammarians as the periphrastic future, that is, a verb phrase that does the same job as the simple future, but with more than one word. In American English the differ- ences between will and shall are now obsolete except in legal documents. As such, it is used as an absolute future injunction, as in the Ten Com- mandments, e. Thou shalt not kill! The future is different from all but one other tense in that it is formed by add- ing only one set of endings to all three families of verbs.

That is, the infini- tive endings -ar, -er, and -ir are not removed first; there is only one set of endings for all verbs and the stress falls on the main vowel of these end- ings. The endings are interesting in themselves because they are the same as the present indicative of the helping verb haber, without the initial h-.

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In the case of the future of the vosotros form, hab- is removed. In fact, historically, this is how the simple future tense came into being. Docu- ments and literature from around the time of Christopher Columbus show that the transition was in full swing e. Even their irregularities fall into three groups that are easy to identify.

I call them new d-stems, collapsed infinitives, and just totally irregular. Notice that the new d-stem verbs all have an -n- or an -l- before the theme vowel of their infinitives e. Among the collapsed infinitive group, note that poder is not a new d-stem because it already has -d- in its stem. Fortunately, the list of totally irregular verbs in the future consists of only two: hacer har- and decir dir-.

Remember that the endings remain unchanged. In order to remember or at least appreciate the new d-stem group, note that if you try to pronounce their future forms without inserting the -d-, they are harder to say. Your tongue is in a position where it is easier to add that consonant, a fact that partly explains how this form came to be. At a practical level, this may help you remember them.

Spanish Past-Tense Verbs up Close by Eric W. Vogt (2017, Paperback)

Infinitive system 2: Future 39 There is one usage of the simple future in Spanish that the English future does not share. It is used to express what is called probability in the present and is one of the ways to express a common English verb that has no equivalent as a verb in Spanish: wonder. You can appreciate the use of the future in this way if you consider probabil- ity as a guessing game in which a fact will be found out.

I wonder where John is. Where could John be? What could Theresa be up to just now? I wonder what time it is. What time could it be? Use the following elements, making whatever additions and changes necessary to create grammatically correct sentences using the simple future tense.

Infinitive system 2: Future 41 3. Infinitive system 2: Future 43 Like the future, the conditional is formed by adding only one set of endings to all three families of verbs. That is, the infinitive endings -ar, -er, and -ir are not removed first and there is only one set of endings for all verbs. Once again, the irregularities fall into three groups: the new d-stems, collapsed infinitives, and the totally irregular.

Remember that the new d-stem verbs have an -n- or an -l- before the theme vowel of their infinitives e. Finally, the totally irregular conditional verbs are the same as the irregular future verbs: hacer har- and decir dir-. As with the future, the endings of the conditional are the same for regular and irregular verbs. A couple of final comments about the usage of the conditional are in order. I would like a glass of wine. There is one usage of the conditional in Spanish that corresponds to one use of would in English that is not truly conditional in that it does not express a consequence of a hypothetical.

The conditional in both languages can be used to express probability in the past as well as to express the future when in a past context. In the first case, the conditional answers to the common English verb to wonder, but when used in the past. In English questions, the conditional would is usually expressed as could. I wonder where John was. Where could John have been? What could Theresa have been up to just then?

I wonder what time it was when John called you. What time could it have been when John called you? Since the conditional is often presented before the imperfect subjunctive, the latter tense and mood will be supplied in many of the statements in the following exercises. In addi- tion, only the simple, or one-word, form of the conditional will be required in the answers. Use the following elements, making whatever additions and changes necessary to create grammatically correct sentences using the conditional.

Infinitive system 3: Conditional 49 5. After the present system, the preterit microsys- tem is arguably the most important for the derivation of verb forms because through it both the preterit indicative and the imperfect subjunctive are derived. Most students are puzzled by the irregularities they encounter in the preterit simply because these irregularities do not follow the patterns they struggled to learn for the present tense.


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The first thing to know about the formation of the preterit is that there are four main types or patterns: regular verbs, single-vowel stem irregulars, new-stem irregulars, and uniquely irregulars. In the case of reg- ular verbs, there is one set of endings for the -ar verbs and one set in com- mon for -er and -ir verbs. We saw this phenomenon before when we examined the imperfect indicative the other past tense , but the endings in the preterit are quite different.

But, thankfully, the -ste pattern takes its place in all three families of verbs. Furthermore, the endings of the regular forms of the first- and third-persons singular are stressed on the final vowel, unlike the present tense. This is an important feature, since hablo means I Additionally, the nosotros forms of the -ar and -ir verbs are indistin- guishable from their present indicative, meaning that context, such as other words in a sentence, will reveal if they are present or preterit. This is not true of the -er verbs, since their preterit endings are identical to the preterit endings of -ir verbs and thus cannot be mistaken for any other tense.

The second group, the single-vowel stem irregulars, consists of two subgroups. Thus it is important to memorize their respective yo forms, or fourth principal part. It is also extremely important to note that these new-stem irregulars, whether or not they are -ar, -er, or -ir, have one set of endings in common. The model verb used in TurboVerb, tener, is one such verb and was chosen for that reason.

Observe its six principal parts, taking particular notice of its fourth one, tuve. As a matter of fact, the inspiration for TurboVerb, and ultimately this book, came about entirely one day when I was explaining to a student that there is nothing about the infinitive or present tense forms of tener that can be used to predict this new stem of tuv-. This gave rise to the adoption and adaptation of the principal parts method for learning Spanish verbs.

The full conjuga- tion of tener in the preterit reveals the endings shared by all verbs with new stems in the preterit: tuve tuvimos tuviste tuvisteis tuvo tuvieron Besides sharing a common set of endings, note that in no person or number of the conju- gation of the new-stem irregulars is there a final stressed syllable, unlike what was observed in the regular verbs. Following is a useful enumeration of the most high-frequency verbs of this type, listed by their infinitives and their first-persons singular in the preterit.

These new-stem verbs may be subdivided further, according to the patterns revealed in the previ- Preterit system 1: Preterit indicative 53 ous groupings. Note that the first group has an -i- in the new stem, the second group is characterized by -uv-, the third by -u-, and, for verbs with infinitives ending in -ucir, -uj-.

The j-stem verbs are slightly different from the others in only one way: their third-person plural form drops the -i- from its end- ing e. Ser and ir are best memorized as vocabulary items, but once their forms are known, their principal parts will remind you of their pattern. One way to remember its form, in addition to simply learning its fourth principal part, is to recall that its preterit forms rhyme with the preterit forms of ver, which is regular: dar ver di dimos vi vimos diste disteis viste visteis dio dieron vio vieron We encountered this same group in the present subjunctive.

The change there is identical except that the final syllable of their first-person preterit form is stressed. The difference between the present subjunctive forms and the preterit is that all persons and numbers of their present subjunctive forms have this change since consonant changes in the yo form are preserved throughout.

Once again, the pronunciation of these preterit forms sounds regular. If Spanish had no writ- ten form, they would be regular. Note that -zar verbs no longer have any change in the vowel of their stem; this change is limited to the present in all cases. The following examples summarize these differences: Quise abrir la ventana, pero no pude. I tried to open the window, but failed to do so.

When I found out about that, I was speechless. John met her at the party last night. Preterit system 1: Preterit indicative 55 3. Use the following elements, making whatever additions and changes necessary to create grammatically correct sentences using the preterit. Preterit system 1: Preterit indicative 57 The most delightful feature of the principal parts method lies in the elegance of its utility. Being able to derive verb forms without memorizing each person and number, referenced to the infinitive, is liberating and makes the study of Spanish exciting and vibrant. The secret to the derivation of the imperfect subjunc- tive from the preterit lies in the fact that no matter how irregular a verb might be in the preterit indicative with respect to its infinitive or present tense forms its other principal parts , the imperfect subjunctive is formed in a smooth, perfectly predictable pattern from the third-person plural of the preterit indicative.

Consult any reference work that reveals all the conjugations of hundreds of verbs. There is another set of endings for the imperfect subjunctive, usually reserved for formal writing but sometimes also encountered in speech. It also is derived from the third-person plural of the preterit indicative, but instead of substituting the final -on with -a, the ending -se not to be confused with the pronoun se plus personal end- ings is used.

While it is unlikely that you will need to use these forms, if you intend to study classical Spanish literature, or if you should encounter proverbs or read a legal document, it is important to recognize them. To form the future subjunctive, use the -a form of the imperfect subjunctive but substitute the -a with an -e.

This proverb is also found in a modern form, which shows that the present subjunc- tive has assumed the role of the future subjunctive, at least in everyday speech: Cuando vayas a Roma, haz como los When you go to Rome, do as the Romans. The future subjunctive is also common in some boilerplate phrases in contracts, such as the following Just as the conditional is often used to create polite requests, so too is the imperfect subjunctive. When used with the helping verbs deber, querer, and poder the imperfect subjunctive creates statements or questions that are even more polite.

Can you go to the beach with me? You should study more. Do you want a coffee? You ought to study more, honestly. Would you care for a coffee? Start with verbs in the appropriate past indicative tense and then use the imperfect subjunctive.



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