As we have seen in previous lessons, regular verbs follow some basic rules to adapt their ending depending on the subject of a sentence. By knowing these rules, you can use most verbs in the language. However, there are special cases in which verbs need a spelling change in their ending, something called Spanish spelling changing verbs. Some of these verbs are extremely common in the language and that is why we will discuss the grammar pattern to recognize these verbs and use them properly in sentences. Let’s start…
Spanish spelling changing verbs in the present tense
Spanish Spelling changing verbs, “los verbos con cambios de raíz“, are a special type of verbs that will suffer spelling changes when used with the subject pronoun YO in the present tense. As an illustration, let’s compare the verbs COMER and CONOCER. COMER will be conjugated as YO COMO for the pronoun YO, but a spelling changing verb like CONOCER will be conjugated as CONOZCO, not CONOCO. In this example, the letter Z needs to be added just before the letter C. Luckily, the conjugations for the remaining pronouns will not be affected by spelling changes so just follow rules for regular verbs, eg. “Tú conoces”, “Él conoce” and so on.
Spanish verbs CIR to ZO and CER to ZO
The first rule for Spanish spelling changing verbs says that when the verb’s stem ends in a consonant + the endings CER or CIR , we must change the verb’s ending from CER to ZO or CIR to ZO. A popular verb following this rule is CONVENCER (to convince), which will change to YO COVENZO because the stem CONVEN- finishes in the consonant “N” and it is followed by CER.
Some common Spanish verbs CIR to ZO/CER to ZO are: VENCER (to defeat), TORCER (to twist) and ESPARCIR (to spread). Here are some examples:
Here are a two of sentences using Spanish spelling changing verbs whose ending will change from CIR to ZO and CER to ZO. Click on play to listen to the examples.
VENCER – Yo te venzo todo el tiempo
I beat you all the time
CONVENCER – Yo convenzo a mamá y tú convences a papá
I convince mom and you convince dad
Spanish verbs CER to ZCO
The second rule says that when the verb’s stem ends in a vowel plus the endings -CER, we must make a spelling change from CER to ZCO. Again, this rule only applies for the conjugation of the pronoun YO.
Some common Spanish spelling changing verbs following this rule are: CRECER (to grow up), CONOCER (to know/to meet), DESAPARECER (to disappear), FORTALECER (to strengthen), MECER (to swing), OBEDECER (to obey), PARECER (to seem/to look like) and PERTENECER (to belong).
Sentences with spelling changing verbs CER to ZCO
CONOCER – Yo conozco a tu hermana
I know your sister
OFRECER – Yo ofrezco algo interesante y ¿tú qué ofreces?
I offer something interesting, what do you offer?
AGRADECER – Yo agradezco su hospitalidad.
I appreciate your hospitality
Spanish verbs GER/GIR to JO.
The third rule says that when the verb ends in GER or GIR as in ESCOGER, we must change the ending’s spelling from GER to JO, or GIR to JO if that is they case. As a cultural note, little kids tend to make mistakes when conjugating Spanish spelling changing verbs and they often correct this once they are over 5 years old. This kind of mistake does not affect the meaning of the message at all most of the time.
Some important Spanish spelling changing verbs GER/GIR to JO are: CORREGIR (to correct), FINGIR (to fake), EXIGIR (to demand), ELEGIR (to choose), COGER (to take), ENCOGER (to shrink), PROTEGER (to protect) and RECOGER(to pick).
Sentences with spelling changing verbs GER/GIR to JO
ESCOGER – Yo escojo matemática y ustedes escogen español.
I choose math and you choose Spanish
DIRIGIR – Yo dirijo este grupo y tú diriges el otro.
I guide this group and you guide the other
Spanish Verbs GUIR to GO.
The fourth rule says that when the verb’s stem ends in E followed by GUIR, we change the stem’s spelling from E to I and the ending to GO, e.g. SEGUIR will change to SIGO. In addition, when the verb’s stem ends in a consonant plus GUIR, we must make a spelling change from GUIR to GO.
Some important orthographic changing verbs following this rule are: DISTINGUIR(to distinguish), EXTINGUIR (to extinguish), SEGUIR (to continue/to follow) and PERSEGUIR (to pursue/to chase).
Sentences with spelling changing verbs GUIR to GO
CONSEGUIR – Yo consigo lo que necesito
I get what I need
DISTINGIR – Yo distingo los detalles
I distinguish the details
Grammar quiz: Conjugating spelling changing verbs in Spanish
Other special cases of orthographic changes in Spanish verbs
There are a few other rules for Spanish spelling changing verb in the present tense you should know about. Some of these orthographic changes are really simple and most likely you will learn them through practicing and listening to the language in real contexts.
Spelling change UIR to UYO
When a verb ends in -UIR, except the ones ending in -GUIR, we add a Y after U and follow the rules for regular verbs with all the pronouns except with VOS, NOSOTROS and VOSOTROS.
Some common Spanish spelling changing verbs following this rule are CONCLUIR (to conclude), CONTRIBUIR(to contribute), DESTRUIR(to destroy), DISMINUIR (to reduce), HUIR (to escape), INCLUIR (to include) and SUSTITUIR(to substitute).
COSTRUIR – Mario construye casas hermosas.
Mario builds beautiful houses
DISMINUIR – Los conductores disminuyen la velocidad al final.
The drivers reduce the speed a the end
Adding tilde over I and O to the verb’s ending
This rule is truly one that comes from practice and interaction. Sometimes the vowels I and U play a weak role when they are conjugated for YO and accompanied by another vowel. When this happens, we need to add a TILDE over the vowels I or O to make them strong so that we can spell and pronounce the verb correctly.
As an exception, this spelling rule is valid for all the pronouns, except for VOS, NOSOTROS and VOSOTROS and affects regular verbs like ACTUAR (to act),GRADUAR(to graduate), CONFIAR(to trust), ENVIAR(to send) and so on.
CONTINUAR – Si tú continúas fumando, vas a morir.
If you continue smoking, you will die
ENVIAR – Ellos envían su reporte el viernes y nosotros lo enviamos el lunes
They send their report on Friday and we send it on Monday
Regular verbs with no spelling change
When the vowels I or U do not need to be stressed, we just follow the rules for regular verbs. This rule can be done with common verbs like INICIAR (to begin), LIMPIAR (to clean), APRECIAR (to appreciate) and CAMBIAR(to change).
ESTUDIAR – Yo estudio español tres horas al día
I study Spanish three hours a day
LIMPIAR – Tú limpias la casa siempre
You always clean the house