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Stem Changing Verbs

Written by tutor Kristen H.

The Spanish language has quite an array of stem changing verbs. Though no secret trick exists to determine if a verb is stem changing or not, repetition and a few quick rules reveal a pretty predictable conjugation pattern. The following tips should help you work out any confusion dealing with present tense stem changing verbs.

First of all, you should be able to recognize which verbs are stem changing and what sort of stem change occurs. This requires a bit of memorization and repetition. Here are three sorts of stem changing verbs and ten of the most useful infinitives from each group.

e -> i e -> ie o -> ue
conseguir (to get) comenzar (to start) almorzar (to have lunch)
competir (to compete) cerrar (to close) contar (to count, to tell)
despedir (to say goodbye)      despertar (to awaken) costar (to cost)
impedir (to prevent) empezar (to start) doler (to hurt)
pedir (to ask for) entender (to understand) dormir (to sleep)
servir (to serve) perder (to lose) encontrar (to find)
seguir (to follow) pensar (to think) morir (to die)
reír (to laugh) querer (to want) recordar (to remember)
repetir (to repeat) recomendar (to recommend)      volar (to fly)
vestir (to dress) sentir (to feel) volver (to return)

e -> i stem changing verbs

Let’s take the verb pedir (to ask for) and look at a present tense conjugation for all pronouns. To identify the stem, simply take off the -ir, -er or -ar infinitive ending. In this case, that would change pedir into ped. Second, change the e in ped to i, which leaves us with pid. Last, add the appropriate verb ending for the respective pronouns: -o for yo, -es or -as for tú, etc. The only pronoun that does not require change is nosotros/nosotras which retains the stem’s e. Remember to take into account the infinitive ending and remember not to confuse -ar endings with -ir and -er endings.

yo pido nosotros/nosotras pedimos
tú pides Ustedes piden
él/ella/Usted pide ellos/ellas piden

For a verb like repetir (to repeat) which has two e’s, only the second e changes. Notice again that the e remains unchanged for nosotros/nosotras.

yo repito nosotros/nosotras repetimos
tú repites Ustedes repiten
él/ella/Usted repite ellos/ellas repiten

e -> ie stem changing verbs

The same rules used to conjugate e -> i stem changing verbs are used for e -> i. If we remove the infinitive ending from the verb entender (to understand), we are left with entend. Change the e to ie (except for nosotros/nosotras) and we have entiend. Now simply add the appropriate ending for each pronoun.

yo entiendo nosotros/nosotras entendemos
tú entiendes Ustedes entienden
él/ella/Usted entiende ellos/ellas entienden

o -> ue stem changing verbs

As you have probably guessed, o--ue stem changing verbs work in precisely the same way as e--i and e--ie. Take off the infinitive ending for encontrar (to find) and we have encontr. Change the o to ue (except for nosotros/nosotras) and we have encuentr. Then, as always, add the correct endings for each pronoun.

yo encuentro nosotros/nosotras encontramos
tú encuentras Ustedes encuentran
él/ella/Usted encuentra ellos/ellas encuentran

Stem Changing Verbs Practice Quiz

Ya es muy tarde. Me __________ de todos y me voy. (despedir)

The correct answer is despido.

Ella es muy atlética y siempre __________ con amigos. (competir)

The correct answer is compite.

El mesero nos __________ un buen plato de pasta. (servir)

The correct answer is sirve.

Cuando vas a este restaurante, siempre __________ la misma cosa. (pedir)

The correct answer is pides.

Te voy a decir un secreto, pero no lo puedes __________. (repetir)

The correct answer is repetir.

¿A qué hora __________ la clase? (empezar)

The correct answer is empieza.

Yo __________ mucho en ella. Era muy buena amiga. (pensar)

The correct answer is pienso.

Ellos no __________ la lección de hoy. (entender)

The correct answer is entienden.

Me __________ mal después de escuchar estos insultos. (sentir)

The correct answer is siento.

¿Por qué siempre __________ las llaves? (perder - tu)

The correct answer is pierdes.

Vamos a la cafetería. ¿__________ con nosotros? (almorzar - tu)

The correct answer is almuerzas.

Sabrina tiene mala memoria. Ella no __________ nada. (recordar)

The correct answer is recuerda.

¿Cuánto __________ este libro? (costar)

The correct answer is cuesta.

Vamos al cine y después __________ al dormitorio. (volver)

The correct answer is volvemos.

¿Usted __________ a México o va en carro? (volar)

The correct answer is vuela.

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