Four Types of Verbs

There are four main types of Spanish verbs: regular, stem-changing, irregular, and reflexive. Most Spanish verbs are regular, which means they are conjugated according to a pattern. Once you learn how to conjugate one regular — AR, — ER, and — IR verb, you can conjugate the majority of Spanish verbs.

Stem-Changing Verbs

Stem-changing verbs are verbs that undergo a change in the root (radical) in various conjugations. The three stem changes are E > IE, O ⟩ UE, and E > I. The following examples show how the stem is changed in the present indicative of querer, poder, and pedir.

Querer (to want)

yo quiero

nosotros queremos

tú quieres

vosotros queréis

él quiere

ellos quieren

Poder (can, to be able to)

yo puedo

nosotros podemos

tú puedes

vosotros podéis

él puede

ellos pueden

Repetir (to repeat)

yo repito

nosotros repetimos

tú repites

vosotros repetís

él repite

ellos repiten

Spelling-Change Verbs

Aside from stem-changing verbs, which are characterized by changes in vowels, there are certain Spanish verbs that undergo consonant spelling changes in certain conjugations. The consonants that are generally affected are C, G, and, to a lesser extent, Z. Before E and I, C sounds like S and G sounds like a hard H (or Spanish J). The letter Z cannot precede E or I; that means it must be replaced by the letter C.

When conjugating verbs, the sound of the last letter before the ending (e.g., the C in sacar, the G in jugar) needs to be maintained in every tense and mood. As a result, some verbs require a spelling modification.

For example, the verb pagar (to pay) has a hard G sound, which is maintained with all of the present tense conjugations because they are all hard vowels (pago, pagas, paga, etc.). However in the preterite, the first person singular ends in the soft vowel E, which would normally give you “pagé” and would be pronounced [pa hay]. What you want is [pa gay], so to get that sound you need to change the spelling to pagué.

Reflections on Reflexive Verbs

Reflexive verbs are classified according to their regular/irregular/stem-changing verb classification, but have an additional characteristic: they are preceded by a reflexive pronoun, which indicates that the subject is performing the action of the verb upon itself (me lavo, I'm washing myself) or that multiple subjects are performing a reciprocal action (se escriben, they write to each other). Many verbs have both reflexive and nonreflexive uses. For example, escribir means “to write” (a letter, a book, etc.), whereas escribirse means “to write to each other.”

When you are conjugating a reflexive verb, each grammatical person must be matched with a reflexive pronoun:

Lavarse (to wash oneself)

yo me lavo

nosotros nos lavamos

te lavas

vosotros os laváis

él se lava

ellos se lavan

Indirect Object Pronoun Verbs

There is another category of verbs that includes gustarle (to like) and faltarle (to need, be lacking). These verbs are unusual for two reasons: They require an indirect object pronoun (indicated by le tacked on to the infinitive) and they do not conjugate according to grammatical person, but rather according to the number of the noun that follows.

Take the phrase “I like school” as an example. “School” is singular, so the verb, gustar, will be in the third person singular, and we end up with me gusta la escuela. In the sentence “I like books,” the subject “books” is plural, so the verb will be conjugated in the third person plural: me gustan los libros.

me gusta el libro

nos gusta el libro

me gustan los libros

nos gustan los libros

te gusta el libro

os gusta el libro

te gustan los libros

os gustan los libros

le gusta el libro

les gusta el libro

le gustan los libros

les gustan los libros

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