Whenever a particular conjugation ending threatens to change its pronunciation, the spelling of the verb must be altered to accommodate the correct pronunciation.
AR Verb Irregularities
The first type of spelling accommodation that you might consider is in the verbs that end in –car. Because the yo ending is é, you need to find some way to accommodate the conjugation so that it keeps the “k” sound in –car. (You have already come across similar spelling-accommodation changes when learning about the irregular verbs in the present.) For example, take a look at the preterite conjugations of the verb buscar.
|–ar||buscar (to search, look for)|
|él, ella, usted||–ó||buscó|
|ellos, ellas, ustedes||–aron||buscaron|
As you can see, in order to get a conjugation that is pronounced “boos- KEH,” the c is changed to qu, which spells out busqué. For other verbs in this category, refer to the following table.
Other –CAR Verbs
Another spelling accommodation that occurs in the yo form of the preterite conjugation applies to verbs that end in –gar. In order to avoid the ending –gé (which makes the g soft), the spelling is modified to –gué.
Because only the yo-form ending of these verbs begins with an e (the only other vowel that would similarly influence g is i), only one out of the five conjugations is irregular. The following table lists most of the –gar verbs, as well as their conjugations in the yo form and the él/ella/usted form (used as example of the “default” conjugation).
–GAR Verb Conjugations
The last exception for the first-person singular conjugations in the preterite that apply to –ar verbs are the verbs that end in –zar. When –é is added to the base, z must be replaced by c. This change may seem a bit confusing, since in most of the Spanish dialects, both letters represent the same sound. Unfortunately, this is but another remnant of Spanish's heritage, when z and c had different pronunciations. Again, this spelling accommodation occurs only in the yo form of the preterite. For a list of –zar verbs, refer to the following table.
–ZAR Verb Conjugations
Base Ending in a Vowel
Look for–er and –ir verbs that have a base ending in a vowel (for example, construir, “to construct/build”—its base ends in a vowel u). In this category, the i in third-person endings –ió and –ieron changes to a y. This switch does not indicate a fundamental change so much as it provides a clarification of emphasis.
Remember that the i is a weak vowel that is often overpowered by stronger vowels (a, e, and o) to produce a “y” sound. Recall also that the accented í maintains its “ee” sound. An accented í would actually change the pronunciation of the word, and yet the “vowel + i + strong vowel” combination does not seem to produce a strong enough “y” to tame that mess of open sound.
The answer therefore is to adopt the y formally. Refer to the conjugations of construir (to construct) and sustituir (to substitute) in the following table.
Conjugating Construir and Sustituir in the Preterite
In some of the verbs that belong to the same category (verb base ending in a vowel), there's an additional change: tú, nosotros, and vosotros forms also have an accent mark over the i—the accent mark turns the weak i (“y”) into a strong í (“ee”). For a sample conjugation, take a look at proveer.
|–er||proveer (to provide)|
|él, ella, usted||–ió||proveyó|
|ellos, ellas, ustedes||–ieron||proveyeron|
Other Verbs in the I to Y Category
Now it's time to take a break and review what you've learned so far. Then, check out the following exercise to help you practice these irregular- verb conjugations.
Verb Practice #9
Translate the following sentences using the appropriate verb forms. Use your English-to-Spanish and Spanish-to-English dictionary to look up words you don't already know. Then, check your answers.
1. I searched for my book.
2. He read the newspaper.
3. They believed the worst.
4. I practiced all day.
5. You (formal) possessed courage.
Verbs That End in –DUCIR
In the case of verbs that end with –ducir, the irregular changes occur in all of the conjugations of the preterite tense. For example, take a look at how to conjugate conducir (to drive).
|conducir (to drive)|
|él, ella, usted||condujo|
|ellos, ellas, ustedes||condujeron|
As you can see, three major changes have taken place: The c at the end of each base has been changed to j, the accent marks that generally appear in some of the preterite forms have all been dropped, and the ending in the third-person plural is –eron (and not –ieron, as in regular –er and –ir verbs).
Other verbs that belong to this category appear in the following table.
Sample –DUCIR Verb Conjugations in the Preterite
Another verb that is similar to this group (though, technically, it doesn't belong here) is decir (to say). In the preterite, its base changes to dij–, and its endings are the same as that of the verbs in this category: –e, –iste, –o, –imos, -isteis, and –eron (notice that there are no accent marks over these endings).