Irregular verbs I
Lesson 5 was an introduction to verbs and the rules for conjugating them. Lesson 6 will introduce you to the verbs that break these rules—irregular verbs. Although these verbs break regular verb rules, they consistently follow their own sets of rules. All that is required to master irregular verbs is an understanding of their unique rules and an awareness of which verbs follow them.
It is a unique characteristic of the Spanish language that even the irregular verbs follow precise and predictable patterns (If, like me, your first language is American English, regularity in language may seem strange at first!) One reason for the extraordinary regularity is that Spanish is a direct descendant of Latin. Another reason is that unlike most of Europe, the area we now call Spain was occupied by Moors and Jews for hundreds of years; these two studious groups were known for their skill in science and medicine, and despite the constant political conflicts, education flourished in the Iberian peninsula. Perhaps the most important reason, however, is that the Real Academia Española has been actively regulating the Spanish language since 1713. True to its original purpose “to fix the voices and vocabularies of the Castilian language with propriety, elegance, and purity,” the Royal Academy labors to keep the language as logical, consistent and unified as possible.
Irregular in the First Person Singular
When the verbs in this section break the rules, it’s usually for the same reason: spelling and pronunciation incompatibilities. Producir and traer are good examples. Although they follow the rules in all other present tense conjugations, they break the rule for conjugating the yo form. Why? Follow the rules and you’ll see:
yo produco yo trao
The spelling of these incorrect forms corrupts the pronunciation. In the infinitive producir, the c represents a [s] sound (or in Spain, a [th] sound); however, if an educated Spanish speaker were to read the spelling of the incorrect form above, he would have to pronounce the c as [k]. In the second example, the letters ao would generally be pronounced as [w]—try pronouncing [trw]! The Spanish language deals with these difficulties by changing the spelling in the yo form, usually by adding a letter to the base. The spelling change facilitates pronunciation and preserves the relationship between the infinitive and the conjugated form. The following are verbs with irregular yo forms. Notice that there are several patterns of irregular yo forms:
|to make, to do
|to place, to put
|to be worth; to protect; to assist; to amount to
|to meet, to know
The strangest forms are hago, traigo and voy, since these actually change the verb base as well as the ending. Except for ir, ser and estar, these verbs use regular conjugated endings in the rest of their present tense forms. Estar is a special case, since three of its other conjugated forms incorporate a written accent—however, since it can be grouped with other irregular yo forms and since we will be giving this particular verb additional attention in Lesson 9, I’ve included it here. Ir and ser probably shouldn’t be included here since their irregularity is not confined to the yo form, but their yo forms do fit a pattern, and it made sense to me to group them with similar yo forms.
Irregular Present Tense
While the irregular yo form verbs follow ordinary Spanish logic with one legitimate exception, the verbs in this section simply follow their own rules. Ser is said to be derived from the irregular Latin verb esse, and some of the modern Spanish forms of this verb are identical or nearly identical to Latin forms. Ir is derived from the Latin ire, but the modern present tense Spanish forms do not bear much resemblance to the Latin forms. Study these verb trees:
Ir behaves almost as if it were an –ar verb. If the infinitive were “var,” it wouldn’t be considered irregular!
I’m afraid there is no substitute for memorization when it comes to verb forms and vocabulary. The more you read, listen, and try to communicate—in short, the more you practice—the easier and more obvious this lesson will become. I suggest the following: complete the practice exercises, correct them with the answer key, and then take a break from grammar. Instead, seek out “real Spanish” by talking to someone, reading, watching TV, whatever. If you encounter irregular verbs and recognize them, fantastic—but don’t get hung up on listening for grammar. Listen for meaning, and the grammar will come to you gradually. After taking in some real Spanish, go back and practice your vocabulary and study your verb trees—make flashcards, label your room, whatever. My point is, keep it balanced. Grammar and vocabulary are not the only components of learning a language, but trying to learn a language without them is like trying to build a house without a hammer and nails. Use the tools!
All of these sentences are written in the plural—“We work every day.” Rewrite these sentences in the singular—“I work every day.” It will only be necessary to change the verb, but you may add a subject pronoun if you like. Be careful—some of these sentences use regular verbs!
1) Trabajamos todos los días.
2) Conocemos a su esposo.
3) No sabemos los resultados.
4) Estamos en el supermercado.
5) Leemos las obras de Shakespeare.
6) Vamos al cine.
7) Salimos a las nueve y media.
8) Les ofrecemos ayuda y dinero.
9) Vivimos en Miami.
10) Hacemos la tarea.
For extra credit, translate the sentences.
1) (Yo) trabajo todos los días. I work every day.
2) Conozco a su esposo. I know her husband.
3) No sé los resultados. I don’t know the results.
4) Estoy en el supermercado. I’m at the supermarket.
5) Leo las obras de Shakespeare. I read Shakespeare’s works/plays.*
6) Voy al cine. I go/I’m going to the movies.*
7) Salgo a las nueve y media. I leave at nine-thirty.
8) Les ofrezco ayuda y dinero. I offer you/them help and money.
9) Vivo en Miami. I live in Miami.
10) Hago la tarea. I do the job/chore/homework.*
*Translators are constantly choosing the words that best represent the original idea. I’d prefer “Shakespeare’s plays,” “I’m going,” and “the homework;” as the original author, I know exactly what idea I was trying to convey. Even so, it is difficult to know an author’s intentions in decontextualized sentences like these, so any variation you may have found in a dictionary that more or less preserves the idea will be acceptable.