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Spanish -ar verbs:
verbs with a vowel change

On the previous pages, we introduced and practised forming the present tense of regular -ar verbs. Now we will consider certain verbs which have a vowel change in certain forms. These verbs are somtimes given the name radical changing verbs, because they change the form of their "radical" or "root".

-ar verbs that change the vowel from e to ie

The first set of verbs we'll look at are ones that change an e vowel of their stem to ie. For example, the Spanish verb pensar is the general word for to think. It's basically a regular -ar verb, so you might expect the form for "I think" to be *penso. But in fact:

The correct form for "I think" is pienso: that is, the e vowel has changed to ie.

So that leaves us with two problems:

  • for a given -ar verb, how do we know if it has such a vowel change?;
  • and if it does have a vowel change, which forms have the change?

For now, we're going to put the first problem to one side, except to say that most verbs don't have a vowel change, but a handful of very common verbs do. So a good strategy is simply to learn the handful of common verbs. (Failing that, there's no perfect way to look at an infinitive and tell if it has a vowel change, but there are a couple of tricks we'll look at later.)

The second problem is easier. For -ar verbs:

If an -ar verb has a vowel change in the stem, then the vowel changes when it is stressed.

That is, the vowel changes when the stressed syllable doesn't fall on the ending. The endings -amos and -áis are stressed: that is, the stress falls on the syllable containing the a vowel of these endings.

But the other endings– -o, -as, -a, -an– are unstressed. That is, the stress "falls back" to the previous syllable. So with forms with these endings, the vowel before the ending will change (if the verb is of the vowel-changing type). So that gives us the following pattern:

I think
we think
you think
you (all) think
he/she thinks
they think

Practise verbs that change e to ie

Now it's your turn. In the following exercise, you'll practise forming the following verbs:

to think
to close
to begin
to begin
to recommend
to heat

Feedback Suggest a change / Cambios sugeridos

Needless to say, all of these verbs change e to ie using the above pattern.

We've left out two other common vowel-changing verbs for the time being: sentar (to seat) and despertar (to wake). That's because these verbs are usually used with an extra pronoun meaning myself, herself etc. (For example, with the extra pronoun, sentar is used to mean "to seat oneself", in other words to sit down.) We'll look at this type of verb later.

Next: verbs changing the vowel from o to ue

The other common vowel change pattern in Spanish is -ar verbs that change o to ue.

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