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Irregular Preterite Verbs in Spanish

Irregular Preterite Verbs in Spanish
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  • 0:03 Types of Irregular…
  • 0:54 -IR and E-to-I Stem Changers
  • 2:42 O-to-U Stem Changers
  • 3:16 U-Stem, I-Stem, & J-Stem Verbs
  • 6:39 Ir, Ser, & Dar
  • 7:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Zehel

Ashley has a M.A. in Spanish as well as a B.S. in Foreign Language Education. She has taught K-12 and now teaches college level.

The preterite has many irregular verbs that change stems or change completely when conjugated. Don't worry - with practice you will have these down in no time!

Types of Irregular Preterite Verbs

Irregular verbs in the preterite can be categorized into a few different types.

  • '-Ir' stem-changing verbs have a stem-change in the present as well as a stem-change in both the preterite third-person singular and third-person plural forms. This means that they are completely regular in the preterite in the yo, tú, nosotros/as, vosotros/as forms, but not in the él, ella, usted, ellos, ellas, ustedes forms.

  • U-stem verbs have a stem-change that throws the letter u into the mix.

  • I-stem verbs have a stem-change that throws the letter i into the mix.

  • J-stem verbs will add a j or change the letter c to a j when conjugated.

  • Ir, ser, and dar are special cases that we'll go over together.

-Ir and E-to-I Stem-Changers

Remember, '-ir' stem-changing verbs only change in two forms: él, ella, usted and ellos, ellas, ustedes. They're also all '-ir' verbs that stem-change in the present tense.

E-to-I Stem-Changers

The verbs with an 'e-to-ie' or 'e-to-i' stem-change in the present tense will have an 'e-to-i' stem-change in the preterite.

These verbs include conseguir ('to obtain'). Let's go through all of the conjugations of this word so you can see the changes in action.

yo conseguí nosotros conseguimos
tú conseguiste vosotros conseguisteis
él/ella/usted consiguió ellos/ellas/ustedes consiguieron

These changes also apply to verbs like:

  • Pedir ('to ask for')
  • Seguir ('to follow')
  • Servir ('to serve')
  • Sentarse ('to sit down')
  • Vestirse ('to get dressed')

The following verbs have two letter 'e's in their stems. It can be confusing to decide which 'e' changes to 'i.' Always change the letter e closest to the '-ir' ending to 'i.'

Let's use the sample verb despedirse (which means 'to say goodbye') for some conjugations:

yo me despedí nosotros nos despedimos
tú te despediste vosotros os despedisteis
él/ella/usted se despidió ellos/ellas/ustedes se despidieron

Other verbs in this category include:

  • Preferir (which means 'to prefer')
  • Repetir (or 'to repeat')

O-to-U Stem-Changers

The verbs with an 'o-to-ue' stem-change in the present tense will have an 'o-to-u' stem-change in the preterite.

These verbs include dormir (which means 'to sleep'). The conjugation chart for dormir looks like this:

yo dormí nosotros dormimos
tú dormiste vosotros dormisteis
él/ella/usted durmió ellos/ellas/ustedes durmieron

Another 'o-to-u' stem-changer is the verb morir (or 'to die').

U-stem, I-stem, and J-stem Verbs

Our next category of irregular preterite verbs includes u-stem, i-stem, and j-stem verbs. These verbs are irregular in all forms. They all have the same irregular endings that are a combination of regular preterite '-ar,' '-er,' and '-ir' endings. Also, these endings have no accents!

yo -e nosotros -imos
tú -iste vosotros -isteis
él/ella/usted -o ellos/ellas/ustedes - ieron

U Stem-changers

First, let's look at an example of a u stem-changer. We'll use tener (or 'to have') to show it all. Tener's stem changes to tuv-.

All conjugated, it looks like this:

yo tuve nosotros tuvimos
tú tuviste vosotros tuvisteis
él/ella/usted tuvo ellos/ellas/ustedes tuvieron

Other verbs that are u stem-changers include:

  • Estar ('to be') which has a new stem of estuv-
  • Poner (or 'to put') whose stem becomes pus-
  • Poder (which means 'to be able to') and has a new stem of pud-
  • Saber ('to know') with a stem of sup-
  • Querer (or 'to want') with a stem of quis-

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