Preterite Conjugations in Spanish: Terms With Irregular Patterns

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  • 0:02 Preterite Forms
  • 1:35 Extra Accent Marks
  • 3:55 Without Extra Accents
  • 5:41 Exceptions
  • 7:05 Practica
  • 9:32 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: April Schmidt

April has a Ph.D. in Spanish and has taught college-level Spanish for 10+ years.

As you know, there are many irregular verbs in the preterite tense. In this lesson, you'll be learning about spelling changes that occur in the preterite form of verbs with stems ending in a vowel, like oir, leer, creer, and destruir.

Preterite Forms with Three Vowels in a Row

Vowels are a good thing, especially if you're playing Scrabble or Wheel of Fortune. But when we're dealing with Spanish verbs, it's possible to have too much of a good thing. In this lesson, we'll take a look at some verbs that need to have spelling changes in the preterite to avoid having too many vowels together.

A number of verbs, such as oír, leer, creer, and destruir, have stems that end in a vowel. So when you drop the '-er' or '-ir' ending off, you are left with 'o-,' 'le-,' 'cre-,' and 'destru-.' That creates a problem when you try adding the third person preterite endings, '-ió' and '-ieron.' You end up with words that have three vowels in a row, like oió or leieron, and that can make the word hard to pronounce. So, some small changes are made to the spelling of these verb forms.

To get rid of the triple vowels in the third person forms, the 'i' in both the '-ió' and '-ieron' endings is changed to a 'y,' making the endings '-yó' and '-yeron,' respectively. This gives you third person preterite forms like oyó / oyeron, leyó / leyeron, creyó / creyeron, and destruyó / destruyeron.

Preterite Forms with Extra Accent Marks

Some of these verbs have an additional spelling change. Besides changing the 'i' in the '-er' and '-ir' preterite tense endings to 'y,' they also add accent marks to the endings of the first person plural (nosotros) and second person singular and plural ( and vosotros) forms. The first person singular (yo) already has an accent mark on the preterite ending ('-í') and so does not need any further change. Verbs that add accent marks to these three forms include the following:

  • Oír (to hear): oí, oíste, oyó, oímos, oísteis, oyeron
  • Leer (to read): leí, leíste, leyó, leímos, leísteis, leyeron
  • Creer (to believe): creí, creíste, creyó, creímos, creísteis, creyeron
  • Caer (to fall): caí, caíste, cayó, caímos, caísteis, cayeron

Normally, when a strong vowel ('a,' 'e,' or 'o') is combined with a weak vowel ('i' or 'u'), the two form a single syllable, known as a diphthong. So, 'oi' would sound like 'oy,' 'ei' would sound like 'ey,' and 'ai' would sound like 'ay.' However, adding an accent mark to the weak vowel divides the diphthong into two syllables. So, 'oí' is pronounced 'oh-ee,' 'eí' is pronounced 'eh-ee,' and 'aí' is pronounced 'ah-ee.' As you can see, adding an accent mark to verb forms like oíste, leímos, or caísteis changes the way you pronounce these forms.

Preterite Forms without Extra Accents

Not all verbs that change the 'i' to 'y' in the third person preterite endings add extra accent marks in the other forms. Verbs that end in '-uir' only have accent marks in the first person singular (yo) and third person singular (él/ella/Ud.), the forms that are normally accented in the preterite. Here are a few commonly used verbs that end in '-uir' and have spelling changes only in the third person singular and plural:

  • Destruir (to destroy): destruí, destruiste, destruyó, destruimos, destruisteis, destruyeron
  • Construir (to construct, build): construí, construiste, construyó, construimos, construisteis, construyeron
  • Huir (to flee, run away): huí, huiste, huyó, huimos, huisteis, huyeron

Two weak vowels ('u' and 'i') can form diphthongs, as well as strong and weak vowels. Therefore, in the above verbs conjugations, the 'ui' forms a single syllable that sounds like 'we.' When the 'i' is accented, as it is in the first person singular (yo), then the sounds are divided into two syllables. So, 'uí' is pronounced 'oo-ee.'

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