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Spanish language Spanish Spelling Change Verbs

Spelling change verbs | Stem-changing verbs

Spanish has two kinds of verbs that undergo spelling changes during conjugation. Stem-changing verbs are characterized by changes in vowels, while spelling change verbs undergo consonant changes in certain conjugations. Spelling change verbs don't exist just to make life difficult for students - there's actually a very specific logic behind them which has to do with a certain aspect of Spanish pronunciation.

As you probably know, Spanish spelling is very similar to Spanish pronunciation - once you've learned the rules, you can pronounce a brand-new Spanish word with little or no difficulty. That sounds easy, but in fact there is a potential difficulty that stems from this: when conjugating certain verbs, spelling changes are required in order to maintain sounds.

Spanish vowels are divided into two categories, hard and soft, because certain consonants are pronounced differently depending on whether they are followed by a hard or soft vowel - learn more.

When conjugating Spanish verbs, the sound of the last letter in the stem  (e.g., the C in sacar, the G in jugar) always needs to sound the same in every tense and mood. If the infinitive has a hard G, as in jugar, every conjugation of jugar needs to maintain that hard G sound. But what happens in a conjugation where the stem is followed by the soft vowel E, such as the first person singular preterite? To maintain the hard pronunciation, there needs to be a spelling change.

There are two main types of spelling change verbs: verbs that need a hard sound in front of a soft vowel and verbs that need a soft sound in front of a hard vowel.

1. Changing a soft sound to a hard one: Pagar has a hard G sound, which is maintained in all of the present tense conjugations because they are all hard vowels (pago, pagas, etc). However in the pretérito, the first person singular ends in the soft vowel E, which would normally give you "pagé" and would be pronounced [pa hay]. What you want is [pa gay], so to get that sound you need to add a U: pagué.

2. Hard to soft: Coger has a soft G, but the first person singular present tense ends in an O, which would make "cogo" - a hard G sound. To make the soft sound, you need to change the G to a J: cojo.

3. In some cases, extra letters must be removed, because they existed only to get a hard sound in front of a soft vowel but are unnecessary in front of a hard vowel. For example, seguir has a U in front of the I so that the G is hard. For the first person singular, the U must be removed so that rather than "siguo," which would be pronounced [see gu o], you have sigo [see go].

Here are the different spelling changes that verbs undergo:

1. To make a hard sound in front of a soft vowel:

C to QU sacar > yo saqué
G to GU pagar > yo pagué
Z to C comenzar > yo comencé

2. To make a soft sound in front of a hard vowel:

C to Z hacer > él hizo
G to J coger > yo cojo

3. To avoid extra letters in front of hard vowels:

GU to G seguir > yo sigo
QU to C delinquir > yo delinco


Spanish verbs     Spanish grammar     Spanish pronunciation



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