Stem-changing Verbs

The part of a verb that comes before the –ar, –er or –ir ending is called the verb’s stem. In the conjugations that you have learned so far, you have only been required to modify a verb’s ending. Stem-changing verbs, as the name implies, also undergo spelling changes in the stem. While it would be beyond the scope of this module to list all of the stem-changing verbs in Spanish, it is nonetheless essential that students be familiar with a few of the most commonly used stem-changing verbs before beginning a second semester or second year course. These verbs are grouped together according to the type of spelling change that occurs in the stem.

E → IE Stem-changing Verbs

For these verbs, you’ll change the e of the verb’s stem to ie. It’s very simple! Let’s look at the example of pensar (to think):

PENSAR (to think; to plan)

Subject Pronoun Verb Conjugation English
yo pienso I think
piensas you think
usted piensa you think
él (ella) piensa (s)he thinks
nosotros(as) pensamos we think
vosotros(as) pensáis you all think
ustedes piensan you all think
ellos(as) piensan they think

Notice that I have highlighted the nosotros and vosotros forms. This is because the stem change does not apply to these forms. You’ll conjugate these two forms normally. Below I have listed a few other common e → ie stem-changing verbs. Just like pensar, these verbs will not undergo a stem change in the nosotros or vosotros forms. The endings for a particular stem-changing verb will, of course, depend on whether the verb is an AR, ER or IR verb. See the discussion on regular present tense verbs to review the endings for each of these verb types.

cerrar(e:ie) to close
empezar(e:ie) to begin
entender(e:ie) to understand
pensar(e:ie) to think; to plan
perder(e:ie) to miss; to lose
preferir(e:ie) to prefer
querer(e:ie) to want

Here are several complete sentences containing some of the stem-changing verbs from the list above.

La clase empieza a las cinco. The class begins at five.
Yo no entiendo la lección. I do not understand the lesson.
Miguel siempre pierde el tren. Miguel always misses the train.
Mi hermano prefiere vivir en la ciudad. My brother prefers to live in the city.
Cerramos la puerta a las diez. We close the door at ten.

O → UE Stem-changing Verbs

For these verbs, you’ll change the o in the stem to ue. Here’s an example:

DORMIR (to sleep)

Subject Pronoun Verb Conjugation English
yo duermo I sleep
duermes you sleep
usted duerme you sleep
él (ella) duerme (s)he sleeps
nosotros(as) dormimos we sleep
vosotros(as) dormís you all sleep
ustedes duermen you all sleep
ellos(as) duermen they sleep

Again, notice that the stem change does not apply to the nosotros and vosotros forms. Here are several o → ue stem-changing verbs that you will need to review since they are usually taught early in first year Spanish courses.

almorzar(o:ue) to have lunch
dormir(o:ue) to sleep
jugar*(u:ue) to play
poder(o:ue) to be able
recordar(o:ue) to remember
volver(o:ue) to return; to go back
*Jugar is technically a u → ue stem-changing verb but it follows the same conjugation pattern as the o → ue stem-changing verbs.

Here are several complete sentences containing some of the o → ue stem-changing verbs.

María almuerza en la cafetería. María eats lunch in the cafeteria.
Yo duermo por ocho horas cada noche. I sleep for eight hours each night.
Josefina no puede venir. Josefina cannot come.
Nosotros volvemos mañana. We return tomorrow.
Mi amigo y yo jugamos al baloncesto a menudo. My friend and I play basketball often.

E → I Stem-changing Verbs

For these verbs you’ll change the e in the stem to i. Here’s an example:

PEDIR (to order, to ask for, to request)

Subject Pronoun Verb Conjugation English
yo pido I request
pides you request
usted pide you request
él (ella) pide (s)he requests
nosotros(as) pedimos we request
vosotros(as) pedís you all request
ustedes piden you all request
ellos(as) piden they request

Yet again, there is no stem change in the nosotros and vosotros forms. Here are two other e → i stem-changing verbs you should be familiar with.

repetir(e:i) to repeat
servir(e:i) to serve

Here are a few complete sentences containing e → i stem-changing verbs.

La profesora siempre repite las instrucciones. The teacher always repeats the instructions.
Pido fajitas cuando voy al restaurante mexicano. I order fajitas when I go to the Mexican restaurant.
¿Sirven pescado? Do you all serve fish?

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