Spanish Verbs with Spelling Changes


July 2, 2016 by Al

When I first attempted to lean Spanish I was a bit overwhelmed by how many “irregular” verbs there are in the language. However, I ran across a little snippet in an old Spanish grammar book that helped sort this out for me. Not only did it help with some of these so-called irregular verbs, but it renewed my faith in my belief that knowing how a word is spelled facilitates language learning. Many Spanish learning systems essentially ignore any formal lessons in spelling or grammar in favor of having the students focus on phonology. Of course, listening to native speakers is crucial for learning a language, but sometimes a newbie to a language will hear the speaker incorrectly and thus think he or she has learned a certain work or sound only to learn later that such was not the case. If the sound of a word is coupled with its spelling those types of errors can be reduced.

So what I originally thought of as irregular verbs turned out to be pretty regular once I learned a few basic spelling rules in Spanish. Of course, there are always exceptions to rules, but spelling in Spanish is much more consistent than I had originally realized.

Consider the verb “modificar” (modify, change, moderate). Because it is an -ar verb we know that the present the conjugation is ‘modifico, modificas, modifica, modificamos, modificais, modifican,’ but in the preterit we get ‘modifique, modificaste, modifico, modificamos, modificasteis, modificaron’. Why isn’t the first person singular in the preterit ‘modifice’? After all, that is how other -ar verbs are conjugated. Well, not all -ar verbs, I guess. ‘Buscar’ in the preterit yo form is busque, pagar is pague, and just to make life more confusing comenzar is comence.

But they are not all that bizarre. They are following rules.

The sound /k/ is written as c before a, o, and u. But it becomes qu before e and i. Thus, what we would expect to be “modifice” should be modifique and “busce” should be “busque.” So the preterit yo form of indicar is indique, of pescar it is pesque, of secar it is seque, and so on. Very regular once you know the spelling rule.

Here are a couple more rules:
The /g/ sound is written as a g before a, o, u, but becomees gu before e and i. So the preterit of pagar is pague.
The /s/ is written as a z before a, o, u but become c before e and i. Thus, comenzar is comence in the yo preterit form.


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