Learning irregular verbs can be hard work, there’s no easy way to remember them you just have to keep repeating conjugation exercises until you have memorised them all.
But it’s worth it… there are over 400 million Spanish speakers in the world today.
Here are our tips for mastering Spanish yourself.
Irregular Spanish verbs, what are we talking about?
You’ll be happy to hear though that the endings for each group of verbs (3 groups of verbs ending in AR, IR or ER) don’t change even for irregular verbs.
A diphthong is when two vowels are pronounced as a single syllable. This changes the sound of the verb and only applies in the present tenses (indicative, subjunctive and imperative).
There are two forms of diphthongs:
- Diphthongs in "e": becomes "ie",
- The diphthongs in "o": become "ue".
For example, for the verb "pensar" (to think), we conjugate as follows: pienso, piensas, piensa, pensamos, pensáis, piensan.
And for the infinitive verb "encontrar" (to meet) and its pronominal form "encontrarse", is conjugated as follows: me encuentro, encuentras, encuentra, our encontramos, os encontráis, encuentran.
Weakening of the Verb
The weakening of the verbs follows the same logic as for the diphthong, but is found in the preterite in the third person singular and plural as well as the present.
This means that for certain verbs - such as pedir, repetir, elegir, seguir, perseguir, sentir, servir, vestirse - the "e" becomes "i" when the latter is accentuated.
To succeed in your Spanish exercises, take the conjugation tables of the verb "elegir" (to choose), for example, in the present and the simple past:
- Present indicative: elijo, elige, elige, elegimos, elegis, eligen,
- Preterite: elegi, elegist, eligió, elegimos, elegisteis, eligieron.
Remembering to change the "e" to "i" may seem difficult but there is no miracle recipe: you have to practice and revise these grammar rules so you don’t go wrong.
Memorising Irregular Verbs
Now that we know all this, how do we really learn these verbs? Whether you’re preparing for a test or for a holiday in Spain, you just have to put the time in.
Good news though, the Spanish alphabet is basically the same as ours so at least you’ll be able to decipher the verbs!
Here are our tips:
Learn Bit by Bit
Start by learning a small list of essential verbs rather than trying to learn them all at once.
Your brain can’t take in all that information at once, so try a few words at a time and repeat again and again.
For example, try reciting 10 verbs in the morning, reread them at midday, recite 10 more in the afternoon and reread the whole lot before going to bed in the evening.
Test yourself by writing verbs down in English and trying to remember its equivalent in Spanish.
Once you feel like you have mastered the first set of verbs take some online tests to see where you’re at. Then you can add more verbs to your list to learn.
Learning Spanish should become part of your daily routine.
Follow these tips and you’ll have mastered the irregular verbs in no time!
Separate verbs into groups
Spanish verbs can be classed into 3 main groups.
The first group is verbs ending in AR, the second, ER and the third IR.
Then you can separate them even further by those that have diphthong or by grouping them by their longer endings: “-acer”, “-ecer”, “-ocer”, “-ucir”, “-uir” (“nacer”, “hacer”, “conocer”, “conducir”, “construir”, etc.).
Then make a list of ‘unclassable’ verbs that don’t fit any pattern and are irregular in every tense: “ir”, “decir”, “haber”, “oír”, “poder”, “ser”, “tener”, “venir”, “querer”.
Learn with sentences
Learning Spanish by making up simple sentences will not only help with your grammar but will also build up your vocabulary.
- I think I’m ill : Pienso que estoy enfermo,
- He said that you have to leave: Dijo que tenía que salgas,
- Do you know him? No I don’t know him: Lo conoces ? No ! No lo conozco.
Another idea: stick post-it notes around your room with different irregular verbs written on, every time you walk past one try to conjugate it in your head.
‘Unclassable’ Irregular Verbs
Many of the most commonly used verbs are completely irregular, like: “ser” (to be), “estar” (to be), “ir” (to go), and “haber” (to have).
Either Ser or Estar can be used depending on the context, whether it is definitive (ser) or temporary (estar), while the verb “haber” is used as an auxiliary verb and is used to form the perfect tense.
The verbs “haber” and “ir” are irregular for each person (1st, 2nd, 3rd etc.):
- Ir : voy, vas, va, vamos, vais, van,
- Haber : he, has, ha, hemos, habéis, han.
Here is a list of some other ‘unclassable’ verbs to learn :
Verbs that change to “oy” in the first person :
Those that change to “go”:
And others that are completely random!
Irregular Verbs That Follow a Pattern
Whether they are diphthong or there is a vowel change or they only become irregular depending on the tense there are a great multitude of irregular verbs.
We can’t list them all in one article but here are some that can be grouped together to make them easier to remember:
When “e » becomes “ie” and “o” becomes “ue”:
- Acertar, adquirir, apretar, atravesar, atender, ascender,
- Cegar, cerrer, confesar, concernir, contar,
- Despertar, desterrar, defender, discernir,
- Empezar, enterrar, encender, entender, extender,
- Helar, hender
- Merendar, mover, morir,
- Negar, nevar,
- Pensar, Plegar, perder, preferir,
- Segar, sembrar,
- Tropezar, tender.
When “e” becomes “i”:
- Colegir, competir, concebir, conseguir, corregir,
- Derretir, despedir,
- Elegir, embestir, expedir,
- Impedir, investir,
- Pedir, perseguir, proseguir,
- Regir, rendir, repetir,
- Seguir, servir, sonreír, soñar,
“i” becomes “y”:
- Afluir, argüir, atribuir,
- Concluir, constituir, construir, contribuir,
- Destituir, discminuir, distribuir,
- Incluir, influir, instituir, instruir,
- Restituir, retribuir,
And when “c” becomes “zc”:
- Acaecer, acontecer, amanecer, anochecer, apetecer, atardecer,
- Carecer, crecer,
- Desaparecer, deslucir,
- Embellecer, enloquecer, enriquecer, ensordecer, estremecer,
- Obedecer, oscurecer,
- Pacer, placer, parecer, padecer, pertenecer,
- Renococer, relucir, renacer, restablecer, etc.
We know this is a lot of verbs to learn… but don’t worry, the most important thing is to understand diphthongs and to know the most commonly used verbs.
Now to work, good luck!
See more on common Spanish verbs here.