28 Stem-changing verbs 1


We saw before that the verb “tener” has changes to both the stem and the ending. For example, recall that the “e” from the stem “ten-” changes to an “ie” for the “tú” form: tienes (you have). In fact, there are three primary types of “stem-changing verbs” that exist in the present tense in Spanish. Let’s take a brief look at an example of each in the “tú” form:

Three types of stem-changing verbs

Type of change Infinitive Stem Tú form Equivalent
from e: ie querer: to want quer- quieres you want
from o / u: ue dormir: to sleep
jugar: to play
you sleep
you play
from e: i pedir: to ask for ped- pides you ask for

The pattern for all three types of stem-changing verbs is that the “yo, tú, él-ella-Ud., ellos-ellas-Uds.” forms always undergo the stem change, but the “nosotros / vosotros” forms never do:

Stem-changing verb pattern:

Stem-change? Stem-change?
yo (yes) nosotros (no)
tú (yes) vosotros (no)
él (yes) ellos (yes)
ella (yes) ellas (yes)
Ud. (yes) Uds. (yes)

Stem-changing verbs: e:ie

The verb “querer” (to want, to love) is one of the most practical verbs in the language. “Querer” can be used to say what you and others want, to ask what someone wants to do, and to invite someone to do something. Don’t forget: the auxiliaries “do/does” are built into the meaning of the conjugated forms, so to ask “Do you want to…?” is simply a matter of conjugating the verb in the “tú” form “¿Quieres…?”. Another meaning of “querer” is “to love”—very practical as well!

Querer: to want; to love

Subject pronouns Singular Basic meaning Subject pronouns Plural Basic meaning
yo quiero I want nosotros/as queremos we want
quieres you want vosotros/as queréis you want (Sp.)
él quiere he wants ellos quieren they want
ella quiere she wants ellas quieren they want (f)
Ud. quiere you want Uds. quieren you want
Javier quiere viajar a España. Javier wants to travel to Spain.
¿Qué quiere hacer Ud.? What do you want to do?
¿Quieres bailar? Do you want to dance?
Quieren ir con nosotros. They want to go with us.
No queremos. We don’t want to.
Quiero un trabajo mejor. I want a better job.
Ella quiere mucho a sus hijos. She loves her children a lot.

OJO: Let’s take another look at the last example: “Ella quiere mucho a sus hijos”.

Did you notice the “a” that comes right before “sus hijos”? Spanish uses a mechanism many call “the personal a” that doesn’t exist in English. Nor is the word “a” (which means “to” in other contexts) translated into anything specific in English. The idea is this: when you have a grammatical structure “subject-verb-object” and the “object” is a person or reference to a person, “a” comes right before mention of the person. A few more examples:

Examples of the personal “a”

Subject Verb Object
El papá entiende a su hijo.
The dad understands his son.
Los niños creen a sus padres.
The children believe their parents.

When the object is not a person, no “a” is necessary:

No personal “a”

Subject Verb Object
El papá entiende la situación.
The dad understands the situation.

To continue with more e:ie stem-changing verbs…

Common e:ie stem-changing verbs

calentar to heat up encender to turn on, to light
cerrar to close, to shut entender to understand
comenzar to begin, to start mentir to lie
confesar to confess pensar to think
convertir to convert perder to lose
defender to defend preferir to prefer
empezar to begin, to start querer to want, to love

OJO: for the three-syllable verbs from the list above (em-pe-zar / pre-fe-rir), the e:ie stem change always occurs in the middle, or with the second syllable: the second “e” of “em-pe-zar / pre-fe-rir” undergoes the stem change.

¿Cómo se dice…?:

Now you try out some sentences: use the verbs from the e:ie stem-changing verb list above to translate the sentences below.

Some vocabulary you might need: por lo general = generally; el sol = the sun; equipo = team; favorito = favorite; siempre = always; menor = younger

  1. She prefers to study with her friends.
  2. (At) what time does Spanish class begin? (2 verbs possible)
  3. What do you think? (tú)
  4. Generally, the stores close at 9pm.
  5. Mateo doesn’t lie!
  6. Why don’t they understand? (with: entender)
  7. The sun is warming up the day.
  8. We want to have dinner at seven.
  9. My favorite team always loses.
  10. I always defend my younger brother.


Ella prefiere estudiar con sus amigos.

  1. ¿A qué hora empieza la clase de español?
  2. ¿Qué piensas?
  3. Por lo general, las tiendas cierran a las nueve de la noche.
  4. ¡Mateo no miente!
  5. ¿Por qué no entienden ellos?
  6. El sol calienta el día.
  7. Queremos cenar a las siete.
  8. Mi equipo favorito siempre pierde.
  9. Yo siempre defiendo a mi hermano menor.

Grammar Details:

#1 from above: Ella prefiere estudiar con sus amigos.
Did you remember to conjugate the first verb (prefiere) and leave the second (estudiar) in the infinitive?

#2 from above: ¿A qué hora empieza la clase de español?
A thing, in this case a class, is the subject of the sentence and one thing is always conjugated in the él/ella/Ud. (first person-singular) form of the verb.

#4 from above: Por lo general, las tiendas cierran a las nueve de la noche.
To express am/pm with time, use the expressions: “de la mañana” for am, and “de la tarde” and “de la noche” for pm.

#5 from above: ¡Mateo no miente!
Spanish uses an upside-down exclamation mark to begin the sentence.

#6 from above: ¿Por qué no entienden ellos?
When we form a question that elicits information, the position of the subject pronoun (ellos), if used, frequently follows the conjugated verb.

#10 from above: Yo siempre defiendo a mi hermano menor.
“Menor” is an adjective, and so it follows the noun it modifies: “hermano”. “Siempre” is an adverb and its position is flexible: it could follow the verb “defiendo” or it could also appear at the end of the sentence. Also, did you remember to insert the personal “a” before “mi hermano menor”?


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First Year Spanish 1 Copyright © 2019 by Paul Eckhardt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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