24.1 Irregular verbs - an introduction

Probably in all Indo-Germanic languages - at least in Spanish, French, Italian, Persian, English, German and Latin - the change of verbs follows a certain logic. It's hard enough to learn this logic and then there are exceptioins to this logic, which makes things not even easier.

Of the irregular verbs, there are two types. The first are the ones that change only their way of writing (not the way they are spoken). They are only in their spelling different to ensure the regularity of the spoken language. In the spoken language, they are not even irregulars. Let's have a look at an example.

vencer = to win
same logic:
= to convince


presente imperfecto indefinido futuro
yo venzo yo vencía yo vencí venceré
tú vences tú vencías tú venciste vencerás
él vence el vencía él venció vencerá
nosotros vencemos nosotros vencíamos nosotros vencimos venceremos
vosotros vencéis vosotros vencíais vosotros vencisteis venceréis
ellos vencen ellos vencían ellos vencieron vencerán


presente imperfecto imperativo condicional
yo venza yo venciera yo vencería
tú venzas tú vencieras vence (no venzas) tú vencerías
él venza él venciera venza Usted (no venza Usted) él vencería
nosotros venzamos nosotros venciéramos venzamos nosotros venceríamos
vosotros venzáis vosotros vencierais venced (no venzáis) vosotros venceríais
ellos venzan ellos vencieran venzan Ustedes ellos vencerían

with convencer: yo convenzo, tú convences... yo convencí, tú convenciste... yo convenza, tú convenzas... etc.

As you can see, vencer changes its stem in the first person singular in presente indicativo and in all the forms of the subjuntivo. This is only a different spelling to ensure the phonetical consistence. If not changed the the first person singular in presente indicativo would be:

venco = spoken: venko

Now it would be irregular because the sound of [c] would change to [k]. This is due to the rule that before the vocals a and o c is spoken k. These kinds of irregularities are derived irregularities.

Then there are the genuine irregular verbs that change not only in spelling but also in the way they are spoken. We will give an overview that include the imperfect, which actually has hardly any irregularities but it's easier to learn this way.

There are about 2,000 verbs, 1,000 of those have some kind of irregularity. But don't worry there aren't 1,000 different irregularities but only about 80. Most of them follow a certain scheme. Some verbs have more than one irregularity. One of those is colgar = to hang.

colgar = to hang


presente imperfecto indefinido futuro
yo cuelgo yo colgaba yo colgué yo colgaré
tú cuelgas tú colgabas tú colgaste tú colgarás
él cuelga él colgaba él colgó él colgará
nosotros colgamos nosotros colgábamos nosotros colgamos nosotros colgaremos
vosotros colgáis vosotros colgabais vosotros colgasteis vosotros colgaréis
ellos cuelgan ellos colgaban ellos colgaron ellos colgarán


presente imperfecto imperativo condicional
yo cuelgue yo colgara - yo colgaría
tú cuelgues tú colgaras cuelga (no cuelgues) tú colgarías
él cuelgue él colgara cuelgue Usted (no cuelgue Usted) él colgaría
nosotros colguemos nosotros colgaramos colguemos (no colguemos) nosotros colgaríamos
vosotros colguéis vosotros colgarais colgad (no colguéis) vosotros colgaríais
ellos cuelguen ellos colgaran cuelguen Ustedes (no cuelguen) ellos colgarían

gerundio: colgando
participio perfecto: colgado

This verb shows two changes. The o turns an u, and after g is an u added (again because of the pronunciation rule that g is spoken with a throat-sound when it is before i or e). Therefore, it is tú cuelgues and not tú cuelges. In the following we have distinguished between genuine irregular verbs and derived irregular verbs. If a verb has two irregularities, a genuine one and a derived one, it is to be found among the genuine irregular verbs only. We now will have a look first at the genuine irregular verbs and the first ones are so irregular that even the imperfect is irregular.

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