There is a substantial group of verbs in Spanish which behave differently from the standard verbs we have looked at so far in these articles. They are called Root-Changing Verbs. Some people call them Radical-Changing Verbs which is just a posher name for the same thing. The reason they have this name is because, as well as the ending changes which are exactly the same as with standard verbs, they make some small but significant changes to their roots.
As a quick reminder of what roots are, they are the bit of verb that’s left once you take away the –ar, –er, and –ir endings. This could be one letter, as in the case of the verb ‘to see’ – ‘ver’ (ending –er; root – v), or several syllables, as in the verb ‘to reorganize’ – ‘reorganizar’ (ending –ar; root – reorganiz). We divide all verbs in this way for all sorts of different reasons, so it is a very important principle.
Just as in the case of standard verbs, Root Changing Verbs follow very predictable patterns. There are in fact three types of Root Changing Verbs and once we have learnt what they are and a few basic things about them, there really are no more mysteries.
Let’s get started straight away on our first type of Root Changing Verb and look at how it works.
The most common group is what is called the ‘e to ie’ group. This refers to certain verbs that contain the letter ‘e’ in the root. For example, the verb ‘cerrar’, which means ‘to close’ and is an –ar verb. The –ar endings are exactly the same as all other –ar verbs. They are completely regular and have to be so, because they tell us who is performing the action of closing.
So, let’s refresh our memory about the –ar verb endings. These are:
Now let’s look at our root, in this case ‘cerr’. We are looking at the ‘e to ie’ group, so this means that the root ‘cerr’ changes to ‘cierr’. However, it only does so in four out of the six forms, as follows:
(Which mean, just in case we’ve forgotten: I close, you close, he/she/it closes, we close, you close, they close).
If we look at this pattern carefully, we will see that all the singular forms change from ‘cerr’ to ‘cierr’, as does the third person plural ‘they’ form, but the first and second persons plural (‘we’ and ‘you’ forms) do not make this change. The reason for this is to do with where the beat of the word goes when we are speaking. Where the changes occur, the beat goes on the root and where the changes do not occur (‘cerramos’, ‘cerráis’), the beat goes on the endings. This is actually a very important point which we will explore in more detail next month.
Just to finish off this initial foray into the fascinating subject of Root-Changing Verbs, I will answer straight away the question that comes to everyone’s mind sooner or later, which is: “How do we know which verbs are Root-Changing and which ones aren’t?” The answer is quite simple: “We don’t!” We just have to get used to each one as we go along.
Well, I think that’s enough excitement for one month, but at least we have made a start!
Jane Cronin’s “Step by Step Spanish” articles are available as e-books at www.janecronin.eu where you can also obtain Jane’s “Step by Step Internet Spanish” course.