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Last month we started looking at Root-Changing Verbs and got going on the first of three groups which comes under the interesting name of ‘e to ie’.  We saw one example of these which was the verb cerrar.  However, before we plough on too much further there is one point I would like to look at in more detail as it provides a basis for all our root-changing work (I’m sounding like a dentist now!)

We know that pronunciation is important and part of this is the whole matter of speech rhythm.  This is what gives a sound or shape to our speech, rather like the rhythm of music.  If music didn’t keep to a certain beat it would become meaningless and the same is true of speech.  Often, even in our own language, we don’t hear every word someone says, but we understand them because we recognize the tone and rhythm of what they have said.  Tone can tell us things like whether we are being asked a question or not and it also gives us other information including underlying messages in the phrases uttered.  We have all heard someone saying something as apparently innocent as: “Give that to me” in ways that really mean: “I’d like to help you” or “I’m in a hurry”, or “I think you’re an idiot”!

This is a whole realm of study in itself and extremely interesting too, but before I get too carried away, what I’m really getting at here is that every sentence and also every individual word in a sentence, has its own beat or rhythm that makes it comprehensible.  This happens in English, whether we are aware of it or not.

Let’s take a word from this article, for example: ‘idiot’.  When we say this word we place the emphasis on the first “i”, like this I-diot.

Now try moving the emphasis to the second “i” like this: id-I-ot.

Now place the stress on the ‘o’, like this “idi-Ot”.

I hope you can hear the difference and haven’t offended your partner whilst you’re engaged in this activity!  Maybe it would be best to wait until you’re alone with your cat or dog – I find they don’t tend to take this sort of thing personally.

This ‘stress’ or ‘beat’ issue arises with English words like refuse, present, record and dessert.   Depending on where we put the beat, they change in meaning.   In Spanish ‘word stress’ is equally crucial for understanding, but the difference is that it is controlled by very specific rules.  On my website I have some videos which go through these rules thoroughly in relation to all words in the language.  However, for our purposes here we can say that in the case of Root-Changing Verbs, it is when the beat of the word falls on the root (eg. CERR) that the sound splits from ‘e’ to ‘ie’ (almost as though the pressure of the beat breaks the sound into two).  Look again at the conjugation of ‘cerrar’ and you will see what I mean.

cierro cerramos

cierras cerráis

cierra cierran

The change occurs in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd persons singular and the 3rd person plural.  In the other two forms (1st and 2nd person plural) the beat goes onto the ending, so the ‘root’ returns to one, rather than a split, sound.   Therefore in our example, ‘cerrAmos’ and ‘cerrÁIs’ behave exactly as they would if the verb was not Root-Changing as the beat, or pressure, is on the endings.

This is a GOLDEN RULE for all Root-Changing Verbs, so if by any chance you found my explanation a little unclear we will be looking at many more examples, which means that we will be learning to pronounce them all properly and therefore making sense when we speak.

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.