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"Conjugal Bliss. A trusted friend on the route to Spanish." –Nathalia Madera for Language Magazine, languagemagazine.com

"The Little Spanish Verb Book That Could"
–Steven Roll, t
ravelojos.com

"A 'safe haven' for the panicked student and a resource for teachers." –Jerry Curtis, Helium.com

"A ready instructional reference; thoroughly 'user friendly'" The Midwest Book Review

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Entries in Irregular Spanish verbs (6)

Thursday
Nov112010

Why are Spanish Verbs in the Preterit Tense so Hard to Learn?

Learning how to conjugate Spanish verbs in the present tense alone is quite an accomplishment. Just when beginners start gaining confidence, irregular Spanish verbs spoil all the fun. Then, the necessity becomes obvious to break out of the present tense and start talking about the past. It’s understandable that beginners will get discouraged when they study Spanish verbs in the preterit past tense. 

Typically, the preterit past tense is introduced before the imperfect past tense. Learning how to conjugate Spanish verbs in the imperfect is a piece of cake compared to the preterit. There is the issue of choosing between them, though, which isn’t exactly easy. To see the big picture, consider reviewing a previous post, "Dual Past Tenses, How Do I Choose Between Them?" or download: “The Preterit and The Imperfect: A Love Story.”

Not all Spanish verb tenses are created equal

If you can make it through learning how to conjugate Spanish verbs in the preterit tense, you can make it through any other Spanish verb tense. No other Spanish verb tense is as difficult to learn as the preterit, and here are some reasons why:

  • ALL the stem changers you learned in the present tense don’t apply to the preterit tense, BUT don’t forget the group of stem changers that only change in the third person singular and plural forms of the preterit tense, for example: divertirse, dormir, and preferir to name a few.
  • Don't forget the group of spell changers that only change in the first person singular form (yo) in the preterit tense, for example: buscar, jugar, comenzar, etc.
  • There is a multitude of irregular Spanish verb stems that are unique to the preterit tense only, for example: ser, estar, ir, tener, poder, poner, etc.
  • Verb endings remain the same from one tense to another, whether regular or irregular, except for a small group within the unique irregular Spanish verbs (mentioned above) in the first and third person singular forms only of the preterit tense, for example: poder, poner, querer, and saber

To put it into perspective, the imperfect past tense has only 3 irregular Spanish verbs: ser, ir, and ver. To help you learn how to conjugate Spanish verbs in the preterit past tense, check out the strategies some teachers and students from the University of Minnesota utilize (videos included):

Strategies to learn how to conjugate Spanish verbs in the preterit tense
from the
 Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)

Good news: The present and past tenses build a bridge to the advanced tenses

Most of the irregular Spanish verb stems in the present and preterit tenses are found in the subjunctive tenses and the commands, so the groundwork will be assembled should you decide to continue on or dabble in the advanced tenses. Ironically, once you reach the advanced level, conjugating verbs really isn’t an issue anymore, it starts to become second nature. The challenge is applying the subjunctive tenses and using more sophisticated grammatical sentence structures (the perfect tenses).

My platform has been to promote the present and past tenses of Spanish verbs as a bridge to the advanced verb tenses, should you decide to continue on with your studies. But in reality, not all of us will make it to the advanced level. Instead of looking at it in black and white terms, consider using the present and past verb tenses of Spanish verbs as your goal. Significant communication can take place while utilizing the primary verb tenses. The seeds will be planted for future growth.

Thursday
Jun102010

Spanish Verb Patterns: The 'Secret Formula' to Spanish Verb Mastery

Recently, I was fortunate to receive a book review for The Spanish Verb Conjugator from Jerry Curtis. Jerry is an educational writer with a lot of experience spanning education and serving as a military translator. I came upon one of Jerry’s Articles (under his pen name Curt Smothers) on the web site Bright Hub: The Hub for Bright Minds. His article is an excellent overview of Spanish verbs, specifically how to approach them when you are overwhelmed in the beginning. It is written for Spanish teachers; however, I think it can apply to students as well. Here’s a direct link to that article:

“Learning Spanish Verbs: A Method to the Madness” by Curt Smothers on brighthub.com

As Jerry explains in his article, he encourages his tutoring students to look for patterns in verb stems and verb endings as a way to manage the daunting task of learning how to conjugate Spanish verbs. When you learn a specific Spanish verb pattern you can apply it to any verb of its kind that comes your way. By finding the Spanish verb pattern, you can predict how it will “behave.” It’s similar to formulas in science and math. By the way, there are about 50 common irregular Spanish verb patterns of the verb stem. There are a few extra that are rarely used. 

Although educators like Jerry and I find Spanish verb patterns interesting and compelling to learn, not everyone else does. But the funny thing is, once you achieve a basic level of proficiency, Spanish verb patterns become more obvious and you kind of know naturally how to apply them. It does take some time, though, it doesn’t happen overnight.

Until that natural instinct takes hold, I have felt inspired to provide support to beginners: to bridge the learning gap and provide symbolic “training wheels” for Spanish verb conjugation; to have everything beginners need in one place, in one verb guide, explained in very basic terms. 

The inspiration for my Spanish verb guide came to me in one entire vision (the whole book), so wiithout realizing it until the book was finished, it turned out to be instructional in many ways. It is definitely divided into two distinct reference areas: for regular verbs and for irregular verbs. Here’s an outline:

(Before I go further, I want to review some basics to avoid possible confusion. There are two main groups of Spanish verbs: regular and irregular; and there are two parts to every verb: the stem and the ending.)

3 Ways to Learn Spanish Verb Patterns

1. Regular Spanish Verbs

Identifying the two parts of every verb is the absolute starting point for learning Spanish verb conjugation: to learn how to find the verb stem and one of three possible verb endings: “ar,” “er,” or “ir.”

Instead of providing a long list of common regular Spanish verbs conjugated on verb tables, The Spanish Verb Conjugator provides regular verb endings on what you could call “regular verb endings' reference templates.” There is a regular verb reference template for each verb ending: Regular -AR Verb Endings, Regular -ER Verb Endings, and Regular -IR Verb Endings. Below is an example chart of the Regular -AR Verb Endings' reference template from The Spanish Verb Conjugator:

Any regular verb stem can be applied to the correct verb ending to conjugate a regular Spanish verb, but before you even use a reference template, you have to have made the decision that the verb was in fact regular (not irregular). By the way, if you don’t know, which is expected in the beginning, you can use the indexes to verify if the verb is a regular verb or not. 

So in this way of referencing Spanish verbs, you are training yourself through repetetive usage to learn which verbs are regular or irregular. If the verb you are referencing is irregular, you can then proceed as described under No. 2 below. 

The beginner is literally guided to make one decision that leads to another. With repetive practice, this decision making process will become a little faster each time as Spanish verb conjugation skills develop and become second nature. Just like my analogy of “training wheels” on a bicycle, the beginner needs that support and confidence in the beginning as they work towards independent practice.

An added bonus of using regular verb endings' reference templates is that it eliminates a large number of verb charts, therefore eliminating the bulk of a clumsy text. This makes it easy to carry while you are applying your Spanish skills in the real world where true integration takes place. 

2. Irregular Spanish Verbs

There are actually 3 main groups of Spanish verbs within the irregular verb category: stem-changers, "spell-changers" (the name I use for this group), and a group of around 28 various irregular verbs that are individually unique. There are some verbs that belong to two of the three groups at the same time.

Irregular Spanish verbs are irregular because there is a deviation (of spelling) in the verb stem of most subjects when conjugated. Irregular verb stem patterns occur primarily in the present and preterit tenses. Note that the verb endings stay the same whether a verb is regular or irregular, but there are some Spanish verbs in the group of 28 individually unique irregular verbs where the verb endings also deviate from the norm in the preterit tense only.

Furthermore, a stem-changer will have one of only 3 possible stem changes when conjugated; spell-changers will have a variety of spelling variations when conjugated (more than 3). The group of 28 various irregular verbs doesn’t follow any consistent pattern, they are individually unique in their deviation.

Did I lose you? As I mentioned earlier, teachers and linguists are interested in comparing and observing irregular Spanish verb patterns, but the average beginner is not. That is perfectly fine because irregular verb pattern recognition will naturally evolve as the result of repetitive verb modeling.

Without having to dissect Spanish verb patterns, the beginner, as well as the intermediate level student, can rely on The Spanish Verb Conjugator until irregular verb pattern recognition takes place. It is similar to how we learn our native language. We adapted to the grammatical structures as our family modeled them for us.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
May182010

The 2 Most Essential Spanish Verbs Part 'Dos': 'Ser' and 'Estar' in the Past Tenses

If you missed 'Part Uno', which covers “ser” and “estar” in the present tense, feel free to read it here:
The 2 Most Essential Spanish Verbs: ‘To be’ or ....‘to be’? That is the question.

Just when “ser” and “estar” start to make sense in the present tense, you need to learn how to use them in the past. Since there are two past tenses in Spanish, the preterit and the imperfect, it’s like a quadruple challenge; the duality is squared if that is possible. Navigating “ser” and “estar” in the past reminds me of my only experience flying an airplane: you not only have to steer left and right, but keep the nose and tail even as well as the wings balanced. There’s more going on than meets the eye.

The verbs “ser” and “estar” mean “to be,” so in the past you would use them to communicate “was” and “were” depending on the subject. Observe how often you use these common verbs in English. Using “ser” and “estar” in the past requires a basic understanding of how to apply the preterit and the imperfect past tenses. To review when to use them, here is a link that I had posted earlier that provides excellent strategies to choose between the preterit and the imperfect.

The University of Minnesota's Center of Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)
Spanish Grammar Strategies Web Project: The Preterit and The Imperfect

Remember that the preterit past tense is used when there is a reference to a point of time in the past that has a definite beginning and/or ending. It’s complete, finite, a chunk of time sliced out of the past. While using the imperfect past tense you can communicate both “ser” and “estar” as “used to be.”

The following summary chart from The Spanish Verb Conjugator compares “ser” and “estar” in the present, preterit, and imperfect tenses with English equivalents. I needed a reference like this as a beginner, and honestly speaking–I could still use it to this day.

I suggest that you make as many mistakes as possible when trying out “ser” and “estar” in both past tenses. Like my classroom motto, “You have to make mistakes to learn from them.” As you ask yourself which verb and tense to use, don’t hesitate to also ask an available native Spanish speaker which tense or verb is correct. As I have mentioned before, native Spanish speakers are pretty forgiving as you are learning their language.

One of the most effective ways to learn language is through modeling. Just like when you were a child, your family modeled to you how to use your native language. Be aware, observe, and apply. But don’t worry about being perfect. “Perfection is a perfect waste of time” (author unknown).

I posted the Latin Grammy nominated song “Me fui” by the Spanish artist Bebe recently as an example of the verb “irse.” I made a mental note of the way the verb “estaba” clearly stood out in the song. It’s a good example of how “estar” is used in the imperfect past tense. Take another listen and this time pay attention to the lyrics “Dónde estaba cuando te llamaba?” (Where were you when I was calling you?) It models the imperfect tense “perfectly” in context. Here’s the link to that post where you will find the link to the YouTube video and the lyrics in Spanish with the English translation at the end of the article (We’re all connected: )

Spanish Verb Mastery Blog Post Including Links for the YouTube 'Video Official' of The Latin Grammy Nominated Song: "Me fui" by Bebe


Thursday
May062010

The 2 most essential Spanish verbs: ‘to be’ or... 'to be’? That is the question

“Ser” and “estar” are the two most essential and existential Spanish verbs because they both mean “to be.” When the verb “to be” is conjugated in English it becomes the familiar “am,” “is,” “are”; “was” and “were.” In English you only need to make sure the verb agrees with the subject. Hopefully, it’s pretty obvious when they don’t match up. Sentences like, “I is hungry” or “You was busy” just don’t sound right.

But in Spanish, communicating a state of being is far more complicated. Personally speaking, the Spanish verbs “ser” and “estar” put my dyslexic tendencies into overdrive. It reminds me of my surprising confusion between “left” and “right” (in English and Spanish). My husband teases me about it every time I’m driving and following directions, but I have come to accept my dyslexia between left and right. I eventually find my way.

Just because “ser” and “estar” are the two most basic Spanish verbs doesn’t make them easy. I make a lot of mistakes when I use these verbs. It's also something I have learned to accept. You will find as I have, that native speakers of Spanish are forgiving in this respect.

So let’s take a closer look at “ser” and “estar.” The following excerpts of The Spanish Verb Conjugator are the charts for each verb that include the present and past tenses. Side note: as with all the verb charts of the verb guide, the four additional simple verb tenses are found on the backside of every verb chart page.

The following excerpt, “Ser and Estar: Too Close for Comfort” is from the basics section of The Spanish Verb Conjugator. It describes when to use each verb with some examples in the present and the past tenses: (Note: I will review "ser" and "estar" in the past tenses, the preterit and imperfect, in the next post.)

Not only do you need to know how to conjugate each verb, but also how to apply the two different classifications of existence: temporary or permanent. I consider this distinction to be more subtle than definite, so that’s what makes it challenging. In the beginning, (or if you’re like me–most of the time) it’s a little mind boggling to distinguish between these subtleties at the same time you are choosing subjects, tenses, and conjugations. Give yourself some wiggle room here. This is a perfect time to have a strategy in place that will help you make decisions on the spot when you are choosing between “ser” and “estar.”


Some great examples of grammar strategies can be found on the following link from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) Spanish Grammar Strategies Web Project. (that’s a mouthful). This page offers some basic strategies that you could apply to help you learn how to choose “ser” or “estar.” Feel free to use them or maybe they will inspire you to create some strategies of your own.

University of Minnesota's Center for Advanced Research
on Language Acquisition (CARLA)
Spanish Grammar Strategies Web Project: Ser and Estar


In the next blog post I will highlight the quadruple challenge of not only choosing between “ser” and “estar” in the present tense, but doing so in the past with the preterit and the imperfect. Until then...hasta luego.

 


Monday
Mar292010

10 High Frequency Irregular Spanish Verbs: I Call Them "Yo-Go's"

What are “Yo-Go’s”?
I coined a name for this group of irregular Spanish verbs to help my students remember them, and it is a term used by other teachers and students. “Yo-go’s” are commonly used irregular Spanish verbs that have the
“-go” ending only in the yo form when conjugated in the present tense. The “yo” form is the first person singular form: when “I” is the subject of the verb.

The letter “g” seems to come out of nowhere because it is not a letter found in the verb’s stem. When conjugating these verbs, you have to remember to add it only to the “yo” form. I don’t include verbs that already have the letter “g” in the verb stem in the “yo-go” group (verbs like: jugar, llegar, and seguir) because the letter “g” is already part of the verb stem for all the conjugations of the verb. 

One of the first “yo-go’s” that you learn in beginning Spanish is “tengo.” It comes from the verb “tener” which means “to have” and in certain expressions it means “to be”: tengo hambre (I’m hungry), tengo sed (I’m thirsty), tengo frio (I’m cold), tengo calor (I’m warm), etc. Below is a list of all seven “yo-go” verbs.

 

 Why are “Yo-Go’s” important?

Besides sharing the “-go” ending in the yo form in the present tense, the letter “g” will show up again in the conjugations of these verbs when you learn the commands (the imperative mood) and the subjunctive tense. If you make the distinction when learning the present tense, it will be easier for you to remember it when you are studying the commands and the subjunctive later. 

The subjunctive is a tense that is typically studied at the advanced level; however, it is more frequently used in Spanish than English. The subjunctive tense is considered more formal in English, but it is very common in Spanish. You will even hear small children use this tense frequently because their parents model it for them. As children learning our native language, our listening skills develop before our speaking skills, so it’s a good idea to be aware of the subjunctive even if you don’t use it yet.

How can “Yo-Go’s” help me?
I identified this irregular verb group to make it easier for beginners to remember the “sneaky-g” when conjugating these verbs in the present tense and when you are learning the commands and the subjunctive later. You will typically study the commands before the subjunctive, so make a mental note to remember (to recycle) the conjugations when appropriate. A nit-picky note: the letter “g”, however, will be followed by the letter “a” (not “o”) in the commands (all but two conjugations–tú and vosotros) and all of the conjugations of the subjunctive. 

“Yo-Go’s” are a perfect example of my teaching philosophy and the basis to my verb guide, The Spanish Verb Conjugator, The Beginner’s Guide to Mastering Spanish Verbs: use the present and past tenses as a bridge to the advanced tenses. The groundwork will already be assembled should you decide to continue on with your Spanish studies. It’s a built-in feature to prepare you for the future, but it can feel like a burden in the beginning.

My hope is that you can tackle the challenges with awareness instead of giving up in frustration. Hang in there! Everything worthwhile comes with challenges that may test your convictions. Otherwise it would be, well...easy. Don’t get me wrong, I love “easy,” but I do believe that some things, like learning Spanish, wouldn’t be as satisfying to accomplish if they weren’t a little tricky.   

As part of my philosophy also: if you don't make it to the advanced level that's okay too. You can still accomplish a lot of living in the Spanish language with basic skills. I know this for a fact. And guess what happens if you lower your expectations and maintain your basic Spanish skills? They only get better.