Forming the Subjunctive of Spelling- and Stem-Changing Spanish Verbs

By Gail Stein

Forming the subjunctive mood of Spanish verbs is pretty easy, despite the subjunctive’s bad reputation among many Spanish students. The following sections show you how to turn stem- and spelling-changing present-tense verbs into their moody subjunctive relatives. These verbs are a bit more complicated than their regular siblings, but you’ll be using them in no time.

Verbs with spelling changes

Some Spanish verbs have the same spelling change in the present subjunctive as they have in the present tense. Namely, verbs ending in –cer/-cir, -ger/-gir, and -guir (but not -uir) undergo the same changes that occur in the yo form of the present. These changes are as follows:

  • vowel + -cer/-cir verbs: c to zc

  • consonant + -cer /-cir verbs: c to z

  • -ger/-gir verbs: g to j

  • -guir verbs: gu to g

The following examples illustrate some of these spelling changes:

  • Es una lástima que el director no le ofrezca un aumento de salario. (It is a pity that the director isn’t offering him a raise.)

  • Es natural que el jefe exija mucho de sus empleados. (It is natural that the boss demands a lot from his employees.)

You see some different spelling changes for verbs in the present subjunctive than you see for verbs with spelling changes in the present tense. In the present subjunctive, verbs ending in -car, -gar, and -zar undergo changes. They have the same changes as in the preterit. These changes are as follows:

  • -car verbs: c to qu

  • -gar verbs: g to gu

  • -zar verbs: z to c

Here are some examples:

  • Es imperativo que nosotros paguemos esta factura. (It is imperative that we pay this bill.)

  • Es necesario que él organice los datos. (It is necessary for him to organize the data.)

Verbs with stem changes

Just like in the present tense, stem-changing -ar and -er verbs in the present subjunctive undergo changes in all forms except nosotros and vosotros. And what about ir verbs? Well,ir verbs with an eto-ie or o-to-ue present-tense stem-change have eto-ie or o-to-ue changes in all forms except nosotros and vosotros. Those with an e-to-i stem change keep that change in all forms, including nosotros and vosotros. Here are two example sentences with these verbs:

  • Quiero que Ud. cierre la ventana. (I want you to close the window.)

  • Es dudoso que ellos vuelvan temprano. (It is doubtful that they will return early.)

The changes don’t end with simple -ar, -er, and -ir verbs, however. Note the stem changes for the following categories of verbs that end with an additional vowel:

  • Verbs that end in -iar have accent marks in all present subjunctive forms except nosotros:

    enviar (to send): envíe, envíes, envíe, enviemos, enviéis, envíen

  • Verbs that end in -uar have accent marks in all present subjunctive forms except nosotros:

    continuar (to continue): continúe, continúes, continúe, continuemos, continuéis, continúen

  • Verbs that end in -uir (but not -guir) add a y after the u in all present subjunctive forms:

    concluir (to conclude): concluya, concluyas, concluya, concluyamos, concluyáis, concluyan

Finally, note that some very common Spanish verbs (like jugar [to play]) have both spelling and stem changes in the present subjunctive form.