If you’re a language fanatic, like me, perhaps you lie awake at night counting irregular verbs:
I’m not that far gone, but I am curious about these pesky beasts. A specific question I’ve had about irregular verbs in Spanish concerns the present tense in particular. Every textbook lists “some common verbs” of the main types, mainly “boot” verbs and -zco, but I’ve never seen an exact count, or an exhaustive list.
I think I’ve now come close thanks to the intro2spanish website (with which I am not affiliated). Below is a summary table of the number of verbs listed there from the various irregular categories, broken down by category and by conjugation class (-ar, -er, -ir). I haven’t included the miscellaneous irregulars like sé, veo, nor the small -go class, because these are covered in every textbook.
|e > ie||44||21||35||100|
|o > ue||47||22||2 (dormir, morir)||71|
|u > ue||1 (jugar)||***||***||1|
|e > i||***||***||42||42|
You can download a complete listing of the irregulars here: irregular verb list. If you can think of any others, please let me know so I can update the list and the table.
Here are some interesting patterns in the data:
- Jugar is clearly anomalous. It derives from Latin iocāri, and should have come into Spanish as just another o > ue verb, jogar. The infinitive’s change from jogar to jugar is a mystery to Spanish historical linguists. My favorite explanation is Tom Lathrop’s purely speculative one: that the infinitive jogar might have become jugar out of “self-defense” as speakers avoided saying something so similar to joder (“to f*ck”). You can read a longer explanation in this article (in Spanish) or on p. 160 of Lathrop’s The Evolution of Spanish:
- I had no idea there were that many -zco verbs, or that -ir verbs outnumbered -er verbs within the e > ie type. Todos los días se aprende algo.
- If you were surprised that all e>i verbs are -ir, then you should (re)read my previous post about boot verbs. The e>i change was triggered by the /j/ sound, which only occurred in Vulgar Latin -ir verb endings. (To be picky, it actually occurred in -er endings too, but was lost in these before it had the chance to do much damage.)
- It’s awesome that only two -ir verbs have the o > ue pattern. As explained in my previous post, the other -ir verbs that started to go down this road switched to a u instead, which spread around the whole conjugation. That’s where we get (inter alia) mullir and subir.