Verbal Paradigms

We have all heard the term <<a paradigm shift>> but not many of us know what a paradigm is! Quintessentially, it is a model by means of which we plot what has happened in the past and this enables us to plan and predict what will happen in the future. The verbal paradigm, then, allows us to form a model according to which all regular verbs -- and by regular, I mean those that follow the model or paradigm -- will behave. Ipso facto, if a verb does not follow the model, then that verb is irregular. However, by a strange twist of fate, most Spanish irregular verbs are regularly irregular, and we can form paradigms even for those irregularities. More about that later: for now, the verbal paradigm for regular verbs.

There are three conjugations in Spanish: verbs that end in -AR, verbs that end in -ER, and verbs that end in -IR. The model verbs given by most textbooks are HABLAR, COMER, and VIVIR. The -IR form is invariable and is known as the infinitive. HABLAR corresponds to the English TO SPEAK; COMER / TO EAT; VIVIR / TO LIVE. By removing the infinitive ending -AR, -ER, -IR, we obtain the stem of the verb: HABL-, COM-, or VIV- and to this stem (or a variation of it, but more about that later) we add the different endings for the different tenses.

Present Tense

Subject Pronouns Hablar Comer Vivir
yo hablo como vivo
hablas comes vives
él, ella, usted, Ud. habla come vive
nosotros, nosotras hablamos comemos vivimos
vosotros, vosotras habláis coméis vivís
ellos, ellas, ustedes, Uds. hablan comen viven


From the table above, we can now predict that all regular verbs that end in -AR, -ER, and -IR will have the following endings

Verbs that end in -AR: -O, -AS, -A, -AMOS, -ÁIS, -AN

Verbs that end in -ER: -O, -ES, -E, -EMOS, -ÉIS, EN

Verbs that end in -IR: -O, -ES, -E, -IMOS, -ÍS, -EN

This table, or paradigm, or model allows us to know which ending goes with which subject. As a basic rule in first year Spanish, remember: change the subject -- change the verb ending. Some instructors prefer you to learn the verbs WITHOUT their subjects, and to recognize them by their endings alone, just as we do in Latin; others will recommend that you use subject and verb until you get used to the verbal changes. Whatever works best for you and your instructor, do it!

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