Here’s Looking at Yo: All About Spanish Verbs with Irregular Yo Forms
Love talking about number one?
There’s one little quirk of Spanish that might get in your narcissistic way—those pesky Spanish verbs with irregular yo forms.
The Spanish yo form is what you need to talk all about me, myself and I.
Do you find yourself stumbling over your yo form conjugations?
Well, that’s no surprise—Spanish just seems to heap on the irregularities in this form.
Present tense verb conjugations of the yo form, despite the apparent simplicity of the present tense, can be particularly annoying.
Why Learn Spanish Verbs with Irregular Yo Forms?
This seems like a really specific little detail to worry about, right?
Well, it turns out it’s kind of a big deal in conversational Spanish.
Another way to describe the yo form is to call it the first-person singular, and this key verb conjugation is used to make the Spanish versions of our English “I” statements. It can be quite complicated and also incredibly important.
We have to learn them well because we tend to use the first-person present tense a lot during casual and formal conversations. We do love to talk about ourselves, don’t we?
We also must do this because knowing irregular present tense yo forms is necessary when studying the present-tense subjunctive (for talking about hypothetical or desired actions). If we don’t get these present tense yo conjugations down pat, they’ll come back to haunt us.
This article is an overview of verbs with irregular present tense yo forms, so it will serve you well on your Spanish learning journey. This article is intended for beginner Spanish students who have already studied present tense verbs to some extent, and who need a nice, clear guide to this particular conjugation issue.
This article should also be useful for intermediate and advanced learners, especially those who are starting to study the subjunctive and realizing that they’ve forgotten how to conjugate some of these.
Yo! Spanish Verbs with Irregular Yo Forms You’ve Got to Check Out
How to Conjugate the Regular Yo Forms of Spanish Verbs
Just to refresh your memory, the regular yo conjugation for –ar, –er and –ir verbs is all the same; take off that infinitive ending and add an –o. For example:
- bailar → bail- → bailo (I dance)
- comer → com- → como (I eat)
- vivir → viv- → vivo (I live)
If only Spanish were always that easy, huh?
Spanish Verbs with Yo Forms Ending in –go
There’s quite a number of common and useful verbs that have yo forms ending in -go.
Watch out! Some of them experience changes in the stem of the verb as well.
- salir → salgo (I go out)
- tener → tengo (I have)
- hacer → hago (I do/make)
- poner → pongo (I put)
- caer → caigo (I fall)
- traer → traigo (I bring)
- venir → vengo (I come)
Here are some things you can talk about doing with these verbs:
- Pongo la mesa. (I set the table.)
- Salgo con ella. (I go out with her.)
Strange but Important Verbs with Irregular Yo Forms: Ver and Saber
There are two incredibly important verbs that are regular in all of their present tense conjugations except for yo: ver (to see) and saber (to know).
- ver → veo (I see)
- saber → sé (I know)
Note that the word sé isn’t used as a sentence all by itself. You can rather say, for example:
- Yo sé. (I know.)
- Lo sé. (I know it.)
- No sé. (I don’t know.)
And veo can be used in all kinds of ways:
- Veo. (I see.)
- Veo a un amigo allí. (I see a friend there.)
- Te veo mal. (You don’t look well. Literally: “I see you badly.”)
Spanish Verbs with Irregular Yo Forms Ending in -oy
These incredibly useful verbs have yo forms ending in –oy.
- ser → soy (I am [permanent characteristic])
- estar → estoy (I am [in a location or a temporary state])
- dar → doy (I give)
See here if you need to review the difference between ser and estar. Let’s look at some examples of how these might be used in sentences.
- Soy estadounidense. (I’m American.)
- Estoy feliz. (I’m happy.)
- Te doy un regalo. (I’m giving you a present.)
If you’re looking back at the present tense yo forms in order to prepare for the subjunctive, note that these three verbs don’t follow the normal subjunctive pattern.
Spanish Verbs with Yo Forms Ending in –zco
Generally, verbs whose infinitives end in a vowel followed by –cer or –cir will then have yo forms that end in –zco.
Two notable exceptions to this are the verbs hacer and decir, which both have –go endings for their yo forms, as we already saw above.
Here are some of the most common verbs that you’ll encounter with such a change:
- agradecer → agradezco (I thank/appreciate)
- conducir → conduzco (I drive/lead)
- conocer → conozco (I know [e.g., a person])
- crecer → crezco (I grow)
- introducir → introduzco (I introduce)
- merecer → merezco (I deserve)
- nacer → nazco (I am born)
- ofrecer → ofrezco (I offer)
- permanecer → permanezco (I remain)
- producir → produzco (I produce)
- traducir → traduzco (I translate)
We can form some basic sentences with these:
- No conozco a nadie en esta fiesta. (I don’t know anyone at this party.)
- Merezco un premio. (I deserve a prize.)
- Traduzco toda la mañana. (I translate all morning.)
Yo Form Spelling Changes for Spanish Verbs Ending in –guir, –ger and –gir
The rules that you’ve probably already learned for spelling changes in Spanish are particularly useful for making the yo forms of verbs. Recall that G followed by E or I in Spanish has an aspirated sound, like an English H. But if a G is followed by another vowel, it sounds like our English G in “go.”
For example, the infinitive proteger (to protect) has a Spanish G sound that’s pronounced like the English letter H, as in “hair.” If we were to change the ending to an O to make our yo form, we would get:
But that’s not correct! According to spelling rules, this would be pronounced with a hard G sound, due to the syllable go.
We don’t want to create that hard G sound out of nowhere! So instead, to preserve our H pronunciation, we change the spelling and use a J, which in Spanish usually makes that same H sound that we want.
- protejo (I protect; Click here for the pronunciation)
Here are some other common verbs that work in the same way (some, you’ll notice, also have stem changes):
- coger → cojo (I catch [be aware that in many Latin American countries this is also a strong curse word])
- corregir → corrijo (I correct)
- dirigir → dirijo (I direct)
- elegir → elijo (I elect)
- exigir → exijo (I demand)
- fingir → finjo (I pretend)
- surgir → surjo (I spring forth/emerge/appear)
The opposite phenomenon occurs when you have infinitives ending in –guir. Recall that the U here isn’t pronounced and is just serving to give us a hard G sound. We want to conserve that hard G sound, so we no longer need the U when we make our yo conjugation.
Take another very common example, seguir (to follow), which is pronounced with a hard G as in “go.” If we just dropped the –ir ending and slapped on an o to make the yo form, we’d lose that hard G sound. To maintain it, we remove the U after the G in our yo form. (You’ll notice that there is, unrelatedly, a stem change in the second letter.)
- sigo (I follow; Click here for the pronunciation)
Here are other examples of this phenomenon:
- distinguir → distingo (I distinguish)
- extinguir → extingo (I extinguish)
Let’s see a few of the verbs from this section in sentences:
- Te sigo. (I’m following you.)
- Dirijo una peli. (I’m directing a film.)
- Protejo la planeta. (I protect the planet.)
Prefixes and Irregular Spanish Yo Forms
Once you’ve got all of those conjugations down, I’ve got some fantastic news for you. You can apply the above yo conjugations in exactly the same way to the alternate, prefixed forms of those verbs.
For example, conseguir (to succeed) follows the same pattern as seguir and becomes consigo (I succeed) in the yo form.
Reconocer works just like conocer and becomes reconozco (I recognize) in the yo form.
Atraer (to attract) functions like traer and becomes atraigo (I attract) in the yo form.
When you encounter new verbs that are composed of the verbs above plus a prefix, you can rest assured that you already know how they’re conjugated for the yo form.
That’s quite a lot of grammatical territory to cover, perhaps, but fortunately these conjugations are also easy to practice. Just write and talk about yourself! What common actions are you taking now? What things do you generally do? Whom do you protect, what do you see and what or whom do you know?
Answering those questions in Spanish will undoubtedly already have you using your irregular yo conjugations.
Maybe you’ll be suffering the irregularity of Spanish grammar a bit, but you can at least take comfort in the thrill of discussing your favorite subject.
After more than a decade as a digital vagabond in Latin America and Europe, Mose Hayward has a few things to say about the ideal wheeled carry-on backpack.