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Ah, those famous -- or is it 'infamous'? -- boot-verbs (sometimes called "shoe verbs" by folks who aren't from farming or ranching country).    Stuffy grammarians call them "stem-changing verbs," but that's way too formal for us.    Let's chat about this select group of verbs in the Spanish language.

This category of verbs is made up of a small number of -AR, -ER, -IR verbs.   The only difference between the verbs that fit into the category of "boot verbs," and all the other verbs you've been working with up til now, is this: when you conjugate these boot-verbs, the conjugations that fits inside my mythical "boot" -- which I'll show you here in a second -- has its stem vowel changed from a single vowel to a double vowel, i.e., the "u" in the verb jugar (to play a game) has to be changed to "ue" for the following conjugations:
yo juego nosotros jugamos
juegas vosotros jugáis
juega ellos

The same rule holds true for the e that needs to stem-change to ie . . . the o that needs to stem-change to ue . . . and the e that has to stem-change to i in other verbs classified as boot-verbs.

What's the "stem of a verb," you ask?  Well, here is how I would explain it. . . .   To understand what the "stem" is, we need to need to examine, and to be able to identif!, all the possible parts of a verb.  Spanish boot-verbs, like non-boot verbs, can be made up of up to three (3) different elements.  These elements (or "parts," if you prefer) are, in order, from the beginning to the end of the verb:  
1.   the prefix.
2.   the stem (or the root, as it's sometimes called).
3.   the ending.
As an example, let's use the boot-verb preferir (i, i). *   If we were to break it down according to the above-mentioned, we find that the prefix is pre-, the stem is fer, and the ending is -ir.   In a boot-verb, it is the stem that undergoes the spelling change when the verb is conjugated into the present tense.
You will remember that all Spanish verbs end in either "-AR," "-ER,
"-IR."   So, in other words, the part of the verb that comes right before the verb end is called the "stem" of the verb, and the 'stem' of the verb is that part of the verb that isn't
  1. the verb identifier, that is the "-AR," the "-ER," the "-IR".
  2. the prefix part, that is, dis, pre, re, ob, con, com, among others.

It seem a bit weird, but when I was first learning these "boot verbs," I came up my own rule of thumb for figuring out which vowel was supposed to be changed . . . maybe it will be helpful to you (or . . . maybe it won't!)  I decided that the way to figure out and remember which vowel was the "stem-changer" in these verbs was to first find the the "-AR," the "-ER," the" -IR" ending -- not too difficult, even for a bonehead like me!! -- then move my eyes back toward the front of the verb, and when I found the very next vowel, that is, the vowel closest to the verb end, that vowel was the one that got transmorgified within the "boot."  Simple, huh?   Here's a list of what I think are some of the most common boot-verbs we might use on a daily basis.  As you will see, I've tried to divide them into their stem-changing groups: u --> ue, o --> ue; e --> ie; and e --> i.

e --> ie

preferir (ie, i) -- to prefer obtener (i, i) * -- to obtain, to get
querer (ie) — to want; to lovetener (i, i) * -- to have; to be (years old)
divertir (ie, i) — to entertain somonedivertirse (ie, i) — to enjoy oneself
sugerir (ie) -- to suggest
e --> i

servir (i, i) -- to servedespedirse de (i, i) — to say "good-bye" to
vestirse (i, i) -- to get dresseddespedirse de (i, i) — to say "good-bye" to
vestir (i, i) — to dress someone conseguir + infinitive (i, i) — to succed in doing something
reírse (i, i) — to laugh sonreírse (i, i) — to smile
o --> ue

dormir (ue, u) -- to sleepdormir (ue, u) -- to fall asleep
poder (ue) -- to be able (to do something)almorzar (ue, u) -- to eat lunch
morirse (ue, u) -- to die
u --> ue
jugar (ue) -- to play a game

Now, we've been calling these verbs both "stem-changers" and "boot-verbs", right?   Let's do some drawings and see how it is that the word "boot" and the word "boot" end up in the same same sentence. . . .   We'll start with that most common of verbs: querer-- to want, OK?. *    Our first order of business will be to mentally construct our "boot."   You know, when you're first starting to work with these bad boys, drawing out a boot on a piece of paper is really helpful tool.    We'll conjugate it and you'll see how the "boot" idea came into being to describe these verbs:

Cool, huh? Everything INSIDE the "boot" changed its stem vowel "E" to "IE."    You'll notice the endings for this -ER verb is exactly the same as the endings we use with "regular" -ER verbs like comer, beber, aprender and the like:

-o -emos
-es -éis
-e -en

The same endings we use for present tense, regular -AR verbs:
-o -amos
-as -áis
-a -an

and present tense, regular -IR verbs:
-o -imos
-es -ís
-e -en

are also used as the verb endings when we conjugate the boot-verbs.

Here are a few more of the verbs you'll likely use in your travels to México . . . and beyond:

Here's another boot-verb example, this time using the "O to UE" changes inside the boot:

Here's the main "U goes to UE" verb

That should give you a bit of an idea how we manipulate the "boot verbs," right?   Now, you can continue on with a worksheet or two, not made up totally of "boot verbs," but having enough to give you a taste.  Start here


There are no "pure" boot verbs in the preterite tense.  There are, however, certain verbs that do stem-change in the preterite.  I call these almost-a-boot-verb verbs: wiener verbs


There are no boot verbs in the imperfect tense.  WHOOPEE!!!!!