Thursday, June 21, 2007

Map of the Present Tense in Spanish

UPDATE: Click the image for a larger view. There's also a Map of the Preterit Tense, if you're interested. Other materials (more tenses, subjunctive, etc.) will be posted by request.

The mental map above is of the Present Tense in Spanish. Don't freak out now if you don't just understand it at first glance.

One of the problems my American high school students have when learning how to generate Spanish verb forms is that it's presented sequentially. Of course, that's probably the best way to do it, but many students never see the big picture. If verb forms are presented sequentially, the way a freight train goes down the tracks sequentially, they get discouraged from their perspective because a) they try to keep it sequential in their brains; or b) because they don't see the beginning or end of the train from where they're standing; they don't know that when or if the train of different forms will ever stop coming. Very discouraging.

Well I'm here to tell you, folks, that when you're learning the present tense, there are exactly four categories of present tense verbs. There are no more than four. The regulars, the five irregulars, the yo-baby verbs, and the Stem Change (tm) verbs.

Four! That's all. You can remember four kinds, can't you?

The Regulars. These are the vast majority of Spanish verbs. I put them on the right (in the East) because they are kind of conservative, very reliable. To conjugate a regular verb, you replace the infinitive ending with the appropriate suffix, depending on the person/number. So, for example, my favorite -er verb would be:

yo como
tú comes
ella/el/Usted come
nosotras/nosotros comemos
vosotras/vosotros coméis
ellas/ellos/ustedes comen

Piece of cake, right? Let me know if you need an explanation on how to conjugate regular -ar and -ir verbs, but for now I'm going to assume you know how.

JP, do we have to learn the vosotros form?

The Irregulars. There are exactly five irregulars (if you find more, we can put them on the map). You'll notice I've put them on on the liberal left, in the Wild West. They are crazy! The good news is there are only five irregulars, and they are super high frequency, so you have no problem learning them. Being irregular, they are a little unpredictable, so you have to memorize them: ser, estar, ver, haber, ir. Look them up if you want to see them!

The only reason ver is listed among them is because third person singular is ve, which the regular rules don't predict. Otherwise, ver is pretty much predictable. You can remember that, can't you? (Ask me later about written accents)

The Stem Change (tm) verbs. These verbs live in the industrial North on the map. There is a trademark sign there to remind you that this is a specific brand of verbs. Some people think that when anything outside of regular happens to a verb, that it must be a stem change. Uh, no.

According to the Appellation d'Origine Controlée, Stem Change (tm) verbs are very specific. The -ar and -er verbs have one of three changes:

  • -e- changes to -ie- (pensar/ella piensa; sentar, recomendar, etc.)

  • -o- changes to -ue- (poder/ella puede; mostrar, etc. I put jugar in this category, even though it's a u and not an o.

The -ir verbs have two categories:

  • -e- changes to -ie- (sentir, herir, etc.)

  • -e- changes to -i- (pedir, ella pide; servir, etc.)

  • -o- changes to -ue- (morir, etc.)

If it's not one of the changes listed above, it's not a Stem Change (tm) verb.

The -ir's here are separated from the others because they behave as a group in the preterit tense so I might as well set them apart here.

Remember, these Stem Change (tm) changes only happen "in the boot".... ask me later if you don't know what that means.

The Yo-Babys. It's called "yo" because the changes only happen in the "yo" form. The "baby" part is purely mnemonic. If you're too mature for that, you may call them "the verbs in which only the first person singular form is not regular." I put the Yo-Baby verbs in the south, where the climate is a little warmer and the culture is more laid-back.

  • the Yo-G's. The yo form has a g in it (hacer, hago. poner, pongo. etc.)

  • the Yo-ZC's. Conocer, conozco. Conducir, conduzco.

  • the Yo-E's. Saber, sé. Caber, quepo

  • the Yo-Oy's. Dar, doy.

That's it. All Spanish verbs live somewhere on this map. There are no other kinds of present tense variations. Most verbs live in the regular region; only those five listed live in the irregular region. Some verbs, like tener and venir are very rich, so they live both in the Stem Change (tm) north and in the swanky Yo-G south.

So this map is a review tool; it doesn't make much sense to you if you haven't studied Spanish before, but people who have taken a couple years of sequential presentation tend to enjoy this map a lot.

When I teach this map in my Advanced Grammar class, there's always relief at the big-picture perspective. I don't test the map, they don't have to memorize it. Of course, when I teach the map, I have them brainstorm all the verbs they know that live in a certain region. Then, when they have a question about how a verb is conjugated in the present tense, I ask them "where does it live on the map?"

I would say they get the general category right almost all the time; most of the time they can zero in on the specific branch. Even though I don't test the map, the kids like to study the crap out of it for some reason.


AWB said...

This is an EXCELLENT map. Many thanks!

Anonymous said...

Very well put together. Your students are lucky to have you!
Good luck in China.