In Spanish, verbs have three conjugation classes: "ar", "er", and "ir". I know some examples of verbs that have similar stems, but different conjugation classes, and their first person singular present tense is identical. For example: "cruzo" can mean "I cross" or "I creak"; "consumo" can mean "I consummate" or "I consume", "creo" can mean "I create" or "I believe"; "sumo" can mean "I add" or "I plunge"; "vendo" can mean "I bandage" or "I sell"; "miento" can mean "I mention" or "I lie"; "siento" can mean "I sit" or "I feel". So, when these words appear in sentences, how do we know which verb we are talking about in context.

  • 4
    how do we know which verb we are talking about in context.. Precisely, with the context. There could always be some ambiguity regardless, but if you can't disambiguate with the context, then you may be force to ask the speaker, if possible, what did they actually mean.
    – Diego
    Jul 3 '20 at 1:34
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    In this respect, Spanish is not really any different from English or Hindi, say, both of which also have ambiguous words.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jul 3 '20 at 2:05
  • Small correction: "I creak" would be "yo crujo", so this is not one of those verbs. On the other hand, "sumar" and "sumir" could also be added to the list.
    – wimi
    Jul 3 '20 at 8:36
  • No need to remove it. Vivar does mean to cheer. It might be uncommon, regional, or popular, but the RAE attests it and the RAE is The Law.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jul 3 '20 at 16:49
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    Try this sentence: "Yo como como como".
    – Leo
    Jul 4 '20 at 8:56

This is common to all languages and it's called polysemy, the multiplicity of meanings of a word or a sentence. There are many studies which compare the polysemy across languages. Some languages are very polysemic, such as Mandarin Chinese (with an average of 9 meanings per word). English has around 2.4 meanings, whereas Latin languages tend to have lower polysemy, e.g. Spanish 1.8 You should take these values with a grain of salt, as they depend largely on the corpora used, but they are a good approximation.


I think you're answering yourself: which verb we are talking about in context, well, obviously by the context where they appear.

Besides you have to know that eventhogh some verbs share one or many conjugated forms they are not the same, they are expressing different meanings, therefore they are used in different phrases expressing diffent ideas.

Yo consumo una idea / Yo consumo frutas

I consumate an idea / I consume fruits

It would be odd the other way around.

Also the use of some of them can tell you which verb is being used, for instance, there are some verbs that have a pronominal use.

Yo siento frío / Yo me siento en la silla

I feel cold / I sit on the chair

This one is tricky: Yo me siento solo

I feel lonely / I sit by myself

And your list is not totally correct;

  • Cruzo → I cross / Crujo → I creak
  • Sumo → I add / Sumerjo → I plunge (something) / Me sumerjo → I plunge (myself [ pronominal])
  • Vivo → I live / Avivo or Brindo → I cheer
  • In some countries people use "vivar" to mean "vitorear". dle.rae.es/vivar. And sumir does mean plunge. dle.rae.es/sumir
    – Obie 2.0
    Jul 3 '20 at 16:42
  • Yes, those are correct. Context usually does resolve those ambiguities with vivar vs. vivir, and for its part sumir is a learned/literary term which is almost never used with the meaning of sumergir ("to plunge, to sink"); you generally use the participle.
    – pablodf76
    Jul 3 '20 at 17:02
  • @Obie2.0, Vivar has that use only in some Latinamerican countries. and pablodf76 has a point on the matter, sorry for my ignorance, but I had never heard sumir as sumergir Jul 4 '20 at 21:43
  • Life is odd, yesterday I was watching a movie where a guy is hipnotized... "Y te sumes en un sueño profundo...". Then I remembered this word but only in this context... "sumido en un sueño... ", for me, more than punged was introduced, to plunge was always in a liquid for me.... Jul 5 '20 at 10:51

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