There is a list of stem-changing verbs present in Spanish grammar books:

e -> ie: cerrar, comenzar, empezar, negar, quebrar
o -> ue: acordarse, acostarse, contar, constar, mostrar
u -> ue: jugar
e -> i:  corregir, despedir, elegir, medir

Conjugation examples can be found online e.g.: http://www.elearnspanishlanguage.com/grammar/verb/stemchanging.html

e -> ie: cerrar

c[ie]rro    cerramos
c[ie]rras   cerráis
c[ie]rra    c[ie]rran

I found another stem-changing conjugation, which is not present in grammar books as a category:

i -> ie: adquirir

adqu[ie]ro   adquiremos
adqu[ie]res  adquiréis
adqu[ie]re   adqu[ie]ren

Why it is not referred in grammar books as a stem-changing category? Is this an exception?

  • there is a list of stem changing verbs in el Presente described in all grammar books. I found i -> ie stem changing verb and wonder why it is not present in grammar books. – Chesnokov Yuriy Jun 18 '14 at 5:30
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    It looks better now. However, I wonder if these all are really in the books. Some of them involve no changing at all: the letters change as a form of avoiding the sounds changing. Example "vencer" with /z/ sound before 'e' uses 'c', but to keep stem sound before 'o' ("venzo") needs letter 'z'. This is not really stem changing, just different letters for the same sound. – Envite Jun 18 '14 at 7:14
  • yes, these are letter changing verbs. I think I've found one source with i->ie change: spanishdict.com/topics/show/38 – Chesnokov Yuriy Jun 19 '14 at 11:09
  • it is similar to jugar, but just 2 verbs exists: adquirir, inquirir. grammar books report jugar case but avoid i->ie – Chesnokov Yuriy Jun 19 '14 at 11:10

There are three main groups of stem-changing verbs, as you note, they are o→ue, e→ie, and e→i, which are technically o→ue→u, e→ie→i, and e→i→i for -ir verbs.

These came from an evolution of the pronunciation of certain Latin vowel sounds when changing from being stressed and unstressed, and the effect is called alternancia vocálica. Verbs aren't the only thing that do it, incidentally, as evidenced in numbers (siete/nueve but setenta/noventa), superlatives (fuerte but fortísimo), and a handful of other words (hrfano but orfonato).

There are three special verbs (or a few more by changing prefixes) that don't quite follow the standard changes.

They are jugar, cernir, and adquirir. Jugar is unique because the -o- in its infinitive became a -u- over time (compare to Galician xogar).

cernir is unique because, though ending in -ir, the second stem-change does not take place: cierno but cernió (expected but wrong: cirnió), cierna but cernamos (expected but wrong: cirnamos). It could be formally described as a e→ie→e verb along with concernir and discernir.

Adquirir, likewise, is just an exception without much rhyme or reason to it. If I had to take an off-the-cuff guess, it's due to influence from querer. It's also the only one I can think of that does an i→ie→i change (along with inquirir that has the same root).

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  • "Adquirir was at an earlier stage adquerir, with a completely regular conjugation following the model of sentir. When it subsequently evolved to adquirir, the conjugations with diphthongs were left unchanged." Spanish Verbs Made Simple(r) – brazofuerte May 8 '19 at 10:00

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