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There are two groups of otherwise regular -er verbs that have spelling changes in certain conjugations due to hard and soft consonants and vowels. That is, they are conjugated like regular -er verbs, except for slight spelling variations in certain conjugations in order to maintain soft consonant sounds throughout. They are known as are spelling-change verbs.
The Consequences of Orthography
These orthographic changes occur because of how hard and soft letters affect pronunciation. The letters a, o, and u are sometimes called hard vowels while e and i are soft vowels. Certain consonants (c, g, s) change pronunciation according to which vowel follows them. Place the soft vowels e or i after them, and they have a soft sound; place the sometimes hard vowels a, o and u after these consonants and you could get a hard-sounding consonant.
The spelling-change verbs follow these rules of orthography. Thus, wherever the g in -ger verbs is followed by a hard vowel like o, it changes to ge to keep the g soft, as in gel. In -cer verbs, wherever the c is followed by a hard vowel, it changes to ç to keep the c soft, as in cell.
The Actual Changes: '-cer' Verbs
Generally, for -cer verbs, the c > ç spelling change is found only in the imperative and the nous conjugation of the present tense: lançons. It is also needed in the present participle, lançant, but not the past participle, lancé.
All verbs that end in -cer undergo this spelling change, including:
- annoncer > to announce
- avancer > to advance
- commencer > to begin
- dénoncer > to denounce
- divorcer > to divorce
- effacer > to erase
- lancer > to throw
- menacer > to threaten
- placer > to put
- prononcer > to pronounce
- remplace > to replace
- renoncer > to renounce
The Actual Changes: '-ger' Verbs
For -ger verbs, the g > ge spelling change is likewise found only in the imperative and the present tense nous conjugation: mangeons. It is needed in the present participle, mangeant, but not the past participle, mangé.
All verbs that end in -ger undergo this spelling change, including:
- arranger > to arrange
- bouger > to move
- changer > to change
- corriger > to correct
- décourager > to discourage
- déménager > to move
- déranger > to disturb
- diriger > to direct
- encourager > to encourage
- engager > to bind
- exiger > to demand
- juger > to judge
- loger > to lodge
- manger > to eat
- mélanger > to mix
- nager > to swim
- obliger > to oblige
- partager > to share
- rédiger > to write
- voyager > to travel
For both types of spelling-change verbs, these slight changes also occur in the following tenses and moods:
- Imperfect - singular conjugations plus the third person plural
- Passé simple - all conjugations except the third person plural
- Imperfect subjunctive - all conjugations
For both, there is no spelling change in the conditional, future, or subjunctive.
See the Full Conjugations to Understand
Check out the full conjugations of spelling-change -ger verbs and -cer verbs for a global picture of how these small changes affect spelling.
One caveat: Do not confuse spelling-change verbs with stem-changing verbs. They are completely different, as their names indicate.