Posted by: janecronin | December 17, 2017


We seem to be having a run on favourite occupations, “to eat”, “to drink” and now my personal favourite, “to sleep”.  Student usually find this verb fairly easy to remember as it has a lot of resonances in English, such as “dormitory”, “dormant” and of course “dormouse” for which I have to thank Lewis Carroll and the Hatter’s tea party to remind me of this little creature’s main characteristic.

When we use the verb “dormir” in the present tense, we have to remember that it belongs to a category of verbs called “root-changing” or “stem-changing”.  This means that in four out of the six present tense forms, the “o” in the root of the verb changes to “ue”, like this:  “duermo” (I sleep); “duermes” (you sleep); “duerme” (he or she sleeps); “dormimos” (we sleep); dormís (plural you sleep); “duermen” (they sleep).  If you have never studied these you might find this a little confusing, but in fact it is following the regular pattern of many similar root-changing verbs where the change from “o” to “ue” falls on the part of the verb that is being stressed or emphasised.

The rather annoying thing about learning the rules surrounding root-changing verbs is to realise that these changes basically only apply to the present tense.  Once you go into the past and future tenses, these changes no longer occur – “dormía” “dormí” “dormiré” and so on.  Although there are a few instances where the “o” changes to a single “u” as in “durmiendo” (sleeping) and “durmió” “durmieron” (he slept, they slept).

If we turn “dormir” into the reflexive form “dormirse” we change the meaning from “to sleep” to “to fall asleep”.  “Siempre me duermo antes del final de una película” (I always fall asleep before the end of a film) is my own particular problem.  “Cuando eran pequeñas mis hijas se dormían en el coche” (when they were small, my daughters used to fall asleep in the car).  Or perhaps if you hear a loud snore coming from the sofa when you have friends visiting, you might have to say: “Perdonad, mi marido se ha dormido” (I’m sorry, my husband has fallen asleep), or you could just give him a sharp kick in the shins.

Similar to “dormitory” in English is the Spanish word for bedroom, “dormitorio” which refers to any normal bedroom and not one that has rows of bunk beds and sleeping back-packers.   You are no doubt familiar with the Spanish “siesta” which means a short sleep at a particular time of day, but there is also a verb which means “to doze” “to nod off” or “to sleep lightly” which can apply to any time of day and is a derivative of “dormir”, namely “dormitar”.  Finally, the word for “sleepy-head” is “dormilón” (or feminine “dormilona”) and Dormilón is the Spanish name for “Sleepy” the dwarf in the story of Snow White.  And that has just reminded me of another famous story “La Bella Durmiente”.

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