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July 23, 2020 ·

The verb “gustar” and others like it

Your 101 Guide to the Verb Gustar

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me gustan los perros

What is the meaning of the Spanish verb gustar?

Verbs like gustar often provide difficulties to new learners and are famously difficult to get right. The most recognizable of these verbs is of course, gustar. This verb is often translated to “to like” but it literally means to be “pleasing to”. When using the verb gustar and other verbs like it, the subject of the sentence is the thing being liked, while the thing doing the liking is expressed using the indirect object, which we talked about in a previous grammar blog.

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As previously mentioned, the verb gustar requires the us of the IO, or the indirect object:

  • Me gusta el auto.
  • I like the car.
  • Nos gustan los perros.
  • We like dogs.

In English, the following sentences make sense and are written correctly:

  • I like the car.
  • We like the dogs.

Lets take a look at the two sentences more closely:

I like the car.

  • I = subject of the sentence
  • like = the verb
  • the car = the DO (direct object)

We like dogs.

  • We = the subject of the sentence
  • like = the verb
  • dogs = direct object
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In English, it is correct to construct the sentence so that it depicts the subject doing the “liking” of the direct object. In Spanish, this is not the case. In Spanish, we use a different construction:

EnglishSpanish
I like the car.The car is pleasing to me.
We like dogs.Dogs are pleasing to us.
Notice how both the English and Spanish sentences are similar. They are just two different ways to express the same meaning.

One important thing to note is that in English, the subject of the sentence is the person (I, We). In Spanish, the subject of the sentence is the object (car, dogs)

Finally, it is important to notice that in English we use the direct object while in spanish we use the indirect object:

  • The car is pleasing to me
  • me = indirect object
  • I like the car
  • the car = direct object

Let’s analyze the following example: Me gustan los perros.

  • Literal translation: To me are pleasing the dogs.
  • Actual Translation: I like the dogs.

It is quite common for learners to confuse this topic when first learning it, and say “me gusto los libros” but, You will notice that the verb “gustar” is conjugated in the third person plural – gustan.

This is because the verb is conjugated according to the subject and in this case, the subject of the sentence is “the dogs”. Remember, the conjugated verb always has to agree with the subject of the sentence.

If we change the subject of the sentence to be singular, then we use “gusta”

  • Me gusta el perro.
  • I like the dog.

The indirect pronoun will change according to the person who is doing the liking

SpanishEnglish
Me gusta el cuadro.I like the painting.
Te gusta el cuadro.You like the painting.
Nos gusta el cuadro.We like the painting.
Me gustan los zapatos.I like the shoes.
Te gustan los zapatos.You like the shoes.
Nos gustan los zapatos.We like the shoes.

Remember that the IO pronoun is not the subject of the sentence:

  • Te gustás la manzana. – incorrecto
  • Nos gustamos las frutas. – incorrecto

Below are some more examples of the correct use of the verb gustar:

Singular SubjectPlural Subject
Me gusta el gato.Me gustan los gatos.
Te gusta el parque.Te gustan los parques.
Le gusta la naranja.Le gustan las naranjas.
Nos gusta la tarta.Nos gustan las tartas.
Les gusta la canción.Les gustan las canciones.

Let’s take a look at the example “le gusta la naranja”

If you remember from our blogs about the direct object and indirect object, it is impossible to tell the exact meaning of this sentence without context. It could mean:

  • He likes the orange.
  • She likes the orange.
  • You (usted) the orange.

In order to avoid confusion, we often use prepositional phrases to clarify who the IO pronoun le refers to:

SpanishEnglish
A él le gusta la naranja.He likes the orange.
A Agustín le gusta la naranja.Agustin likes the orange.
A ella le gusta la naranja.She likes the orange.
A Sara le gusta la naranja.Sara likes the orange.
A usted le gusta la naranja.You (formal) like the orange.
Using the prepositional phrase allows us to remove the ambiguity of the sentence.

And now with les:

SpanishEnglish
A ustedes les gusta la canción.You guys like the song.
A ellos les gusta la canción.They like the song.
A ellas les gusta la canción.They like the song.
Using the prepositional phrase allows us to remove the ambiguity of the sentence.

A prepositional phrase can also be used when there is no ambiguity in the sentence. It is used to add emphasis:

  • A Marianela le gusta el helado.
  • A mí no me gusta el helado.

In the first example, “a Marianela” clarifies the ambiguous pronoun “le” where as in the second sentence “a mí” is used to add emphasis. It is emphasizing that I do not like ice cream in comparison to Marianela who does.

Now that you know how to correctly use the verb “gustar”, below is a list of other common verbs that function in the same way:

  • interesar (to interest)
  • aburrir (to bore)
  • fascinar (to fascinate)
  • importar (to matter/be important)
  • dar asco (to be gross out)
  • bastar (to be sufficient)
  • picar (to itch)
  • parecer (to appear to be)
  • quedar (to be leftover/remain)
  • doler (to be painful)
  • Volver loco (to drive crazy)

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