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The Verb Gustar

Updated: Jan 9


I could show you how to build sentences with the verb gustar, but I’d rather teach you how this verb works so you understand why every time we use it we have these funny-looking sentences. So, remember how Mr. Miyagui taught karate to Daniel-san without any karate lessons? We'll do something similar here. I'll explain how the verb gustar works using a different verb because I want to show you that the rules that take place are not exclusive to this verb. They apply to many other verbs. That's why it will be very useful for you to learn them.


Content:

  • Main Elements of a Sentence

  • Types of Objects

  • Even Transitive Verbs Can Have No Object

  • Direct and Indirect Objects

  • Sentences with a Direct Object

  • Sentences with a Direct and an Indirect Object

  • Sentences with an Indirect Object

  • The Verb Gustar in Spanish

  • Wrap-up

  • Video


Main Elements of a Sentence


Although there are different sentence structures, one that predominates in Spanish is made up of two or sometimes three elements:


1. Subject: someone or something who performs an action.

2. Verb: action performed by the subject.

*3. Object: receives the action. Not all verbs allow objects. The best way to identify the object in a sentence is to ask the question "what/to whom + verb?"


Let's have a look at the following sentences to see what I mean when I say that not all verbs allow objects.


Example 1


Escribo cartas. (I write letters.)

Subjet: yo (I)

Important! In Spanish, the subject is usually not explicit, but implied in the conjugation of the verb. Most of the time we wouldn't say yo escribo, but escribo.

Verb: escribir

Object: as I said before, to identify the object we can ask "What/To whom do I write?" and the answer is cartas (letters). The object is cartas.


Then, escribir is a verb that does allow objects. Verbs that can have objects are called transitive verbs.


Example 2


Vamos a México. (We're going to Mexico. / Let's go to México.)

Subject: nosotros

Verb: ir

Object: here we ask "What/To whom do we go?" This question makes no sense at all. This is how we know that a verb doesn't allow objects. The verb ir doesn't allow objects, so it is an intransitive verb. This sentence has only two elements: a subject and a verb. No object.


Types of Objects


Until now we have learned that there are two types of verbs:

a) Intransitive verbs that do not allow objects.

b) Transitive verbs that do allow objects.


Let's envision them as jigsaw puzzle pieces. Intransitive verbs would be pieces with no opening for another piece after them. This is, for the piece that would represent the object. In this case, we would have a very short and simple puzzle of only two pieces, a sentence of two elements: a subject and a verb. In our example, the subject was nosotros and the verb was ir. The part of a México is not an object, it's a complement, but that's another topic.

When it comes to transitive verbs, they would be a piece with space that would be taken by the object and we would have puzzles of three pieces: a subject, a verb, and an object.


Still, we must understand that in the case of sentences with transitive verbs there are several possibilities.


Even Transitive Verbs Can Have No Object

Yes. Transitive verbs allow objects, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they will always have one. Check out this sentence:


Escriben todas las noches.

Subject: ustedes, ellos, ellas (we don't know for sure)

Verb: escribir

Object: what/to whom do you all/they write? This information is not included in the sentence. So, even if we already know that the verb escribir can have an object, in this case, it doesn't.


Our sentence has only two elements. A subject and a verb. The verb escribir, as a puzzle piece, would have no space for the object. Todas las noches is, again, a complement.


Direct and Indirect Objects

If a transitive verb does have an object, there are different possible scenarios. The first one would be that the verb had only one object.


1. Sentences with a Direct Object


Rulfo escribe cartas.

Subject: Rulfo

Verb: escribir

Object: cartas


In this sentence, there is one object. So here the verb escribir as a puzzle piece has one space for another piece that is taken by an object. In this case, cartas is the object. So, our puzzle has three pieces.

We could be more specific and ask ourselves what type of object cartas is, as there are two types of objects, direct and indirect objects. In theory, direct objects are those which, as their name suggests, receive the action unmediated and are deeply affected or transformed by it. On the other hand, I would describe indirect objects as those which receive a benefit or damage from the action. They are affected by the action but, again as its name says, in a more indirect way.

Know that you know this, what type of object do you think cartas is?

It's a direct object as they are directly affected by the action of Rulfo. To be honest, things are not as straightforward in practice as they are in theory. I think when it comes to learning what object(s) apply to each verb, the best strategy is to take note every time you come across this phenomenon. For example, you've just learned that escribir can have a direct object. Remember that.


2. Sentences with a Direct and an Indirect Object


Rulfo les escribe cartas a Clara y a Lola.

Subject: Rulfo

Verb: escribir

Direct Object: cartas

Indirect Object: Clara y Lola


We've just added an indirect object: Clara and Lola. The verb escribir allows us to have both, a direct and an indirect object. Remember this as well. But not all transitive verbs can have both types of objects, only some of them. You may have noticed that this sentence has some new elements. And there's a good explanation for that. They appear because I'm applying two simple but important rules.


First rule

When people or animals, especially if they are close to us, like our pets, for example, are in the position of objects, no matter if it's a direct or an indirect object, we must add the preposition a before them. That's why in our sentence we have a Clara y a Lola.


Second Rule

Whenever there is an indirect object in a sentence, we must include the indirect object pronoun that matches. Here is a chart with these pronouns:


If the indirect object is Clara y Lola, this is ellas, then the pronoun that should be used in this sentence is les. Usually, pronouns are placed before verbs. That's why in our sentence we have les describe.

In this sentence, escribir as a puzzle piece has two openings and both are being taken. One by a direct object, cartas, and the other one by an indirect object, Clara y Lola. Our puzzle has four pieces this time.



3. Sentences with an Indirect Object

Just as case number 1 we had a sentence with only a direct object, it is also possible to have sentences with only an indirect object. Let's see an example.


Rulfo les escribe a Clara y a Lola.

Subject: Rulfo

Verb: escribir

Direct Object: -

Indirect Object: Clara y Lola

In this sentence, we don't know what Rulfo is writing to Clara and Lola. He may be writing them poems or maybe just a text, but this information is not part of the sentence so it has only three elements: a subject, a verb, and an indirect object. As a puzzle piece, escribir has only one space on the lower side for an indirect object and it's been taken by Clara y Lola.



The verb gustar in Spanish


So far we've been creating sentences with the verb escribir which is very versatile.

  • We can find it with no object: Escriben todas las noches.

  • With a direct object: Rulfo escribe cartas.

  • With a direct object and with an indirect object: Rulfo les escribe cartas a Clara y a Lola.

But sadly not all verbs are this flexible. I'm referring to verbs like gustar. Let's break down a sentence with this verb.


A Clara y a Lola les gusta Rulfo.

* When using the verb gustar with people, it means to feel attracted to them.

(Clara and Lola feel attracted to / are into Rulfo.)

Subject: as I said in Example 1, in Spanish, our subject is usually implied in the conjugation of the verb. Our verb is gusta, in the third-person singular, meaning our subject is Rulfo.

Verb: gustar

Object: our first rule states that whenever people (or animals) are in the positions of objects, the preposition a is added. Here we can see this preposition before Clara and Lola. This helps us identify them as the object of the sentence. Now we should decide if they are a direct or an indirect object. Before the verb gusta, there is the indirect pronoun les that matches Clara and Lola. This is a giveaway. A Clara y a Lola is an indirect object.


The different placement of the elements may indeed make you mix them up. But it's all a matter of practice. Bear in mind that this structure, placing the indirect object at the beginning of the sentence, is specific to the verb gustar and the verbs of the same category. The so called verbos de afección (encantar, doler, interesar, importar, molestar...).

The first part of the sentence, a Clara y a Lola, is not always necessary. Only when the indirect object linked to the pronoun is not implicit in the context. For example, you and I were talking about Clara and Lola. I could easily leave out this first part of the sentence and say:

Les gusta Rulfo.

As our indirect object, Clara and Lola, is implicit in the context. But if we were talking about something else, or maybe we weren't talking at all, and I just come out of nowhere and suddenly say Les gusta Rulfo, the meaning of the sentence wouldn't be clear. You wouldn't know what les stands for. In this case, I would need to say explicitly what the indirect object is.


The verb gustar will always have an indirect object and nothing else. Never a direct object. As our second rule states, every time there is an indirect object in a sentence, we must include the indirect object pronoun that matches. That's why we always have these pronouns in sentences with gustar. If this verb were a puzzle piece, it would have only one space in the lower side for an indirect object and that's it. The same goes for other verbs like gustar that have the same structure.


Let's have a look at another sentence with gustar.


A Hugo le gustan las películas de terror.

Subject: this time we have the verb gustan, in the third-person plural. This helps us know that the verb is las películas de terror.

Verb: gustar

Indirect object: Hugo

It's a common mistake to conjugate the verb with the person at the beginning of the sentence. But at this point, it should be clear that this is not correct.


Third Rule

There is one last rule that we must follow when building sentences with gustar. Let's break down the following sentence:


A mí me gusta el rock.

Subject: el rock

Verb: gustar

Indirect object: yo

Our indirect object is yo, but our sentence says . This happens because after some prepositions (a, para, de, contra...) de pronoun yo turns into . That's why we don't say A yo me gusta el rock but A me gusta el rock. Only because it's placed after the preposition a. Something similar happens to the pronoun . After some prepositions, it turns to ti. This same sentence with the pronoun would be A ti te gusta el rock.


Wrap-up

  • We can identify the subject of a sentence by looking at the conjugation of the verb.

  • We can know if there's an object in a sentence why asking the question "What/To whom + verb?"

  • A transitive verb can have an object, whereas an intransitive verb cannot.

  • It's a good idea to take note of the type of object(s) that a verb uses every time you come across the phenomenon.

  • Not all transitive verbs can have both objects. Some can have only a direct object, and others just an indirect object.

  • We add the preposition a if a person or an animal, especially if they are close to us, like our pets, for example, are in the position of objects, no matter if it's a direct or an indirect object.

  • Whenever there is an indirect object in a sentence, we must include the indirect object pronoun that matches.

  • Gustar is a verb that will always have an indirect object, that's why we'll always use an indirect object pronoun in sentences with this verb.

  • After the preposition a the pronoun yo and change to and ti.

A yo > me gusta el rock.

A tú > ti te gusta el rock.


Ok, enough theory. For those seeking to put all this into practice, here you'll learn more about these types of verbs. This course is a great way to learn how to express your own interests with verbs similar to gustar while, at the same time, you'll be improving your speaking and listening skills as well as expanding your vocabulary.

Finally, here's a video with interviews with native speakers from Mexico City followed by a grammar explanation of the verb gustar. My recommendation for watching the following video is to listen to native speakers talk and, with the help of the subtitles, try to understand how they use the verb gustar. Don't stress out if you don't get it. It's just an exercise for you to be receptive. Then, pay attention to the grammar explanation in case you still need it. Once you've understood how this sneaky verb works, rewatch the first part of the video - not necessarily right away, but whenever you feel like doing it - again with help of the subtitles, and see if you understand why people say what they say.


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