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Expressing Likes and Dislikes with Gustar
Step 1. gustar basics | Step 2. adding emphasis, clarity, information | Step 3. gustar with other tenses | Step 4. other gustar-like verbs
INTRODUCTION (THE PROBLEM): WHY SPANISH LIKING ISN'T LIKE EATING, READING, ETC.
  • LIke English, Spanish very commonly uses a subject→verb→direct object structure in sentences like I read the book, You eat the grapes, etc. translating perfectly well as (Yo) leo el libro and (Tú) comes las uvas.
  • However, to express likes and dislikes, Spanish uses a structure very different from English:
    • Rather than, for example, I like the book, Spanish says The book pleases me. In Spanish word order, that comes out Me pleases the book.
    • The very common verb at the center of all this, gustar, is unusual in that it takes an indirect object, but cannot take a direct object. There are a number of other common verbs that act the same way.
    • Read the following presentations, taking things one step at a time.
STEP 1: I LIKE..., YOU LIKE..., ETC.; BASIC GUSTAR SENTENCES (top of page)
Sentence Elements Examples
  • An indirect object pronoun, referring to person(s) that like→
  • Gustar form, conjugated in third-person singular or plural (more on this)→
  • The subject, referring to thing(s) liked
  • Me gusta el libroI like the book.
  • ¿Te gustan los libros?  Do you like the books? 
  • Nos gustan las uvas.  We like grapes.
  • Nos gusta leer.  We like to read.
  • (No) les gusta comer.  They (don't) like to eat.
 
IO Pronoun
 
Gustar Form + Subject
  Me
Te
Le
Nos
Os
Les

gusta1 el libro.
gustan2 los libros.
gusta3 leer (y escribir)4.

  1. Gusta agrees with singular subject libro.
  2. Gustan agrees with plural subject libros.
  3. Gusta agrees with singular leer, an infinitive acting as subject.
  4. Multiple infinitives, acting as subject, do not make the verb plural.
STEP 2: ADDING EMPHASIS, CLARITY OR INFORMATION TO GUSTAR SENTENCES (top of page)

The sentences in STEP 1 are grammatically complete, and may be sufficient.

But sometimes emphasis is desired (I like to swim but he doesn't) or clarification of the referent of the indirect object pronoun is necessary, since le, les, and nos can be ambiguous. Finally, the person(s) liking may be identified with common or proper nouns.

In these cases, a phrase is added that is headed by the preposition a plus one or more nouns or prepositional pronouns, which refer to the same person(s) as the indirect object. A is generally repeated before each element of phrase (more on that).

  A + (pro)noun(s) + IO Pronoun   Gustar Form + Subject  
  A mí me
A ti te
A él/ella/Ud. le
A la chica le
Al profesor le
A nosotros nos
A Juana y a mí nos
A vosotros os
A ellos/ellas/Uds. les
A Ernesto y a su hermana les
A los señores les
gusta el libro.
gustan los libros.
gusta leer (y escribir).
 
 
  • Examples
    • A mí me gusta la física, y a Elena también le gusta (more), también. ¿Y a ti? (More)
      • I like physics, and Elena likes it, too. And you?
    • A mi madre y a su amiga les gustan esos postres.
      • My mother and her friend like those desserts.
    • A Sara y a mí nos gustan mucho las flores que tú nos mandaste.
      • Sara and I like very much the flowers you sent us.
    • Manuel y su esposa van al cine regularmente. A ella no le gustan las películas de horror, pero a él sí. (More)
      • Manuel and his wife go to the movies regularly. She doesn't like horror movies, but he does.
 
  Click here for more on word order in gustar sentences.  
STEP 3: USING GUSTAR IN TENSES OTHER THAN PRESENT (top of page)
Gustar sentences work exactly the same way in other tenses, with the same agreement patterns and with the third person of the verb being the most common. Examples:
 
  • Melissa, Ana y yo fuimos a un concierto anoche. A mí me gustó mucho pero a ellas no les gustó para nada.
    • Melissa, Ana and I went to a concert last night. I liked it a lot, but they didn't like it at all.
  • Raúl, tú leíste esas novelas, ¿no? ¿Te gustaron?
    • Raúl, you read those novels, didn't you? Did you like them?
  • Cuando era niña, me gustaba mucho nadar y patinar. A mis hermanos también les gustaban los deportes.
    • When I was a child, I very much liked to swim and skate. My siblings also liked sports.
  • Lleva a tu hermanito al circo, Miguel. Le gustará mucho.
    • Take your little brother to the circus, Miguel. He'll like it a lot.
  • No he probado esos platos, pero me gustaría probarlos.
    • I haven't tried those dishes, but I would like to try them.
  • Al jefe siempre le ha gustado ese software.
    • The boss has always liked that software.
 
STEP 4: OTHER VERBS THAT WORK LIKE GUSTAR (top of page)
a. Other Verbs Expressing Likes, Dislikes and Value Judgements
A number of other verbs use the same structure as gustar. Some common ones are encantar, fascinar, impresionar, interesar, irritar, molestar. In addition, caer bien / caer mal is used with the same structure and generally refers to liking people.
 
  • Me impresiona mucho lo rápido que tu hermana aprende francés.
    • I'm impressed by how fast your sister is learning French.
  • A mis abuelos les molesta que yo escuche* esa música.
    • It bothers my grandparents that I listen to that music.
  • Cuando era niña, me fascinaban los números.
    • When I was a kid, numbers fascinated me.
  • A Manolo y a Melissa les irritaron los malos modales de Emilio.
    • Manolo and Melissa were irritated by Emilio's bad manners.
  • Ni a mí ni a ti nos molesta que nuestros hijos no practiquen* deportes.
    • It doesn't bother either you or me that our children don't play sports.
  • Siempre nos han encantado los postres que prepara tu mamá.
    • I've always loved the desserts your mom makes.
  • Estaba desanimado porque a mi novia no le había impresionado la canción de amor que yo compuse.
    • I was disappointed because my girlfriend had not been impressed by the love song that I composed.
  • A nosotros nos cae muy bien la profesora, porque es muy amable y paciente.
    • We like the teacher a lot, because she's very nice and patient.
  • A mí me caía mal ese tipo. Era egocéntrico y siempre se burlaba de todos.
    • I didn't like that guy. He was self-centered and always made fun of everyone.
 
  *As with gustar itself, these verbs express a reaction, and so trigger the subjunctive in a que clause that serves as their subject. As with infinitives, verb remains singullar even if two or more clauses are present.  
b. Other Common Verbs: faltar, quedar, doler
  Unlike the verbs covered above, these three verbs do not express likes and dislikes. However, they are used with the same basic structure.  
 
  • Al profesor le faltan tres copias del examen. Necesita diez copias en total, y sólo tiene siete..
    • The professor lacks three copies of the exam. He needs ten copies in all, and he only has seven.
  • A Juana y a mí todavía nos quedan muchas cosas por hacer.
    • Juana and I still have a lot of things to do.
  • A mi madre le duele la cabeza, y a mí me duelen los pies.
    • My mother's head hurts, and my feet hurt.
 
     
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