Easy Learning Spanish

The infinitive - Easy Learning Grammar Spanish

What is the infinitive?
The infinitive is a form of the verb that hasn’t had any endings added to it and doesn’t relate to any particular tense. In English, the infinitive is usually shown with to, as in to speak, to eat, to live.

1   Using the infinitive

  • In English, the infinitive is usually thought of as being made up of two words, for example, to speak. In Spanish, the infinitive consists of one word and is the verb form that ends in -ar, -er or -ir, for example, hablar, comer, vivir.
  • When you look up a verb in the dictionary, you will find that information is usually listed under the infinitive form.
  • In Spanish, the infinitive is often used in the following ways:
  • after a preposition such as antes de (meaning before), después de (meaning after)
Después de comer, fuimos a casa de Pepe.After eating, we went round to Pepe’s.
Salió sin hacer ruido.She went out without making a noise.
Siempre veo la tele antes de acostarme.I always watch TV before going to bed.
  • Note that in English we always use the -ing form of the verb after a preposition, for example, before going. In Spanish you have to use the infinitive form after a preposition.
  • in set phrases, particularly after adjectives or nouns
Estoy encantada de poder ayudarte.I’m delighted to be able to help you.
Está contento de vivir aquí.He’s happy living here.
Tengo ganas de salir.I feel like going out.
No hace falta comprar leche.We/You don’t need to buy any milk.
Me dio mucha alegría verla.I was very pleased to see her.
Me da miedo cruzar la carretera.I’m afraid of crossing the road.
  • after another verb, sometimes as the object of it
Debo llamar a casa.I must phone home.
Prefiero esquiar.I prefer skiing.
Me gusta escuchar música.I like listening to music.
Nos encanta nadar.We love swimming.
¿Te apetece ir al cine?Do you fancy going to the cinema?
  • Note that, when it comes after another verb, the Spanish infinitive often corresponds to the -ing form in English.
  • in instructions that are aimed at the general public – for example in cookery books or on signs
Cocer a fuego lento.Cook on a low heat.
Prohibido pisar el césped.Don’t walk on the grass.
  • as a noun, where in English we would use the -ing form of the verb
Lo importante es intentarlo.Trying is the important thing.
  • Note that, when the infinitive is the subject of another verb, it may have the article el before it, particularly if it starts the sentence.
El viajar tanto me resulta cansado.I find so much travelling tiring.
TipBe especially careful when translating the English -ing form. It is often translated by the infinitive in Spanish.

2   Linking two verbs together

  • There are three ways that verbs can be linked together when the second verb is an infinitive:
  • with no linking word in between
¿Quieres venir?Do you want to come?
Necesito hablar contigo.I need to talk to you.
  • with a preposition:
ir a hacer algoto be going to do something
aprender a hacer algoto learn to do something
dejar de hacer algo to stop doing something
Voy a comprarme un móvil.I’m going to buy a mobile.
Aprendimos a esquiar.We learnt to ski.
Quiere dejar de fumar.He wants to stop smoking.
  • Note that you have to learn the preposition required for each verb.
  • in set structures
tener que hacer algoto have to do something
Tengo que salir.I’ve got to go out.
Tendrías que comer más.You should eat more.
Tuvo que devolver el dinero.He had to pay back the money.

3   Verbs followed by the infinitive with no preposition

  • Some Spanish verbs and groups of verbs can be followed by an infinitive with no preposition:
  • poder (meaning to be able to, can, may), saber (meaning to know how to, can), querer (meaning to want) and deber (meaning to have to, must)
No puede venir.He can’t come.
¿Sabes esquiar?Can you ski?
Quiere estudiar medicina.He wants to study medicine.
Debes hacerlo.You must do it.
  • verbs like gustar, encantar and apetecer, where the infinitive is the subject of the verb
Me gusta estudiar.I like studying.
Nos encanta bailar.We love dancing.
¿Te apetece ir al cine?Do you fancy going to the cinema?
  • verbs that relate to seeing or hearing, such as ver (meaning to see) and oír (meaning to hear)
Nos ha visto llegar.He saw us arrive.
Te he oído cantar.I heard you singing.
  • the verbs hacer (meaning to make) and dejar (meaning to let)
¡No me hagas reír!Don’t make me laugh!
Mis padres no me dejan salir por la noche.My parents don’t let me go out at night.
  • the following common verbs
decidirto decide
desearto wish, want
esperarto hope
evitarto avoid
necesitarto need
odiarto hate
olvidarto forget
pensarto think
preferirto prefer
recordarto remember
sentirto regret
Han decidido comprarse una casa.They’ve decided to buy a house.
No desea tener más hijos.She doesn’t want to have any more children.
Espero poder ir.I hope to be able to go.
Evita gastar demasiado dinero.He avoids spending too much money.
Necesito salir un momento.I need to go out for a moment.
Olvidó dejar su dirección.She forgot to leave her address.
Pienso hacer una paella.I’m thinking of making a paella.
Siento molestarte.I’m sorry to bother you.
  • Some of these verbs combine with infinitives to make set phrases with a special meaning:
querer decirto mean
¿Qué quiere decir eso?What does that mean?
dejar caerto drop
Dejó caer la bandeja.She dropped the tray.

4   Verbs followed by the preposition a and the infinitive

  • The following verbs are the most common ones that can be followed by a and the infinitive:
  • verbs relating to movement such as ir (meaning to go) and venir (meaning to come)
Se va a comprar un caballo.He’s going to buy a horse.
Viene a vernos.He’s coming to see us.
  • the following common verbs
aprender a hacer algoto learn to do something
comenzar a hacer algoto begin to do something
decidirse a hacer algoto decide to do something
empezar a hacer algoto begin to do something
llegar a hacer algoto manage to do something
llegar a ser algoto become something
probar a hacer algoto try to do something
volver a hacer algoto do something again
Me gustaría aprender a nadar.I’d like to learn to swim.
No llegó a terminar la carrera.He didn’t manage to finish his degree course.
Llegó a ser primer ministro.He became prime minister.
No vuelvas a hacerlo nunca más.Don’t ever do it again.
  • The following verbs can be followed by a and a person’s name or else by a and a noun or pronoun referring to a person, and then by another a and an infinitive.
ayudar a alguien a hacer algoto help someone to do something
enseñar a alguien a hacer algoto teach someone to do something
invitar a alguien a hacer algoto invite someone to do something
¿Podrías ayudar a Antonia a fregar los platos?Could you help Antonia to do the dishes?
Enseñó a su hermano a nadar.He taught his brother to swim.
Los he invitado a tomar unas copas en casa.I’ve invited them over for drinks.

5   Verbs followed by the preposition de and the infinitive

  • The following verbs are the most common ones that can be followed by de and the infinitive:
aburrirse de hacer algoto get bored with doing something
acabar de hacer algoto have just done something
acordarse de haber hecho/ de hacer algoto remember having done/ to do something
alegrarse de hacer algoto be glad to do something
dejar de hacer algoto stop doing something
tener ganas de hacer algoto want to do something
tratar de hacer algoto try to do something
Me aburría de no poder salir de casa.I was getting bored with not being able to leave the house.
Acabo de comprar un móvil.I’ve just bought a mobile.
Acababan de llegar cuando…They had just arrived when…
Me alegro de verte.I’m glad to see you.
¿Quieres dejar de hablar?Will you stop talking?
Tengo ganas de volver a España.I want to go back to Spain.

6   Verbs followed by the preposition con and the infinitive

  • The following verbs are the most common ones that can be followed by con and the infinitive:
amenazar con hacer algoto threaten to do someting
soñar con hacer algoto dream about doing something
Amenazó con denunciarlos.He threatened to report them.
Sueño con vivir en España.I dream about living in Spain.

7   Verbs followed by the preposition en and the infinitive

  • The verb quedar is the most common one that can be followed by en and the infinitive:
quedar en hacer algoto agree to do something
Habíamos quedado en encontrarnos a las ocho.We had agreed to meet at eight.
Key points
  • Infinitives are found after prepositions, set phrases and in instructions to the general public.
  • They can also function as the subject or object of a verb, when the infinitive corresponds to the -ing form in English.
  • Many Spanish verbs can be followed by another verb in the infinitive.
  • The two verbs may be linked by nothing at all, or by a, de or another preposition.
  • The construction in Spanish does not always match the English. It’s best to learn these constructions when you learn a new verb.

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