How to Use Gustar (and Other Backwards Verbs)

     

Spanish sentences generally use the same order and sentence structure as English sentences. For example:

Spanish:

Yo como pizza.

English:

I eat pizza.

Here both sentences start with a subject, move on to a verb, and finish off with an object.
But this isn't always the case. Certain Spanish verbs are "backwards" verbs. Backwards verbs make us tweak the meaning and change the order of the sentence. Gustar is the most common of these verbs.

How to Use Gustar

How would you translate this sentence:

I like pizza.

If you look up "to like" in the dictionary, you'll probably be told to use gustar. This might prompt you to translate the sentence:

Yo gusto pizza.

But that's not the correct translation even though gustar is the appropriate verb to use in this situation. While it's not wrong to say that gustar means "to like," it's not exactly true either. It's more accurate to say that gustar means "to be pleasing." Knowing that, you can see that you can't really translate "I like pizza" word for word. Instead you'll need to first change the sentence to something like:

Pizza is pleasing to me.

The meaning hasn't changed, but you're expressing it a different way. Notice that what used to be the object (pizza) is now the subject of the sentence, and what used to be the subject (I) is now an object (me).

So how do we translate "Pizza is pleasing to me"? Well, we still need to make another change before we can translate. Gustar is a backwards verb so gustar sentences read backwards: the subject (the thing that is pleasing) comes at the end, the form of gustar comes in front of that that, and the sentence starts with an object pronoun (which refers to the person being pleased). Therefore instead of "Pizza is pleasing to me" we should translate:

To me is pleasing pizza.

So how do we do that in Spanish? Follow this formula:

IOP (of person being pleased) + gustar + subject (thing that is pleasing)

What's an IOP? IOP stands for "indirect object pronoun." You'll learn more about IOPs later but for right now refer to these charts:

English:

Spanish:

to me

to us

to you

to you

to him/her

to them

me

nos

te

os

le

les

Put it all together and here's what we get:

original:

I like pizza.

re-worded:

Pizza is pleasing to me.

backwards:

To me is pleasing pizza.

translated:

Me gusta pizza.

Here are some more examples:

Te gusta pizza.
You like pizza.
(Pizza is pleasing to you.)

Le gusta pizza.
She likes pizza.
(Pizza is pleasing to her.)

Nos gusta pizza.
We like pizza.
(Pizza is pleasing to us.)

Les gusta pizza.
They like pizza.
(Pizza is pleasing to them.)

Note: To say "I like it" simply omit the subject altogether: Me gusta.

Notice how the verb gusta doesn't change in any of the examples above. That's because the subject "pizza" doesn't change either.

What if you like more than one thing? Now we need to conjugate gustar differently. We need the plural form, gustan, since we now have a plural subject. For example:

Me gustan tacos.
I like tacos.
(Tacos are pleasing to me.)

Te gustan galletas.
You like cookies.
(Cookies are pleasing to you.)

Nos gustan huevos.
We like eggs.
(Eggs are pleasing to us.
)

Les gustan papas fritas.
They like French fries.
(French fries are pleasing to them.)

Keep in mind that we're conjugating gustar to agree with the plural subjects at the end of the sentence (tacos, galletas, huevos, and papas fritas). The objects (me, te, nos, and les) don't affect our verb conjugation even though they're at the beginning of the sentence.

The vast majority of the time, you'll use either gusta (if one thing is liked) or gustan (for more than one thing). It's rare that you would need gustas or gustamos and there are other, better ways of conveying that meaning. See below.

Note: It's appropriate to say con mucho gusto ("with pleasure") when meeting someone.

To Disgust / Gusto

If all this gustar stuff is confusing, it may be helpful to think of the opposite of gustar, disgustar. While "to gust" never made its way into English, its opposite, "to disgust," did:

Me disgustan anchoas.
Anchovies disgust me.

Another English expression that might help is "with gusto," which means "with enthusiam."

Ambiguity with Le and Les

If you use me, te, nos, or os as your indirect object pronoun, the meaning of the sentence should be quite clear. However, if you use le or les, it's not readily apparent who you're talking about. For instance, how would you translate this sentence?

Le gustan libros.

It could be translated "He likes books," "She likes books," or even "You (Ud.) like books." To clear up that confusion, Spanish speakers will often add some context to the sentence by adding a and a noun:

A él le gustan libros.
He likes books.
(Books are pleasing to him.)

A ella le gustan películas.
She likes movies.
(Movies are pleasing to her.)

A Ud. le gustan las canciones.
You like the songs.
(The songs are pleasing to you.)

It may seem redundant to include both a él and le in the same sentence since they mean the same thing, but it happens regularly in Spanish. Even if we don't need to, we always use an indirect object pronoun with gustar.

In a similar way, if you need to include someone's name in the sentence, you'll start with a followed by their name, and you'll still use the indirect object pronoun:

A Elena le gustan zapatos.
Elena likes shoes.
(Shoes are pleasing to Elena.)

A Marco le gustan videojuegos.
Marcos likes video games.
(Video games are pleasing to Marcos.)

A Rodrigo y Felipe les gusta su escuela.
Rodrigo and Felipe like their school.
(Their school is pleasing to Rodrigo and Felipe.)

Remember that the a is necessary because even though Elena, Marco, Rodrigo and Felipe are at the beginning of the sentence, they're the objects of the sentence, not the subjects. We need to say "To Elena," "To Marco," and "To Rodrigo and Felipe."

We can also use a where it would otherwise be unnecessary for emphasis:

Te gusta Coca Cola. A mí me gusta Pepsi.
You like Cocal Cola. Me, I like Pepsi.

Here, even though it's redundant,a mí has been added to emphasize "my" opinion.

Notes on Gustar

Gustar Questions

Normally to turn a sentence into a question we move the subject from the beginning of the sentence to the end. With gustar the subject is already at the end of the sentence so all we need to do is add the question marks:

statement:

Te gustan mariscos.
You like seafood.

question:

¿Te gustan mariscos?
Do you like seafood?

Gustar with Other Verbs

Combine gusta with infinitives to say that you like doing something. For multiple activities use gustan:

Me gusta dibujar.
I like drawing.

¿Te gusta jugar golf?
Do you like to play golf?

Me gustan leer y correr.
I like to read and write.

Gustar in Other Tenses

Gustar works the same way in other tenses (and moods):

Me gustó la musica.
I liked the music.

Le gustarán los libros.
She will like the books.

Le gustaría la comida.
He would like the food.

Liking People

Gustar is typically used to state that you like things, not people. While it's not out of the question to say something like Me gustas ("You are pleasing to me") or Les gustamos ("We are pleasing to them"), those expressions indicate physical attraction and should be used carefully. You're better off re-wording things or using the phrase caer bien:

Eres mi amgio.
You're my friend.

Me cae bien Ronaldo.
I like Ronaldo.

Les caemos bien.
They like us.

Caer bien literally means "to fall well," but in this context would be more like "to leave a good impression." You can use caer mal to indicate dislike: Me cae mal Ronaldo.

Note: Unless you're very narcissistic, you're going to want to avoid saying Me gusto.

Other Backwards Verbs

While we're on the subject of gustar, there are a number of other verbs which work similarly. The following verbs all take an indirect object pronoun and they usually come in front of the subject:

aburrir (to be boring)

agradar (to be pleasing)

bastar (to be sufficient)

disgustar (to be disgusting)

doler (to be painful)

encantar (to be enchanting)

faltar (to be lacking)

fascinar (to be fascinating)

hacer falta (to be lacking)

importar (to be important)

interesar (to be interesting)

molestar (to be a bother)

parecer (to appear to be)

picar (to be itchy)

placer (to be pleasing to)

quedar (to be left over)


Some examples:

Me duele la espalda.
My back hurts.
(My back is painful to me.)

¡Le encanta la limonada!
He loves the lemonade!
(The lemonade is enchanting to him.)

No me importan las razones.
I don't care about the reasons.
(The reasons aren't important to me.)

Les interesan los coches.
They're interested in the cars.
(The cars are interesting to them.)


Corrections? Suggestions? webmaster@spanish411.net

Creative Commons License  This work by Spanish411.net is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.