The infinitive in Spanish is one of the three non-personal forms of the verb. Basically, it represents verbs in their most basic state. In this lesson, we will learn to recognize verbs in the infinitive, and explore different ways to use them in sentences. You will also have the opportunity to practice with an interactive quiz. Let’s start…
What is the infinitive in Spanish?
The Royal Spanish Academy defines “El infinitivo” as:
m. Gram. A non-personal form of the verb, whose endings in Spanish are -Ar, -Er or -Ir, which can form verbal periphrasis and is used mainly in substantive subordination.
To put it more simply, the infinitive in Spanish is a non-personal form of the verbs that does not experiment any grammatical variations of voice, mode, time, aspect, number and person, that is, Spanish infinitives are those verbs with the endings -ar, -er, -ir with no conjugation in any tense. Some examples of verbs in the infinitive form are: Trabajar (to work), Comer (to eat) and Vivir(to live).
When to use the infinitive in Spanish
The infinitive can be work as the subject of a sentence. As opposed to the English language, verbs in infinitive in Spanish are commonly used at the beginning of sentences instead of their gerund form. For example, it is correct to say “Trabajar duro da frutos” (using the verb “trabajar” in infinitive), but not “
Trabajando duro da frutos” (using “trabajar” in gerund form).
The infinitive as the subject of the sentence
Subject: The infinitive in Spanish can be used as the subject of the sentence. This works differently in the English language because the gerund (eating, having…) would be used as the subject of the sentence instead of the infinitive. Pay attention to the following examples:
Escribir poesía es mi pasatiempo favorito
Writing poetry is my favorite hobby
Visitar ese país es mi sueño.
Visiting that country is my dream.
The infinitive as the direct complement
Direct complement: The infinitive in Spanish can also be used as the direct object of the sentence. Remember that to identify the direct complement in a sentence, we must ask ourselves the question, “¿Qué es lo que + verbo?”. For instance, in the sentence “A Shakira le gusta cantar“, the verb in infinitive “CANTAR” is the direct complement, and we know this by answering the question: “¿Qué es lo que le gusta a Shakira? – Cantar“. Similarly, the literal translation for a sentence using gerunds such as “I enjoy making” would not be “Yo disfruto
haciendo“, but “Yo disfruto hacer“, keeping the verb in its infinitive form instead of its gerund form.
Me gusta cantar música tradicional.
I like to sing traditional songs.
Yo disfruto hacer nuevas amistades.
I enjoy making new friends
The infinitive as a modifier
Modifier or complement of a noun: In this case, the infinitive will be used after a noun plus the preposition DE, for example:
El arte de retratar personas.
The art of portraying people.
El problema de no hablar español es que…
The problem of not speaking Spanish is that…
As a modifier or complement of an adjective: in this case, the infinitive in Spanish will be used after an adjective (words that describe physical or personality traits), for example:
Este dibujo es fácil de hacer.
This drawing is easy to do.
La lista de producto es algo muy importante a solicitar.
The product list is something important to request.
As a modifier or complement of an adverb: remember that there are adverbs of time (antes de, después de, temprano...), adverbs of place (lejos de, cerca de, encima…) and adverbs of quantity (mucho, muy poco…). Pay attention to this pair of examples
Recuerda hacer la tarea antes de jugar.
Remember to do the homework before playing.
El equipo está cerca de terminar el proyecto.
The team is close to finishing the project.
Circumstantial complement: any complement other than the subject and the verb of the sentence. In this case, the infinitive in Spanish is usually used after a preposition, for example:
Los niños quebraron el jarrón al pasar por el pasillo.
The children broke the vase as they passed through the corridor.
Ana respondió la pregunta sin conocer la respuesta.
Ana answered the question without knowing the answer.
Using prepositions plus Spanish infinitives
As a general rule, we will use verbs in infinitive after prepositions. For instance, in the sentence “That gadget can be used for turning on the lights”, the verb “TURN ON” was used in gerund form as that’s what we must do when we have a preposition followed by a verb in the English language. However, the Spanish translation for this sentence will differ as we will not use gerunds, but the infinitive form of the verb to say “para encender” (for turning on). Here are a few other specific cases you must keep in mind:
To talk about simultaneous activities (AL):
Los niños se mojaron al pasar por la quebrada.
The children got wet when crossing the stream
To explain the purpose of something (PARA):
El puente servirá para transportar mercancía de un país a otro.
The bridge will be useful to transport merchandise from one country to another.
To explain the cause of an event (POR):
Andrés se cayó por estar jugando en el lodo.
Andrés fell down because he was playing in the mud
To give orders using the imperative mode (A):
¡A dormir ahorita mismo!
Go to sleep right now!
To speak in a conditional form (DE):
De tener más información, podría ayudarte.
If I had more information, I could help you
There are some special cases of verbs in Spanish that are usually accompanied by a particular preposition, just like it happens with phrasal verbs like “put up with” in English. These are some that you must remember:
Acabar de, Aprender a, Ayudar a, Negarse a, Acordarse de, Soñar con, Enseñar a, Quedar en, Tratar de…
Acabo de aprender a manejar autos.
I just learned to drive cars
Sueño con construir un país mejor con justicia y democracia.
I dream about building a better country with justice and democracy
Nosotros quedamos en vernos este sábado.
We agreed to meet on Saturday