Saying you like things in Spanish, and other verbs

Happy-cat“Gustar” is a funny verb. When we first learn it, we equate “me gusta” with “I like” – “me gusta la pizza” means “I like pizza”. Simple enough. However, this verb, and many others like it, are profoundly different to our English equivalents. They are known as “reverse construction verbs”.

What are reverse construction verbs?

A more helpful way to approach “me gusta” is to think of our English verb “disgust”. The construction of this verb means that something disgusts me. With our verb “like”, we like something, but with “disgust” this is reversed (hence “reverse construction verbs”). The subject (the agent which is “doing” the verb) is reversed:

 

The cat likes sardines:

 

cat-likes

Sardines disgust the cat:

 

sardines-disgust

“Gustar” works in a similar way to “disgust”. In the sentence “Me gustan las naranjas” (“I like oranges”), Spanish speakers think of the oranges being the agent, and causing my pleasure. The oranges are doing the action to me, rather than my liking the oranges. This is the fundamental principle behind reverse construction verbs, and once you can understand this, you’ll be able to nail the whole set of them!

Another approach you can take is to translate “gustar” as “please” (as in, “it pleases me”). Using this translation, then, “me gustan las naranjas” can also be translated as “oranges please me”. Although this sounds like quite a weird translation (and it’s certainly not the “correct” one), it does help us to understand the construction of the verb.

While we may understand the concept of reverse construction verbs, Spanish adds another layer of difficulty in that, once we´ve decided what or who the agent is, we have to conjugate the verb to match that agent. With “I like oranges”, the agent in Spanish is “oranges” (remember: oranges please me). That means we need to conjugate “gustar” for “oranges”, rather than “me”, or “I”. “Naranjas” is plural and third person, meaning we use the “-an” ending:

“Me gustan las naranjas”

Try it with these sentences, translating from English to Spanish:

  • I like Spain (or, Spain pleases me)
  • He likes football (or, football pleases him)
  • They like me (or, I please them)
  • I like you (or, you please me)

Translations at the end of this article!

Other reverse construction verbs

While “gustar” is probably the first verb you’ll come across of this type, there is a wide range of other verbs which also follow the same structure. We won’t provide a complete list, but here are some of the most important ones that you definitely need to add to your Spanish toolbox:

  • Aburrir: To bore
  • Bastar: To have enough
  • Caer bien: To look good on/get on with (literally “fall well”)
  • Costar: To cost (and figuratively, to be difficult)
  • Doler: To hurt
  • Encantar: To delight
  • Faltar: To lack/need
  • Importar: To matter/care
  • Parecer: To appear
  • Quedar: To remain/have left

Reverse construction verbs are a very “Spanish” thing. While it can take a little while to get your head around them, it’s a sure-fire way to make your Spanish sound that little bit more native, and a little less like translated English.

Translations

  • I like Spain (or, Spain pleases me)
  • Me gusta España
  • He likes football (or, football pleases him)
  • Le gusta el fútbol
  • They like me (or, I please them)
  • Les gusto yo
  • I like you (or, you please me)
  • Me gustas tú

How did you get on? Did you get them all right?

  • Actually, that’s the best explanation of this verb I’ve seen to date. I will be telling my teacher tomorrow. Thanks!

    • spanishobsessed

      Hi Melissa! Great, glad you found it helpful!