“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”.
“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!