Verbs without English Equivalents

Verbs without English Equivalents

Not only are there Spanish words that convey shades of meaning that don’t exist in English, there are also Spanish words that can’t be translated literally into their equivalent English meaning. Although they may be quite common in the Latin world, their usage will seem strange to an English speaker.

The verbs in the list below might seem quite complicated at first! However, you will encounter them often enough that you should invest some time in understanding them. You may feel less confused if you do not try to translate them literally. Rather, get used to how they’re used and the contexts in which you hear them.

Many of these verbs follow a similar pattern. In English, the meaning conveyed by these verbs would usually have a person or people as the subject. For example:

• I like X. • I’m missing Y. • I’m fascinated by Z.

In Spanish, however, what would have been the direct object in the English sentence (X, Y, and Z) becomes the subject, while the person (I) becomes the indirect object.

• X is pleasing to me. • Y is missed by me. • Z fascinates me.

Sound confusing? Perhaps the table below will help clarify things.

Verb**MeaningPor ejemploEveryday meaning / Literal translation*encantarto delight or enchantMe encanta la música latina.I love Latin music. / Latin music delights me.faltar*to be missed, to be lacked, to be neededMe falta dinero para comer.I don’t have enough money to eat. / Money is lacking for me to eat.*fascinarto fascinateMe fascinó la pe lícula.I was fascinated by the movie. / The movie fascinated me.gustarto be pleasing to, to be likedMe gusta oír tu voz.I like to hear your voice. / Your voice is pleasing to me.importarto be important to; to be cared aboutNo me importa nada.I don’t care about anything. / Nothing is important to me.interesarto interest, to be interestingMe interesa la política.I’m interested in politics. / Politics is interesting to me.molestarto annoy, to botherMe molestan los mosquitos.The mosquitoes annoy me.quedar***to fit, to suit Me quedó el vestido.The dress suited me.

You will find the verbs above in the third person singular and plural forms almost exclusively, and they always be accompanied by an indirect object pronoun.

Por ejemplo:

Using GUSTAR to Talk About What You Like

As an example of these verbs, let’s take the verb gustar. This is one of the most common verbs in Spanish, because it enables you to express what you like and don’t like.

Por ejemplo:

Literally, the first example translates as, “The Spanish food pleases me.” The second example literally translates as, “To get wet does not please me.”

Obviously, it can be quite unhelpful if you feel as if you have to understand every expression in terms of its direct English translation. When you are learning a new language for the first time, you may feel as if you need to know exactly what each word means in English so that you can do the translation in your head. Languages don’t work like that! If you are going to learn to speak a new language, you have to allow your mind to connect words and ideas in Spanish ways … ways that may be untranslatable in English.

If you want to say that you like more than one thing—for example, that you like the cats, or the colors blue and green, you will use the third person plural form of gustar. For example,

• Me gustan las gatas. • Me gustan los colores azul y verde.

Notice that, in the above examples, “las gatas” and “los colores azul y verde” are actually the subjects of the sentences. However, rather than coming first, they will nearly always come after the verb. If you are constructing a sentence using gustar or one of the verbs in the above table, put the elements of the sentence in the following order:

indirect pronoun + conjugated verb + subject

You may wish to use the handy table below. Choose one pronoun from the first column and the correct form of gustar from one of the other two columns, depending on the tense and the quantity of what is being liked. (If what you like is a verb, like running or cooking, then use the singular form of gustar followed by the infinitive form of the verb.) Remember that the correct form of the verb does NOT follow from the pronoun, but rather from what is being liked.

Pronoun**Present*Past (preterite)Me, te, legustagustóNos, os, les*gustangustaron

Por ejemplo:

Example #4 is a bit trickier than the other examples. If you use le or les (for he, she, formal you, or them), you’ll need to clarify who the pronoun is referring to. For example, if you heard the following sentence:

Le gustan los chocolates.

How would you know who liked the chocolates? You would be able to guess that it is a male, a female, or you (formal singular), but the sentence would be much clearer if you heard it like this:

A Lorena le gustan los chocolates. or A Ud. le gustan los chocolates.

Common Errors with GUSTAR

Mistake #1

- DO NOT say “Me gusta corriendo.” DO SAY “Me gusta correr.” In other words, do not say in Spanish, “I like running.” Do say “I like to run.”

Rule: If you are talking about an activity you like, follow gustar with the infinitive form of the verb (“to run”) rather than the present participle (“running”).

Mistake #2

- DO NOT say “A ellos les gustan acampar.” DO SAY “A ellos les gusta acampar.”

Rule: Make sure that the verb gustar reflects the quantity of what is being liked (“to camp” is a single thing”), not the quantity of the people doing the liking.

Mistake #3

- DO NOT say “A mí me gustan piñas.” DO SAY “A mí me gustan las piñas.”

In other words, do not say in Spanish, “I like pineapples.” Do say, “I like the pineapples,” even when you are talking about pineapples in general.

Rule: If what you like is a noun, always include the correct form of “the.”

Mistake #4

- DO NOT say “Me gusta Jorge.” DO SAY “Jorge me cae bien.” Rule: Avoid using gustar to talk about liking people. If you say “Me gusta Jorge,” people will assume that you find Jorge attractive and would like to date him! If you just like Jorge as a friend, find some other way to express your affection towards him. “Me cae bien” is a much more neutral phrase to express positive feelings towards an acquaintance or friend. Similarly, if you don’t like someone, you can use the phrase, “Me cae mal,” as in, “Jorge me cae mal.”

Think about the following … what would someone’s intentions be if they came up to you and said, “Me gustas tú”?

(Answer: It would usually mean that they liked you—and I don’t mean as friends!)

Using FALTAR to Talk about What You Lack or Need

You will find the verb faltar to be a very useful tool as you talk about what you miss, lack, or need. For examp le, if you want to say that you miss having your own room, you might say,

Me hace falta tener mi propio cuarto.

If you want to say that you’re missing a toothbrush, you can say,

Me falta un cepillo de dientes.

It is difficult to pin down the difference between “hacer falta” and “faltar.” Usually, they can be used interchangeably.

Por ejemplo:

Me hace falta estar con mi familia

I miss being with my family.

Me falta un vestido para el baile.

I don't have a dress for the dance.

Me faltan los últimos dos certificados.

I'm lacking the last two certificates.

Me hace falta tomar café contigo.

I miss drinking coffee with you.

Using the Verb QUEDAR

The verb quedar is also quite commonly used in Spanish. It can mean a variety of things and be used in a variety of contexts. For example, you can use it to express:

Don’t stress about memorizing all of these! For now, just be familiar with the concepts behind each of these important words. As you hear more Spanish being spoken, you’ll start to pick up the nuances of meaning that are impossible to convey in a book. Language is an organic, living thing. Seek out conversation practice wherever you can!

For more on Spanish grammar check out these lessons!