Gustar in Spanish

Gustar means to be pleasing to or to be liked. Please pay close attention when we explain further in the lesson, the variations that the verb Gustar will have according to the tense and person that speaks; also we will provide you with some great tips on how to avoid common mistakes when using Gustar. This free audio lesson is all about Gustar in Spanish! 

Gustar is one of those Spanish words that convey shades of meaning that don’t exist in English, it can't be translated literally into its equivalent English meaning. Although using Gustar is very common in the Latin world, its usage will seem strange to an English speaker.

For example, in English you would say:

  • I like X.

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

  • X is pleasing to me.

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

You will find Gustar used in the third person singular and plural forms almost exclusively, and it will always be accompanied by an indirect object pronoun.

Using GUSTAR in Spanish to Talk About What You Like

The verb Gustar 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,

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, 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.
PronounPresentPast (preterite)
Me, te, legustagustó
Nos, os, lesgustangustaron

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 in Spanish

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!)

Don’t stress about memorizing all of this! For now, just be familiar with the concepts behind Gustar. 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!
 


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