Using 'A' After Verbs Before Infinitives

Depressed woman
"La pobre mujer rompió a llorar" is an example of using "a" after certain verbs. Johner Images / Getty Images

Having trouble explaining the a in the following sentence? ¿Quieres aprender a jugar baloncesto? Would it be the same explanation as the personal a or is it just like the English "to play basketball"? Or neither of these?

When 'A' Comes After the Verb

There very well may be an explanation here, but I'm not sure what it is other than "that's the way it is." There are certain verbs, and aprender is one of them, that need to be followed by a when followed by an infinitive. Why Spanish would use "aspirábamos a nadar" (with an a) for "we aspired to swim" but "queríamos nadar" (no a) for "we wanted to swim" appears arbitrary.

There appear to be no clear rules to indicate when a verb needs to have an a before a subsequent infinitive, although verbs that indicate some sort of motion — such as venir (to come) and llegar (to leave) — usually do. So do some verbs that indicate a change in action, such as empezar (to begin).

Common Verbs With "a" Before an Infinitive

Following are the most common verbs that should be followed by a before an infinitive. Note that many of the verbs listed have more than one meaning; the meaning given is one that is often intended when the verb is followed by a and an infinitive:

A: Acceder to Aspirar

Acceder (to agree to): Los empresarios accedieron a estudiar las demandas de salario. The employers agreed to study the salary demands.

Acercarse (to approach): José se acercó a ver si yo estaba bien. Jose approached in order to see if I was OK.

Acostumbrarse (to be used to): No me acostumbro a perder. I'm not used to losing.

Alcanzar (to manage to): No alcanzaba a comprenderlo. I wasn't able to understand it.

Aprender (to learn): Los hackers aprenden a camuflar el código de sus ataques. Hackers are learning to camouflage their attack coding.

Apresurarse (to hurry): Me apresuré a leer algunos de los volúmenes de la serie. I hurried to read some volumes in the series.

Aspirar (to aspire): Carlos aspiraba a ser senador. Carlos aspired to be a senator.

B: Bajarse to D: Detenerse

Bajarse (to get down, lower oneself): Todos se bajaron a observar el fenómeno. Everyone got down to see the phenomenon.

Comenzar (to begin): Comienzas a pensar. You're beginning to think.

Comprometerse (to promise): Se comprometieron a bajar los precios. They promised to lower prices.

Decidirse (to decide): Me decidí a comprarlo. I decided to buy it.

Dedicarse (to devote oneself): me dedico a hacer otro tipo de humor. I am dedicating myself to do another type of humor.

Detenerse (to stop): Por eso me detuve a leerlo. That's why I stopped to read it.

E: Echar to N: Negarse

Echar (to begin): Cuando salieron se echaron a correr. When they left they began to run.

Empezar (to begin): ¿Cuándo empezaré a sentirme mejor? When will I begin to feel better?

Inclinarse (to be inclined): Me inclino a leer lo mejor de la literatura de autoayuda. I am inclined to read the best of the self-help literature.

Ir (to go): ¿Quieres saber cómo vas a morir? Do you want to know how you're going to die?

Llegar (to arrive, to succeed): Llegaremos a tener éxito. We will arrive at having success.

Negarse (to refuse): Al principio se negó a dar su nombre. At first, he refused to give his name.

P: Parar to V: Volver

Parar (to stop): Pararon a comprar tortillas. They stopped to buy tortillas.

Pasar (to come in): Pasaron a hablar con él. They came in to talk with him.

Ponerse (to start): Se puso a hablar en tercera persona. He began to talk in the third person.

Quedarse (to remain): Nos quedamos a vivir con mi papá. We stayed to live with my father.

Resignarse (to resign oneself): Me resigné a ser víctima. I resigned myself to being a victim.

Resistirse (to resist): Se resistió a ser detenido. He resisted being arrested.

Romper (to suddenly begin): La pobre mujer rompió a llorar. The poor woman broke out crying.

Sentarse (to sit down): Nos sentamos a platicar sobre cualquier cosa. We sat down to chat about all sorts of things.

Tender (to tend to): ¿Por que las mujeres siempre tienden a enamorarse tan rápido? Why do women always tend to fall in love so fast?

Venir (to come): Vinieron a ganar dinero. They came to earn money.

Volver (to do again): No volveré a ser joven. I'm not going to be young again.

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Erichsen, Gerald. "Using 'A' After Verbs Before Infinitives." ThoughtCo, May. 24, 2021, Erichsen, Gerald. (2021, May 24). Using 'A' After Verbs Before Infinitives. Retrieved from Erichsen, Gerald. "Using 'A' After Verbs Before Infinitives." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 28, 2023).