I Like It! Using Gustar in Spanish

Spanish for Beginners: Using 'Gustar'

mountain climbers in the Alps
Me gustan los Alpes. (I like the Alps.). Photo by Franco Pecchio; licensed via Creative Commons.

If you like something, it pleases you.

The truth of that statement is obvious, but it nevertheless is important to know when expressing the thought of liking something when speaking Spanish. For in Spanish, the verb usually used when translating "to like," gustar, doesn't mean "to like" at all. It more accurately means "to please."

Note the construction of the following sentences:

  • English: I like the book.
  • Spanish: Me gusta el libro.
  • Literal word-for-word translation: Me (to me) — gusta (is pleasing) — el (the) — libro (book)

Thus we can see that in English the subject of the sentence is the person doing the liking, while in Spanish the subject is the item being liked, and vice versa.

Verbs that operate in the same way as gustar are sometimes known as defective verbs, or verbos defectivos, but that term also has other meanings, so it isn't used often. When used in this way, such verbs require an indirect object pronoun. The indirect object pronouns are me ("to me"), te ("to you" singular familiar), le ("to him or her"), nos ("to us"), os ("to you," plural familiar, seldom used) and les ("to them").

Because the object being liked is the subject of the sentence, the verb must match it in number:

  • Me gusta el libro. I like the book. (The book pleases me.)
  • Me gustan los libros. I like the books. (The books please me.)
  • Les gusta el libro. They like the book. (The book pleases them.)
  • Les gustan los libros. They like the books. (The books please them.)

The subject of such sentences does not need to be stated if it is understood:

  • No me gusta. I don't like it. (It doesn't please me.)
  • ¿No te gusta? Don't you like it? (Doesn't it please you?)

A prepositional phrase beginning with a can be added to the sentence for either clarification or emphasis, further indicating who is being pleased. Even when the prepositional phrase is used, gustar still needs the indirect object pronoun:

  • A Kristi le gustó la película. Kristi liked the film. (A Kristi was added for clarification.)
  • Me gustó la película. I liked the film. (No emphasis added.)
  • A mí me gustó la película. I liked the film. (Emphasis added to "I.")

The subject of such sentences, the object being liked, can be an infinitive:

  • Me gusta nadar. I like to swim.
  • A Pedro le gustaba bailar. Pedro used to like to dance.

Note that when there is more than one infinitive, the singular form of gustar is still used.

  • Me gusta beber y comer. I like to eat and drink.

You can also use a phrase as the subject, often beginning with que or como. In such cases, a singular form of gustar is used.

  • Me gusta que los chicos respeten y adoren lo que tienen en su país. I like that the children respect and adore what they have in their country.
  • A él le gusta como bailas. He likes how you dance.