improve your spanish conversation with less conjugation

Understanding the Infinitive and how it can help you in everyday speech

One of the major mistakes students make when they learn to conjugate verbs is trying to conjugate everything. Don’t get me wrong, verb conjugation is totally necessary, and knowing some rules is an important part of your mastery of language. But included in these rules is knowing when you DON’T need to conjugate!

This may be music to your ears if you are a beginning Spanish student who wants to get out there and really speak! Verb conjugation is probably the first major stumbling block for adult learners. This blog won’t solve that problem, but hopefully it will provide a few alternatives to build confidence for getting out there and speaking before mastery of the wider concept.

First, you have to understand what the infinitive is and how it works. The infinitive is the nominative form of a verb, which just means it can function as a noun. So, anywhere an action is named as a noun, subject, or object of a preposition, the infinitive form must be used. When translated into English the infinitive verb may have the word to in front of it, or end in -ing.

In Spanish infinitives end in one of 3 ways, –ar, –er, or –ir.

Examples of Verbs as Subjects or Nouns:

  • I like to eat; I like eating./Me gusta comer.

  • Skiing is fun./Esquiar es divertido

  • We want to dive./Queremos bucear.

  • It´s a good idea to take a break./Es buena idea tomar un descanso.

  • This card is for making international calls./Esta tarjeta es para hacer llamadas internacionales.

  • In order to cook well, love is necessary./Para cocinar bien, el amor es necesario.

Auxiliary Verbs

When there are two verbs in a row, conjugate the first and leave the second verb in the infinitive form. So, you might know how to say quiero—I want. If you want to do something, like rent a car, you’ll say Quiero rentar un carro. This is just the I (yo) form, and there are five + conjugations for first, second, and third persons. That is an issue for the verb conjugation lesson, however, this will help you form sentences that have a bit more depth. In order to ask someone if they want to do something, the first verb form would have to be in the tú or usted form (for you), but any verb directly after must remain in its infinitive form. ¿Quieres (tú) tomar algo?/Do you want to have something to drink? ¿Quiere ir conmigo usted?/Do you want to go with me?

Auxiliary verb structures are a great place to start when you are trying to take all that hard earned vocabulary and put it into real sentences. Here are some familiar ones that may help you easily start forming sentences and get out of the fear bubble of speaking Spanish in real life. For the sake of practicality, I’ve just provided the yo and the usted forms of the first (auxiliary) verb.

  • Tengo que + infinitive/I have to __________

  • ¿Tiene (usted) que + infinitive?/Do you have to _____________?

  • Puedo + infinitive/I can ____________.

  • ¿Puede + infinitive usted?/Can you __________?

  • Quiero + infinitive/I want to ___________

  • ¿Quiere + infinitive/Do you want to __________?

  • Voy a ___________./I am going to ___________.

  • ¿Va a __________ usted?/Are you going to __________?

I could go on with tons more of these structures, but for the sake of just getting around, these structures will really help you get through a lot of basic situations

Infinitives to Express Opinions and Make Generalized Statements

Es + adjective descriptor + infinitive

  • Es importante llegar a tiempo./It’s important to arrive on time.   

  • Es bonito pasar tiempo con familia./It’s lovely to spend time with family.

  • Es ignorante decir cosas tan malas./It´s ignorant to say such bad things.

  • No es necesario hablar perfectamente./It’s not necessary to speak perfectly.

  • No es obligatorio asistir a la reunión, pero es recomendable./It’s not necessary to attend the meeting but it’s recommended.

  • Fue necesario salir muy temprano./It was necessary to leave very early (past tense).

You will notice that there is no subject pronoun for ‘it’ in Spanish. Don’t worry about it. . . just remember that when a sentence begins with Es, it’s usually referring to a generic idea, situation, or concept that’s already being talked about. 

After a Preposition Such as A, Por, Para, De, Antes De, Después De

(In English prepositions are orientation words like: to, for, from, about. In Spanish respectively: a, para, por, de, acerca de.)

The infinitive is used when verbs come directly after prepositions. You might ask me about translating a verb (gerund) that ends in –ing to the infinitive. This is often the case after verbs like estar and seguir, but definitively NOT the case after Spanish prepositions. Doing so is often the mistake of translators and intermediate learners.

Examples:

  • Antes de cenar/before having dinner

  • Después de trabajar/after work

  • Al llegar/upon arriving

  • Voy a la tienda para comprar saldo telefónico. /I´m going to the store to buy phone credit.

  • Gracias por venir. /Thanks for coming.

  • La comida es para llevar./The food is for carry-out.

To Give General Directions or Talk About Process

Sooooooo. . . you’re traveling and you buy the packet of soup or some box pasta for your cooktop. No problem. Now you’ve got to figure out the instructions on the back of the package. Most of the time, these kinds of general instructions are given in the infinitive, even though there are many ways to give instructions in Spanish. Let’s take a look and learn from reality.

  • Abrir el paquete con tijeras.

  • Meterlo en un litro de agua caliente.

  • Añadir la sal y los otros ingredientes a gusto.

Other Examples:

  • No fumar/No smoking

  • Al favor, reducir su velocidad./Please reduce your speed.

You should know that there is an actual imperative form for giving commands and instructions, but that the infinitive certainly replaces it at times, especially when the person or audience to whom the command is ambiguous.

Other Expressions that Pair Well with Infinitives

Just add an infinitive! In a world where we are truly mobile, words can be looked up in a matter of seconds. Although many translators can differentiate between the varied forms, knowing where to put the correct form of the verb in a sentence is still necessary.

  • Me gustaría/I would like

  • Quisiera/I would like, Would you (usted form) like. . . ?

  • Intento a/I’m trying to

Do you want to learn these structures and vocabulary with the Quizlet App? This is safe and free!

https://quizlet.com/486883758/learn/embed?i=nvebs&x=1jj1