In the Spanish language, we sometimes see certain non-personal forms of the verb in the infinitive, as well as in the gerund and in the participle. These can be used to express a meaning similar to the verb itself, however, they do not indicate tense, quantity or gender.


Thus, it’s important to learn about the different usages of these forms, in order to prevent us from becoming completely lost. So, let’s review them together


But first, we need to remind ourselves of the three infinitive verb endings in Spanish:


  • -ar: trabajar, comprar, empezar

  • -er: beber, volver, hacer

  • -ir: escribir, salir, ir


Also, we need to keep in mind that the infinitive has two methods of expression:


  • Infinitivo simple (simple infinitive): trabajar, hacer, ir.

  • Infinitivo compuesto (compound infinitive): haber trabajado, haber hecho, haber ido.


Usages of the infinitive


The most common usage of the infinitive is as a noun. However, it can be used as a subject, adjective, adverb or as the object of the verb. In other words, it can take multiple roles.


Be careful though, because sometimes we use the infinitive in Spanish when the gerund is used in English.


The infinitive as the subject


In this case, the infinitive can be preceded by the article el:


  • (El) beber vino tinto con moderación es bueno para el corazón (drinking red wine…).

  • Llegar a un acuerdo con el sindicato solucionaría el problema (reaching an agreement…).


The infinitive as the direct object


  • Prefiero acostarme pronto esta noche. Lo prefiero

  • No quiere salir sola de noche. No lo quiere.


The infinitive as a modifier of a noun


  • En España todavía puedes disfrutar del placer de beber un buen vino sin pagar una fortuna (…the pleasure of drinking a good wine…).

  • Tengo la impresión de estar de vacaciones (I feel as if I'm on holiday).


The infinitive as a modifier of an adjective


  • No es capaz de hacer nada (…incapable of doing anything).

  • Sufre crisis difíciles de controlar (he suffers crises that are difficult to control).


The infinitive as a modifier of an adverb


  • De momento, las dos partes están lejos de llegar a un acuerdo (so far, both parties are far from reaching an agreement).


The infinitive as a noun


When the infinitive is used as a noun, it becomes masculine, both in the singular as well as in the plural. It is also always preceded by the article el or los:


  • el amanecer / los amanceres (dawn)

  • el anochecer / los anocheceres (dusk)

  • el atardecer / los atardeceres (dusk)

  • el deber / los deberes (duty)

  • el poder (power)

  • el pesar (sorrow)

  • el parecer (opinion)

  • el saber (knowledge)

  • el haber (income)

  • el ser (being)


When the infinitive is used with prepositions


Be careful: in many of these cases, the gerund is used in English:


  • Regresó a su país para estar más cerca de su familia (…to be closer…).

  • Se marchó sin decir adiós (he left without saying good-bye).

  • Apaga las luces antes de salir (turn the lights off before leaving).

  • Está cansado de discutir (he is tired of arguing).


Also, look out for verbs that need a preposition!


  • Mi hermano me está ayudando a construir el garaje (…is helping me to build a garage).

  • Se negó a asistir a la ceremonia (he refused to attend the ceremony).

  • No se acordó de devolverme el libro (he didn’t remember to give me the book back).

  • Sueña con tener un día su propio negocio (she dreams of having her own business).


The infinitive vs. the subjunctive


The infinitive is used as a direct object when the subject of the conjugated verb and the subject of the infinitive are the same:


  • Quiere viajar por todo el mundo. (Él quiere / él viaja)

  • Prefiero quedarme en casa. (Yo prefiero / yo me quedo)


Also, some influential verbs can be followed by the infinitive. This structure can be used as an impersonal alternative to the subjunctive. However, you should once again be very careful! In many of these cases, the passive voice is used in English:


  • Mandó construir una pirámide / Mandó que construyeran una pirámide (he ordered a pyramid to be built).

  • El gobierno prohibió mostrar las imágenes / El gobierno prohibió que se mostraran las imágenes (the government didn't allow the pictures to be shown).


Indirect object pronoun + verb + infinitive


This alternative structure can only be used if the main verb expresses influence of some sort, such as a mandate, permission or prohibition:


  • El médico le ha prohibido subir y bajar escaleras / El médico le ha prohibido que suba y baje escaleras (the doctor has forbidden him to go up and down the stairs).

  • Le recomendó tomarse unas vacaciones / Le recomendó que se tomara unas vacaciones (he was advised to take a holiday).


Direct object pronoun + verb + infinitive


This alternative structure can only be used if the main verb expresses perception, such as the sensations of listening, seeing or touching:


  • Hace años lo oí tocar en un concierto (years ago, I heard him playing at a concert).

  • Los vi salir al jardín (I saw them going out to the garden).


Prepositions + infinitive


To express conditionality we use De / A / Con + infinitive:


  • De haberlo sabido no hubiéramos, no habríamos venido (if we had known that, we would not have come).

  • A no ser por ti, no hubiéramos comprado este coche (if it hadn’t have been for you, we wouldn’t have bought this car).

  • Con gritar no vas a conseguir nada (shouting won’t get you anywhere).


To express a point in time: al + infinitive


  • Al salir de clase, nos fuimos al cine (After school, we all went to the cinema).

  • Al llegar mi hermano, nos esconderemos (when my brother comes, we’ll hide).


To express chance: por + infinitive


  • Cierran el cine por carecer de medidas de seguridad (the cinema is closed because of a lack of safety measures).

  • Un niño de seis años es suspendido de la escuela por tener una pistola de agua (a six year old is being removed from school for having a water gun).


To express the imperative mood: A + Infinitive


  • Ahora ¡A divertise! (Now, have fun!)

  • A callar! (Shut up!)


The infinitive is also used for negative commands (prohibitions), especially when it is impersonal:


  • No fumar (no smoking).

  • No tirar objetos por la ventanilla (Do not throw objects out of the window).


Also, remember that the compound infinitive describes events that took place prior to another past event:


  • Creía haber respondido a todas sus preguntas (I thought I had answered all your questions).

  • Se quedó más tranquila después de haber hablado con su hijo por teléfono (she left quietly after having talked on the phone with her son).

  • Tuvimos que pagar una multa por no haber enviado los documentos a tiempo (We had to pay a fine for not having sent… / because we didn't send…).


That’s it!


I hope that you have enjoyed this article and have learned a lot about how to avoid any unpleasant surprises when using the infinitivo in Spanish.


Please feel free to ask me any questions or give me suggestions in the comments below.


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