Unit 9: Pronouns (Part 3)

9.4 Verbs That Take Indirect Object Pronouns

One of the more confusing, high-frequency verbs in Spanish for the non-native speaker to form as well as to comprehend is gustar, which generally translates as “to like.” However, the object liked is the grammatical subject of the sentence, for gustar literally translates as “to be pleasing.” Note the word order flexibility in the Spanish sentences:

A Donaldo le gusta nadar.


Le gusta nadar a Donaldo.

Or, somewhat less common:

Nadar le gusta a Donaldo.

Donald likes swimming.

As gustar normally refers to objects, it is used almost exclusively in the third person. When the object liked is plural, you will see a plural verb:

Le gustan los deportes. She likes sports.

If the meaning of le is not obvious in context, a prepositional phrase clarifies:

A ella le gustan los deportes. She likes sports.

Although English does not have the verb “to gust,” it has its approximate opposite, “to disgust” (the more exact translation of which is the less harsh “to displease.”) To translate literally that something is “displeasing” (or “pleasing”) to someone may help to understand this construction. As many other Spanish verbs function in the same manner, it is important to recognize what is the subject (look for subject-verb agreement) and what is the indirect object (look at the pronoun or, if clarified, the prepositional object pronoun):

Nos gusta bailar el tango. We like to dance the tango.

In the above sentence, no clarification is ever necessary. If, however, one wanted to emphasize what the subject is in English, the phrase a nosotros could be added, most likely at the beginning of the sentence, but also at the end.

The sentence Le gusta el merengue is ambiguous out of context. If clarification were needed, a prepositional phrase would be added, such as:

A Ud. le gusta la música merengue. You like merengue music.

¡Ojo! When gustar is used in the first or second person, which is not the norm, it carries a sexual or romantic connotation: –¿Te gusto? (“Do you like me?” [Literally, “Am I (sexually, romantically) pleasing to you?”])

Other common verbs and expressions that function like gustar are:

aburrir to be boring, to bore
agradar to be pleasing
caer bien/mal to like/ dislike someone; to make a good/bad impression on someone
dar asco to be disgusting, to be repulsive
disgustar to be displeasing, to be annoying (false friend)
doler (ue) to hurt, to ache, to be painful
encantar to like very much, to love
faltar to be lacking, to be missing
interesar to be interested in, to interest
sentar (ie) bien/mal to sit well with/ not sit well with, to agree/disagree with



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