What Is an Infinitive in Spanish?
You probably know about the infinitive in English, but what is an infinitive in Spanish? That’s another question.
Infinitives play a crucial role in the way we construct sentences and express ourselves in Spanish. For this reason, in this post we’ll learn
- what an infinitive in Spanish is
- what the 3 types of infinitives are
- when you should use an infinitive in Spanish, and
- 6 ways to do it.
Finally, as a bonus, I’ve added 45 of the most common infinitive verbs in Spanish to keep improving your vocabulary.
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What Is an Infinitive in Spanish?
The infinitive is the most basic form of a verb, without being conjugated in any particular tense or mood. In English, the infinitive form of verbs includes the preposition “to.” Some examples of infinitives in English are
- “to sing,”
- “to run,”
- and “to sleep”
Now that we know how the infinitive looks in English, let’s try to answer the main question: what is an infinitive in Spanish?
The Royal Spanish Academy defines the infinitive as a “non-personal form of the verb,” which means that it isn’t conjugated. The infinitive doesn’t depend on the subject. In other words, it’s not affected by who executes the action in the sentence.
What are the 3 Spanish infinitives?
In Spanish, the infinitive form has three different endings:
- -ar (cantar)
- -er (correr)
- -ir (dormir)
Every Spanish verb infinitive has one of these three endings, and their conjugation varies according to their ending—as long as they are regular verbs.
This means that all regular verbs ending in -ar follow the same conjugation pattern, just like all regular verbs ending in -er, and regular verbs ending in -ir.
How Do You Know When to Use the Infinitive in Spanish?
Now that we have answered the question “what is an infinitive in Spanish?”, let’s find out when to use it.
6 Ways to Use the Infinitive in Spanish
Even though the infinitive is the basic, non-conjugated form of a verb, sometimes you can use it in your sentences. Let’s look at some of the most common uses of the infinitive in Spanish.
1. Subject of a Sentence
You can use the infinitive in a sentence where the verb functions as a noun. In these cases, the infinitive is always singular and masculine.
In Spanish, sometimes the infinitive is the subject of a sentence. The translation of these sentences into English use the infinitive or the gerund (-ing ending). However using the gerund (-ando and -iendo endings) as a noun in Spanish would be incorrect.
Leer es un placer.
Reading is a pleasure.
Dormir bien es muy importante.
To sleep well is very important.
2. Verbal Object
Non-conjugated forms of verbs are called verbals, and you can use them as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. The verbals in Spanish are
- the infinitive (-ar, -er, -ir)
- the gerund (-ando, -iendo)
- the participle (-ado, -ido)
When in a sentence a noun follows a verbal, it’s called the verbal object. You can identify it by asking “what?” or “who?” in relation to the verbal.
In some sentences in Spanish, the infinitive behaves both as a noun (because it’s an object of another verb) and as a verb because it has an object itself.
Quiero salir de aquí.
I want to get out of here.
In this case, salir is a noun because it’s the verbal object of quiero. Remember that you can identify the verbal object by asking “what?” So, what do you want? The answer is “to get out of here.” (¿Qué es lo que quieres? Salir de aquí).
Espero terminar mi carrera pronto.
I hope to finish my degree soon.
3. Verbal Complement
To understand what is an infinitive in Spanish, you have to remember that infinitives play many roles in a sentence. One of these roles is that of complementing other verbs.
Todo lo que ella buscaba era tener una oportunidad.
All she was looking for was to have an opportunity.
Carlos parece ser un buen chico.
Carlos seems to be a good kid.
4. Prepositional Object
Sometimes, infinitives are also the objects of prepositions. When this happens, the translation converts the infinitive in Spanish into a gerund in English.
Me compré estos lentes para leer.
I bought these glasses for reading.
Lo regañaron por robar un pedazo de pan.
He was punished for stealing a piece of bread.
In your quest to fully grasp what is an infinitive in Spanish, you might be surprised to discover that infinitives also work as commands. This is not so common in speech, but you’ll find it a lot in written text such as instructions, signs, and recipes.
Abrir con cuidado.
No pisar el pasto.
Keep off the grass.
6. Forming the Spanish Future Tense
The infinitive plays a crucial role in the formation of the future simple tense. Usually, when you conjugate a verb in Spanish, you have to take off the infinitive endings -ar, -er, or -ir, and then add the specific ending of each tense.
However, the future loves the infinitive. So much so, that it keeps its –ar, -er, or -ir endings and simply adds an additional ending after them, which I’m happy to report that the new endings are exactly the same for all -ar verbs, -er verbs, and -ir verbs.
|Infinitive||Future Simple(1st person)|
|cantar(to sing)||yo cantaré|
|correr(to run)||yo correré|
|dormir(to sleep)||yo dormiré|
The infinitive also plays an important role in the formation of the periphrastic future tense, which uses the verb ir + a or “going” followed by an infinitive.
- Voy a comprar leche.
I’m going to buy milk.
- Vamos a aprender español.
We’re going to learn Spanish.
Lots of Infinitive Verbs!
We started this post by asking “what is an infinitive verb in Spanish?” and after learning a lot about the infinitive, now it’s time to learn some of the most frequently used infinitive verbs in Spanish.
Practice Your Infinitives Today!
The infinitive verbs in Spanish play an important role in everyday conversations that you’ll be having with native Spanish speakers. Today, we asked “what is an infinitive in Spanish?” and I think we have answered that question to complete satisfaction. Now, you not only know what is an infinitive in Spanish, but also what are the 3 Spanish infinitives and 6 ways to use them.
Are you ready to apply what you’ve learned in live, 1-on-1 conversation? Sign up for a free class to learn Spanish with certified native speakers and practice your infinitives in Spanish today!
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