ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Spanish Infinitive: Its Functions and How To Use It

Updated on November 4, 2016
kbdressman profile image

Katie graduated with both a BA in Chemistry from BYU and a BA in Spanish from UVU in 2016. She will graduate from medical school in 2020.

What is an infinitive?

Google's dictionary defines an infinitive as "the basic form of a verb, without an inflection binding it to a particular subject or tense." In other words, it's what we think of as an unconjugated verb. Some examples in English are "(to) jump," "(to) eat" or "(to) drive."

A Real Life Example of How the Infinitive is Used as a Noun in the Spanish Language

This sign reads "Throwing Away Trash is Prohibited Here."  What is prohibited?  Throwing trash away.  The act of throwing away the trash, or littering, is prohibited and is being used as a noun.
This sign reads "Throwing Away Trash is Prohibited Here." What is prohibited? Throwing trash away. The act of throwing away the trash, or littering, is prohibited and is being used as a noun.

The Infinitive: An Introduction to its Form and Uses

The infinitive form of all Spanish verbs end in ar, er or ir. They are the equivalent of the english verb form that ends in -ing. In Spanish, the English verb form ending in –ing is translated using an infinitive. E.g. eating translates to comer. Comer, which ends in er, is an infinitive.

It is relatively widely accepted that Spanish infinitives can be used as nouns or as verbs. There is some controversy as to whether or not Spanish infinitives can be used as adjectives in the combination of “noun + a + an infinitive” as in “un idea a tener en cuenta.” Other than this undecided issue, it is relatively widely agreed that infinitives either function as noun or as verbs.

When an infinitive is functioning as a noun, it usually singular and masculine, and like most Spanish nouns, infinitives can be modified by articles, adjectives, and demonstratives. Additionally, there aren't restrictions as to the role in the sentence an infinitive acting as a noun can play. This means that, when acting as a noun, the infinitive can be a subject, predicate nominative, the object of a preposition or a direct or indirect object.

When a Spanish infinitive is functioning as a verb it can take an implicit (specified) subject and can be modified with object pronouns and adverbs.

The Infinitive as a Noun

With the exception of the plural, masculine examples shown in the table below, when used as a noun, infinitives are singular and masculine. (Verbs don't have gender, and infinitives don't have number when used as a verb.)

Some infinitives, including those in the table below, have become permanent nouns. They can take the plural form as shown. Just like other nouns, adjectives, articles and demonstratives that modify an infinitive have to agree with the infinitive in both number and gender.

De is not inserted between an adjective and the infinitive when the infinitive is the subject. It is, however, when the infinitive is not the subject of the sentence. De + infinitive can be used like si + finite verb if the subject of the si clause and the subordinate clause are the same person. However, this can only be done with a future or unfulfilled meaning. It can’t be timeless.

Singular
Meaning
Plural
El amanecer
dawn
Los amaneceres
El anochecer
dusk
Los anocheceres
El atardecer
dusk
Los atardeceres
El deber
duty
Los deberes
El haber
assets; income
Los haberes
El parecer
opinion
Los pareceres
El pesar
sorrow
Los pesares
El poder
power
Los poderes
El saber
knowledge
Los saberes
El ser
being
Los seres

Articles with the Infinitive

There are several situations in which the infinitive is modified by a definite article:

  • Al + infinitive construction that means “Upon ….ing” (in theory, this should only be used when the subjects are the same).
  • To attribute the idea to someone else
  • When the infinitive is qualified by a noun or a noun phrase joined to the infinitive. This is often done using the preposition de.
  • When the infinitive is the subject of a verb in literary styles
  • In some constructions involving en like “La moda en el vestir”

On the other hand, there are also times in which the use of the indefinite article or a demonstrative is appropriate. Both the indefinite and definite articles can also be used before a qualified infinitive.

Infinitives as Verbs

Infinitives that are being used as verbs aren’t limited in person or time. They can refer to actions in the past, present or future as well as actions that are in progress and can be either active or passive.

If the subject in both the main and subordinate clause (independent and dependent clause) is the same, the finite verb in the subordinate clause is replaced with the infinitive. Some verbs, examples are listed below, are exceptions to this rule and permit both que + finite and the infinitive in this situation. Choosing to use the infinitive may clear up ambiguity between the first and third person in these situations.

  • Negar
  • Desmintir
  • Afirmar
  • Confesar
  • Admitir
  • Reconocer
  • Recordar
  • Acordarse de
  • Ocultar (in newspaper styles)
  • Olvidar

Other situations in which a finite verb can be replaced by the infinitive include giving an abrupt response to a question; after more than (más que), less than (menos), or except; for naming or listing actions; and in indignant or sarcastic statements and questions.

Infinitives after Prepositions

Unlike participles and gerunds, Spanish infinitives can follow prepositions and prepositional phrases. The best word order is preposition+ infinitive + subject.

The infinitive will follow a preposition if the infinitive meets one of the three following conditions:

  1. it is modifying an intransitive verb (a verb that does not take a direct object),
  2. it follows a transitive verb (a verb that requires a direct object) that has an implicitly expressed direct object,
  3. it is after after an adjective or noun

However, if the infinitive is functioning as a direct object, there will not be a preposition immediately before it.

With verbs of needing, requesting and searching the infinitive should not be preceded by que. Rather, it should follow para.

In addition, it is possible to use the infinitive after the following subordinators if the subject of the subordinate verb and the main verb are the same. (If the subject is not the same, the subjunctive is required.)

  • Hasta
  • Para
  • Sin
  • Nada más
  • And those that require de que before a finite verb like antes de que, después de que, el hecho de que, etc.

Verbal Infinitives in Relative Clauses

Relative clauses are clauses that describe a noun. When a verb of saying or believing appears in a relative clause, an infinitive may replace a que + finite verb even when the subjects of the two clauses differ.

When the subjects aren’t the same and the relative clause has a verb of motion, que or para que and the subjunctive is required.

After verbs of perception, the infinitive has the connotation of a completed action.

The Imperative Infinitive

In addition, infinitives can be used as imperatives, or commands, in the following situations:

  • Instead of replacing the r from the infinitive with a d to form the vosotros, one can just use the infinitive in informal language
  • Instead of the usted/ustedes forms in brief imperatives in public notices; some controversy exists as to whether or not this can only be done with negative commands
  • Used to introduce the last point in radio or TV news items

Using the infinitive as an imperative when speaking directly to someone is considered substandard.

The Rhetorical Infinitive

The final use of the infinitive is the “Rhetorical infinitive.” This is when the infinitive is used in rhetorical questions to express disbelief, indignation or sarcasm. It is typically used after words like ¿dónde?, ¿para qué? ¿a dónde ir? ¿para qué insister?

“Venga a + infinitive” expresses the idea of tiresome repetition.

How do you feel about your use of the Spanish infinitive?

See results

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • kbdressman profile imageAUTHOR

      kbdressman 

      3 years ago from Harlem, New York

      Thanks, Ryan! You make a good point!

    • profile image

      Ryan 

      3 years ago

      But they have different menngais:Waiter: I recommend the fish. It was caught today. (He's saying that the fish is good).I recommend Susan for the job. (saying that Susan is good)My previous boss wrote me a very good letter of recommendation. As opposed to suggest:Person 1: I'm broke.Person 2: Then I suggest you get a job. (similar to the word should' meaning that it's a good idea; but you don't have to do it it's just a suggestion)

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)