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A Simple Guide to Spanish Infinitives: What Are They and When Are They Used?

Spanish infinitives are the plain, base forms of Spanish verbs—the forms you see when you pop open a Spanish dictionary or dictionary app. Infinitives end in -er, -ar or -ir.

You might also see them scrawled across the board and at the front of a classroom, underlined with lists of conjugations underneath.

But what about the infinitive verb itself? We’ll cover how these verb forms are used in Spanish sentences and conversations to express certain ideas.

Contents

What Are Spanish Infinitives?

Spanish infinitive verbs are the basic verb forms that you see listed in a dictionary before they have been conjugated.

The infinitive always informs us about an action, but in their original form they don’t tell us any more information. 

Infinitive verbs in Spanish are the equivalent of an English verb preceded by to. For example: estudiar means “to study” in English. 

What are the 3 types of Spanish infinitive?

In Spanish, infinitive verbs always end in -er, -ar or -ir.

For example:

It is important to remember that infinitives by themselves tell us what the action is, but they don’t tell us who’s doing it or when they’re doing it (past, present, future, etc.).

If I want to say “I’m speaking,” for example, I would need to conjugate hablar in the present tense ( yo hablo ) or present progressive tense ( estoy hablando )

It is often useful to group infinitives based on their endings in order to help you memorize verb conjugations

If they are regular verbs, then their conjugations will be easier to remember by just looking at the verb ending. 

If they are irregular verbs, their conjugations may vary and so it is a good idea to learn the most common irregular verbs in Spanish.

Common Spanish Infinitives

Learning Spanish infinitive verbs is a great way to develop your language skills

Here are 10 of the most common -ir, -ar and -er Spanish infinitive verbs to add to your vocabulary!

Common -ir Verbs

Spanish -ir VerbsEnglish Translation
Vivir To live
Escribir *To write
Abrir *To open
Decidir To decide
Describir *To describe
Existir To exist
Recibir To receive
Permitir To allow
Compartir To share
Subir To go up, to get on

*Note that escribir, abrir and describir are all regular -ir verbs, however they have irregular past participles escrito (escribir), abierto (abrir) and descrito (describir).

Common -ar Verbs

Spanish -ar VerbsEnglish Translation
Hablar To talk, to speak
Amar To love
Llamar To call
Descansar To rest
Escuchar To listen
Ayudar To help
Esperar To wait
Limpiar To clean
Estudiar To study
Bailar To dance

Common -er Verbs

Spanish -er VerbsEnglish Translation
Deber To have to, to must, to owe
Beber To drink
Comer To eat
Aprender To learn
Comprender To understand
Correr To run
Vender To sell
Sorprender To surprise
Prometer To promise
Esconder To hide

Common Irregular Verbs

Irregular Spanish VerbsEnglish Translation
Decir To say
Ir To go
Pedir To ask for
Venir To come
Dormir To sleep
Oír To hear
Estar To be
Llegar To arrive
Abrazar To hug
Dar To give
Gustar To like
Pensar To think
Ser To be
Tener To have
Hacer To do, to make
Haber To have, to be
Conocer To know
Saber To know
Querer To want
Ver To see

When to Use Spanish Infinitives

1. After conjugated verbs

As you learn new verbs in Spanish, you’ll find that many of them can be followed by infinitives. Often, the English version of these infinitives translate as to + verb.

In this way, Spanish infinitives can also function as objects. That is, they can follow a verb and grammatically be considered the thing being acted on.

You’ll also encounter many verbs that “go with” a preposition (a small word like a, enetc.) and are then followed by an infinitive.

It’s best to learn such verbs as short phrases, along with their prepositions. The use of the preposition with each verb should feel automatic.

2. As nouns

Infinitives come in handy when you want to talk about an action in a general way.

In English, we would often use a gerund (a noun made from a verb ending in “-ing”) in such cases.

For example:

In these cases, the infinitive is grammatically functioning as a noun and the subject of the sentence, that is, it’s the “thing” that’s performing an “action.”

You can use infinitives in this way when you’re making broad statements about what an action is like, or what it does.

You’ve probably also learned the phrase me gusta _______, which means “I like_______” or literally “_______ pleases me.”

You can use an infinitive in that blank to talk about actions that you like.

What activities do you like to do? You can explain with the above constructions.

3. To express obligation

When somebody needs to do something, you can conjugate the verb tener (to have), then add the word que and an infinitive verb.

If you want to talk in a general way about some action needing to happen, you can use the construction hayque + infinitive.

This can be kind of a sneaky way of saying that something needs to be taken care of without explicitly saying who should do it.

In English, we often rework such a sentence into the passive voice to express the idea.

4. After prepositions

Prepositions can of course also show up in Spanish without any verb before them. When you want to put a verb after the preposition, you’ll use the infinitive form.

Often, the English equivalent makes use of the “-ing” form of the verb instead. 

5. In written signs

If you’ve learned the command forms (imperative mood) of verbs, you’ve probably wondered why there are written signs in Spanish without those forms.

You’re probably seeing signs that say things like:

It’s true that in conversation you would say something like “¡No fumes! (Don’t smoke!) or No toques eso” (Don’t touch that).

But it’s quite common to just use the infinitive on signs. This use is pretty easy to notice and recognize. It just expresses the general idea that the action of the verb shouldn’t be happening here.

Study Spanish Infinitive Verbs in Context

The best way to get a feel for how infinitive verbs function in everyday speech and writing is to start seeing and hearing how they’re used in context.

If you want to see the infinitive in action, you can get a lot of helpful exposure from Spanish language literature and media.

You can even find videos of Spanish speakers on YouTube or other streaming services. The infinitive comes up frequently in conversations and dialogue.

If you’d like to use videos as a more focused learning method, FluentU is a language learning program that allows you to watch videos in Spanish made by and for native speakers.

The infinitive is probably the easiest verb form to learn just from exposure. You don’t have to learn conjugations—only how these words work in sentences and the syntax around them.

To further study infinitive verbs and how they can change based on the way they’re used, you could check out this video from the FluentU Spanish YouTube channel!

 

If you need a break from studying the hundreds of forms that Spanish conjugations can take, perhaps some work with these nice, plain infinitives will seem relaxing.

See if you can use them in some sample sentences like the ones above, and stay alert to such instances of -ar, -er and -ir endings in constructions as you continue your Spanish adventure.

¡Buena suerte! (Good luck!)

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