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Gustar vs. "to Like": A Difference in Perception - Part 1

The verb gustar, or Spanish equivalent of "to like," tends to confuse English speakers because, in terms of the relationship between a sentence's subject and object, it functions in exactly the opposite way. To better understand this, let's define these two terms:

 

Generally speaking, the subject of a sentence is the person, place, thing, or idea that performs an action.

 

The object of a sentence is the person, place, thing, or idea that receives the action of the sentence's verb. 

 

A very simple example of this concept would be: "I threw the ball," where "I" is the subject, or performer of the action, and "the ball" is the object, or recipient of the action. 

 

That said, with the English verb "to like," it is the subject of the sentence that "does the liking." Let's look at a few simple examples:

 

She likes pizza ("She" is the subject who performs the action of liking onto the object, "pizza").

 

Anna and John like dogs ("Anna and John" is the subject; they perform the action of liking onto the object, "dogs"). 

 

We like you ("We" is the subject that performs the action of liking onto the object, "you"). 

 

In Spanish, on the other hand, the subject, or performer of the action, is the person, place, or thing that, in English, is "being liked." To see this in action, let's take a look at some captions from a Yabla video on this very topic:

 

Me gusta mucho este parqueA ti también te gusta ¿verdad? Sí, me gustan las plantas. Sí, a mí me gustan las plantas y las flores y los árboles

I really like this parkYou like it too, right? Yes, I like the plants. Yes, I like the plants and the flowers and the trees.

Captions 9-13, Conversaciones en el parque Cap. 5: Me gusta mucho este parque.

 Play Caption
 

In Spanish, este parque (this park), las plantas (the plants), and las plantas y las flores y los árboles (the plants and the flowers and the trees) are the subjects of these sentences, as they are thought to "cause" the implied objects yo (I) and tú (you) to like them. In their English translations, on the other hand, "I" and "you" are the subjects of the sentences, whereas "this park," "it," "the plants," and "the plants and the flowers and the trees" are the objects that receive the action of liking. 

 

While this difference in perception may confuse English speakers, it is useful to note that the English verb "to please" functions similarly to "gustar" in terms of the subject-object relationship. Therefore, it may be a good exercise to substitute this verb for "to like" when translating Spanish sentences with "gustar" or attempting to formulate new ones. Let's take a look at our previous example, this time translated with the verb "to please": 

 

Me gusta mucho este parque. A ti también te gusta ¿verdad? Sí, me gustan las plantas. Sí, a mí me gustan las plantas y las flores y los árboles. 

This park really pleases me. It also pleases you, right? Yes, the plants please me. Yes, the plants and the flowers and the trees please me. 

 

To reiterate this concept, let's take a look at some additional examples where the verb gustar has been translated as "to like" while providing their alternative translations with "to please":

 

1.

Me gustan mucho las chaquetas de piel.

I really like leather jackets.

Caption 32, 75 minutos Gangas para ricos - Part 14

 Play Caption

ALTERNATIVE TRANSLATION: 

Me gustan mucho las chaquetas de piel

Leather jackets really please me. 

 

2.

Yo te quiero así y me gustas porque eres diferente

I love you like that, and I like you because you're different

Caption 12, Carlos Vives, Shakira La Bicicleta

 Play Caption

ALTERNATIVE TRANSLATION:

Yo te quiero así y me gustas porque eres diferente 

I love you like that, and you please me because you're different

 

3. 

¿Te gusta trabajar aquí, te gusta? -No, no me gusta, no.

Do you like working here, do you like it? -No, I don't like it, no.

Caption 77, 75 minutos Del campo a la mesa - Part 12

 Play Caption

ALTERNATIVE TRANSLATION: 

¿Te gusta trabajar aquí, te gusta? -No, no me gusta, no. 

Does working here please you, does it please you? -No, it doesn't please me, no. 


Note that while the alternative translations are grammatically correct, their primary purpose here is to help us to understand how the Spanish verb "gustar" functions. As in everyday speech, it would be far less common to hear someone say "You please me" than "I like you," the translations with "to like" are preferable in most cases.

 

Now that we are familiar with the different manners in which the English and Spanish languages express the concept of "liking," it's time to learn how to conjugate the verb "gustar," which we'll cover in the next lesson. That's all for today, and don't forget to leave us your comments and suggestions.

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