…to Use More Infinitives.
In this week’s post, we’re going to look at a structure that a lot of Spanish speakers struggle with. I want to explain to you all how to use verbs such as ‘need’, ‘want’ and ‘prefer’ using an ‘object + infinitive’ structure. If you’re not a big fan of grammar and have no idea what I just said, fear not; all we be explained below.
For a native Spanish speaker thinking about a phrase such as ‘Quiero que me ayudes con mi inglés’, it would seem quite natural to translate it as ‘I want that you help me with my English’.
You’ve probably guessed it already, but I’m afraid I have some bad news for you all.
It doesn’t work like that in English. Here are three words that I never want to see together:
Okay, okay, you can say ‘I want that banana’, but only because ‘that‘ means ‘ese/aquel’ and not ‘que’. That’s a really important distinction to make. But apart from that, I never want to hear it, okay?
This was something that I used to find really hard when I first started learning Spanish. It seems like such a simple structure to say ‘Queiro que me ayudes’, but I used to say some version of ‘te quiero ayudarme’. It sounds horrible, right? If you heard me saying it, it would make your ears bleed. A bit like what you guys did to me with your Top 10 Mistakes That Spanish Speakers Make in English…
Have another look at my horrific attempt at Spanish and see if you can figure out how to say ‘Quiero que me ayudes’ in English. If you’re not sure, keep reading because it’ll all be clear by the end of the post. If you already know, keep reading anyway… I mean, come on, what could you possibly have to do that’s more interesting than this? Nothing. That’s what.
Now, let’s go back to what I told you in the first paragraph; we need to use this structure:
object + infinitive
In our example, ‘you’ is the object of the phrase. So let’s start rebuilding the phrase with our S+V+O (Subject + Verb + Object) structure that we love so much in English:
Got it? Subject = I. Verb = want. Object = you.
Don’t get too excited, by the way. I’m not saying ‘Te quiero’; I just haven’t finished the sentence yet.
Now we have to add the infinitive. As I’m sure you all know, every infinitive begins with ‘to’. The literal translation of ‘ir’ is ‘to go’. ‘Comer’ is ‘to eat’ and so on. So let’s add it…
All we have to do now is add the object pronoun ‘me’ together with a little prepositional phrase at the end. Then our translation of ‘Quiero que me ayudes con mi inglés’ will be complete.
Done! It’s as simple as that. Wasn’t that easy?
So let’s review the general structure:
So what happens if we want to put this phrase into the past tense and say something like ‘Quería que me ayudaras con mi inglés’? Uh oh… that must be really difficult, mustn’t it?
Fear not! English is easy.
All right, English is easy grammatically. Happy now?
All we have to do is put the first verb into the past tense. That’s it. The second verb, the infinitive, is… well… an infinitive. We’re not going to change it at all.
Nobody ever thinks about what ‘infinitive’ actually means. It means the verb is ‘inifinite’. It’s not limited by anything; not by verbal tense, not by person, not by anything. Infinitives are free spirits roaming around the grammatical savannah like carefree gazelles. They get sad if you try to make them finite and nobody likes a sad gazelle. Not even their own mothers. So let’s all agree to leave them in peace in this case.
Okay, enough about gazelles. Let’s focus on the task at hand. As I said, all we have to do is put the first verb into the past tense:
Do you believe me now? Do you still doubt how easy English is?
Anyway, rather than bask in the fact that we barely use the subjunctive mood in English, let’s ask an important question; how many other verbs work this way?
And a good question always deserves a good answer so I’ll give you the best one I can:
eeeerm… a lot!?
Here’s a list of all the verbs I can think of:
to prefer (often with ‘would’)
to like (often with ‘would’)
to teach (often with ‘how’)
to wait for
Have a look again at the last two on the list. Using this form with ‘ask’ and ‘tell’ is really common in reported speech. It’s extremely useful for reporting imperatives like ‘Stay away from hungry lions, son’ and requests like ‘Excuse me, Mr. Lion, could you please stop gorging yourself upon my poor defenseless gazelle son?’ Have a look and remember to pay attention to the object + infinitive structure:
The rest of the work is for all of you, my Spanish-speaking friends. If you can think of any more verbs that behave like this, leave your thoughts in the comments below. If you’re right, you’ll get a free baby gazelle. I’ll email it to you. I promise.
If you’re bored, or a masochist, or think this kind of thing is actually fun, try translating the following phrases into English. Some of them are in the present, others are in the past. I don’t think you’ll have too much trouble but I’ve included a few questions and negatives in there just to keep you on your toes. You can do it. I believe in you! I’ll post my translations in the comments below… but no cheating!
Just a quick clue before you start…
- La asombrosa calidad de este blog provocó que me cuestionara si podía ser gratis de verdad.
- Necesito que Patrick sea mi profesor de inglés; le pagaré mucho dinero.
- ¿Quieres que comparta este blog en las redes sociales?
- He esperado pacientemente que Patrick publicara su próximo artículo fascinante.
- Me gustaría que dejaras de dar la lata con las gacelas. ¿Por qué lo haces? Es que… ni siquiera es divertido.
Thank you all for reading. Just before you rush to the comments section to post your translations, I’d like to ask you a favour. If you enjoyed the post, please share it on social media, follow me here, or give it a ‘like’. Or… why not do all those things and be rewarded with more good karma than an altruistic gazelle?