5.1 Uses of the Infinitive

1. The use of the infinitive that can most easily cause comprehension problems is when it comes after the contraction al and is the equivalent of “upon” or “on” + present participle:

Al llegar, veo a mis parientes. Upon/On arriving, I see my relatives.
Al terminar, vamos a salir a un restaurante. Upon finishing, we’re going to go out to a restaurant.

The above al (al llegaral terminar) is not the same as the contraction al (ael), which usually translates as “to the”: Vamos al concierto. (We’re going to the concert.)

Other uses, which seldom cause comprehension problems, include:

2. As in English, Spanish routinely uses the infinitive form of the verb after a conjugated one:

Lucía no desea cocinar. Lucía doesn’t want to cook.

3. The infinitive is the verb form used when the verb is the subject of the sentence. It is sometimes preceded by the masculine singular definite article, which is never translated. (The use or absence of the article does not change the meaning at all, however using the article makes slightly more formal Spanish.)

(El) Leer ficción me interesa. Reading fiction interests me.
Nadar es uno de mis pasatiempos. Swimming is one of my pastimes

4. The infinitive is the form of the verb you will see after a preposition in Spanish. The preposition is almost never translated*.

Vamos a trabjar. We are going to work.
Salgo después de estudiar. I go out after studying.
Amenaza con salir. He threatens to leave.
Enrique me ayuda a aprender. Enrique helps me to learn.
Nos invita a ir. She invites us to go.
Tratamos de ayudar. We try to help.

*One case in which the preposition happens to be translated in English is with the verb insistir: Insiste en hablar = she insists on speaking.

¡Ojo! There is a difference between salir de and salir aSalir a means to “to go out” as in “to go out into the street”: Sale a la calle. Salir de means “to leave a place” and the de is not normally translated: Salimos de la casa. (We leave the house.)


Vocabulario básico


amenazar (con)- to threaten (to) (cognate: to menace)
convencer (a)- to convince
enseñar (a)- to show, to teach
sumar- to add
tocar- to play (music), to touch
tratar- to treat; tratar (de + inf.)- to try (to do something)


el gobierno- government
la manera- manner, way
la medianoche- midnight
el medio- means, medium, middle
el mediodía- noon, midday
los medios de comunicación- media
la salud- health
la tarea- task, homework


alto- high, tall
bajo- low, short (height)
bastante- enough*
corto- short
extraño- strange


bastante- enough, fairly, sufficiently, rather*
hasta- even
tan- so


hasta- until, up to, as far as
sin- without

Conjunciones (Conjunctions):

lo que- what, that which
siempre que- whenever, provided that

*Note the different as well as overlapping meanings of bastante when used as an adverb versus adjective: Habla bastante. (He speaks enough.) ¿Hay bastantes sillas? (Are there enough chairs? Hablas bastante bien. (You speak fairly [rather, sufficiently] well.)

Last revised on June 18, 2021.