This article is one of a series called Spanish Tidbits for Beginners. Readers need a general working vocabulary base, as these lessons focus on specific grammar and vocabulary content.
Copulative Verbs and Indirect Object Pronouns
There are a number of verbs used to express feelings of like and dislike or pain that have a construction in Spanish different from its equivalent in English. These are verbs which are called copulative, meaning that they are joined to another part of speech to be complete. The verbs below in this lesson might be called, by description, third-person verbs that take the indirect object.
It is necessary to have a grasp on indirect object pronouns before learning these verbs. Here is the IDO chart for a reminder.
first person singular: me (to me)
second person singular: te (to you familiar)
third person singular: le (to him, to her, to you formal, to it)
first person plural: nos (to us)
second person plural: os (to you familiar plural)
third person plural: les (to them, to you plural)
Warning! Do not confuse indirect object pronouns with direct object pronouns or reflexive pronouns.
Literally Translated or Idiomatic?
When we have a preference for something, in English we say I like it, for example. But in Spanish we say that same thing It is pleasing to me or It pleases me. In such a construction, it is the subject of the sentence and me is the indirect object.
A “Third-person Verb”?
Why do I call this a third-person verb? Because we are using what an English speaker thinks of as an inside-out construction to express a person’s feelings. In English, the person having that opinion or feeling is usually the subject and the thing liked or disliked is usually the object. Since it isn’t expressed that way in Spanish, we need to think differently and form it in sort of a third-person way.
Me gusta el dibujo. → I like the drawing. → The drawing pleases me.
Me gustan las uvas. → I like the grapes. → The grapes please me.
Look at the examples. The sentences on the left are the Spanish expressions; in the middle are the English equivalent; on the right are the actual literal translations. The top sentence is using a singular “thing” that’s pleasing (dibujo/drawing) and a singular verb (gusta). The bottom sentence is using a plural “thing” that’s pleasing (uvas/grapes) and a plural verb (gustan).
Gustar, the infinitive of gusta and gustan, is a regular -ar verb that means to please, NOT to like. In the above examples, dibujo and uvas are the subject of the sentences and me is the indirect object. We English speakers need to be careful to not get stuck on this construction because of our way of expressing this same idea.
Also, since the person doing the “liking” isn’t the subject, do not use the subject pronouns for that person anywhere in the construction. It won’t work. Only use the indirect object pronoun.
What about the Plural?
Notice also that when there is a plural subject, as in the second example sentence, the verb needs to be in the third-person plural form. It is necessary to know the conjugations of the verbs used, and in such cases, the third-person singular and plural especially. (Other persons may be used, too, but they are not as common.)
Note: Watch out for any stem-changing verbs in the present tense (like doler, below). In the case of expressing a feeling that occurred in the past, you may probably need to use the imperfect tense (like dolía or dolía), although the preterite is sometimes used.
If you are including the person’s name or prepositional pronoun, remember to include the personal a.
A Susana le gusta la galleta. → Susan likes the cookie.
Opinions about Doing an Activity
There is one other construction that may be used in this way: expressing an opinion of doing an activity. In this case, form the verb phrase as above, using the IDO and the third-person singular of the verb, then add the infinitive of the verb that you are expressing an opinion about. Do not conjugate this second verb. You can also make any of these verbs negative by preceding it with no.
Me gusta comer. → I like to eat.
Me gusta cantar y bailar. → I like to sing and dance.
No me gusta cantar. → I don’t like to sing.
Sometimes you will find verbs of this type in a dictionary with le in parentheses.
Below is a list of verbs that take this construction. You may find others as you continue to learn Spanish. Add them to your vocabulary as you adjust your thinking to make them fit this construction. As you learn each word, remember that the literal translation into English may conflict with the meaning as used idiomatically in English.
A Helpful List of Copulative Verbs with Examples
¿Te gusta la blusa? → Do you like the blouse?
Me encantan los paisajes. → I love the landscapes.
chocar→to hate or dislike
Me choca jugar ajédrez. → I hate to play chess.
doler (ue)→to (be) hurt
Las piernas nos duelen. → Our legs hurt (us).
fascinar→to be fascinated (but we can also use it to mean to love, as with an interest)
A ella le fascina bucear. → She loves to scuba.
interesar→to be interested
No le interesa el libro. → He’s not interested in the book.
Me parece bien la película. → The movie seems good to me.
caer bien→to like
No les cae bien el payaso. → They don’t like the clown.
importar→to be important
No te importa. → You don’t care. (It’s not important to you.)
Exercise: Copulative Verbs
A Fill in the blank with the correct verb form of the one found in parentheses.
1. ¿Te ______________________ la comida? (gustar)
2. Nos ______________________ visitar las ruinas. (chocar)
3. No me ______________________ si la tienda está cerrada. (importar)
4. Me ______________________ bien los cuentos. (parecer)
5. Les ______________________ el monopatín. (fascinar)
6. Los oídos le ______________________ . (doler)
7. Me ______________________ bien ese chico. (caer)
B Fill in the blank with the correct indirect object pronoun based on the prepositional pronoun phrase given at the beginning of the sentence. (If you need to, review the prepositional pronoun phrases in the article about Indirect Object Pronouns.)
1. A Julio ______________________ fascinan las películas.
2. A mí ______________________ interesa la biblia.
3. A ti no ______________________ gusta nadar en el océano.
4. A nosotros ______________________ duelen los pies.
5. A Claudio y a Pablo ______________________ gusta el chocolate.
6. A Uds. ______________________ encanta mi nuevo perro.
7. A ella ______________________ importa el arte.
A 1) gusta; 2) choca; 3) importa; 4) parecen; 5) fascina; 6) duelen 7) cae
B 1) le; 2) me; 3) te; 4) nos; 5) les; 6) les; 7) le