Learning a new language is definitely a challenge, and it can sometimes be very frustrating because languages cannot always be translated literally. Therefore, any new learner needs to accept the fact that some sentences will not make much sense if you try to apply one's language’s grammar onto another. This is the case of ‘gustar’ and verbs like it, which require the use of very interesting structures that defy intuition in many instances. Let’s start with a simple example to analyze the most basic differences.
I like chocolate = (A mí) me gusta el chocolate
At first glance, we can already notice some differences between English and Spanish. Starting with verb conjugation, ‘gustar’ is usually conjugated to what we like —‘el chocolate’ in this case—, making what normally is the object in English the subject in Spanish. It could be compared with the verb “to please” in an inverted sentence, me pleases chocolate —meaning: chocolate pleases me—. It is not advisable to translate ‘gustar’ as “to please”, though, because they have different meanings. Here is where one needs to take a leap of faith and accept the fact that things work differently, and it would be better to not judge new grammatical structures.
If we are expressing liking things or animals we are only going to have two options for this verb —plural and singular—. For example:
(A mí) me gusta el helado de fresa - singular - I like strawberry ice cream
(A mí) me gustan las frutas dulces - plural - I like sweet fruits
It is important to mention that the definite article is mandatory in general situations. When we say “I like dogs” we are not talking of any dog in particular, which is different from saying “I like your dog”. Let’s look at this example:
(A mí) me gustan los perros - I like dogs
The reason why we must use the definite article here is counterintuitive if we are still thinking in English. In Spanish, generalizations in the subject require the definite article as in ‘Los gatos son hermosos’ - “Cats are beautiful”. Let’s remember that in sentences with the verb ‘gustar’, what we like is the subject.
(A mí) me gusta tu perro - I like your dog
In this case, we also use a possessive adjective just like in English.
Now let’s talk about the pronouns used in this structure. You will soon realize that structures using ‘gustar’ present two sets of pronouns that refer to the same entity.
(A mí) me gusta el chocolate
(A ti) te gusta el chocolate
(A usted) le gusta el chocolate
A él le gusta el chocolate
A ella le gusta el chocolate
(A nosotros) nos gusta el chocolate
(A vosotros) os gusta el chocolate
(A ustedes) les gusta el chocolate
A ellos les gusta el chocolate
A ellas les gusta el chocolate
The prepositional pronouns in parentheses are optional but sometimes are used for emphasis or clarity, where the ones that are not in parentheses—a él, a ella, a ellos y a ellas— will be needed at some point. Let’s discuss the next example:
If I wanted to ask someone, let’s call this person “Sara”, if her brother likes wine. I would have two options. ‘Sara, ¿a él le gusta el vino?’ - Sara, does he like wine? or ‘Sara ¿a tu hermano le gusta el vino?’ - Sara, does your brother like wine?. If I just ask: ‘Sara, ¿le gusta el vino?’ this could be easily understood as “Sara, do you like wine?” in a formal way —using the pronoun for ‘usted’. Additionally, it is important to mention that the preposition ‘a’ is mandatory when using a prepositional pronoun, noun, or name. For example:
¿A quiénes no les gustan tus zapatos? - who doesn’t like your shows?
A Luis y a Felipe no les gustan mis zapatos. - Luis and Felipe don’t like my shoes.
Note: Use caution when applying this verb to other people, such as: ‘me gustas’, ’te gusto’ o ‘nos gustamos’, as that can indicate physical attraction.
‘Gustar‘ with verbs.
In Spanish, verbs used with ‘gustar’ need to be infinitive and never in gerund. For example:
¿Te gusta estudiar español? -Do you like studying Spanish?
Sí, me gusta mucho. - Yes, I like it a lot.
¿Te gustaba ducharte de niño? - Did you use to like showering as a boy?
Sí, me gustaba ducharme. -Yes, I used to like showering.
¿A tus padres les gustaba prestarte el carro? - Did your parents use to like lending you their car?
No, no les gustaba prestármelo. - No, they didn’t use to like lending it to me.
Verbs like ‘gustar’
agradar - to be pleasing to
A mi novia le agrada bailar en público.
convenir - to suit someone, to be convenient
A Pedro le conviene este trabajo porque está cerca de su casa.
doler - to hurt
A mi primo le duele la cabeza.
¿Te duelen los ojos?
encantar - to really like something or someone, to be enchanted by
Nos encanta el chocolate.
A Josefina le encanta Napoleón.
faltar - to be lacking (something), to be short of (something)
¡A ellos les falta disciplina!
Me falta dinero para comprar el carro.
note: faltar can be used meaning something slightly different. For example, “Ellos faltaron a clase el martes pasado” - They missed class last Tuesday.
hacer falta - to really miss someone, to need something or to miss something (that you had before)
¡Me haces mucha falta!
A Sandra le hace falta tomar una copa de vino.
Nos hacen falta 500 dólares. Creo que nos robaron en el tren.
fascinar - to really, really like something or someone, to be fascinated by
Me fascina tocar la guitarra en público.
importar - to be important to, to matter, to care about someone
A Felipe le importa mucho terminar su trabajo a tiempo.
¿A ustedes les importan los animales?
This verb can also be used in other idiomatic expressions.
No te importa - it is not important for you - it doesn’t matter to you - it is none of your business
No me importa - I don’t care
Importar can be used without object pronouns.
No importa - it doesn't matter/nevermind
interesar - to be interested in something
Me interesa ir a museos.
molestar - to be bothered by, to be annoyed by
¿Les molesta si corro en círculos con los pantalones en la cabeza?
A Susana le molesta cuando los niños lloran en el avión.
parecer - to seem, to appear to be
¿Te parece que las monedas virtuales son una buena inversión?
Parecer can be used without object pronouns.
Parece que va a llover - it seems that it is going to rain.
It can also be used as a reflexive verb — Parecerse - to look like someone
Pedro se parece a André el Gigante.
quedar - to have something left
Nos quedan veinte minutos para terminar el examen.
The reflexive version has a different meaning:
Quedarse - to stay, to remain
Cuando fuimos a Perú, nos quedamos en un hotel hermoso.
sobrar - to have more than enough of
A Bill Gates le sobra el dinero.