Spanish verbs fall into different groups, and each group is conjugated a little differently. If you’re going to master Spanish verbs like gustar, you need to be able to identify which group a verb belongs to: regular (follows regular conjugation rules for -ar, -er, and -ir verbs), stem-changing (morphs depending on how you use it in a sentence), spelling-changing (has consonant-spelling changes in some forms to follow pronunciation rules), or reflexive (reflects the action back on the subject of the sentence).

Gustar (goos-tahr) is a regular -ar verb, but you wouldn’t know that from looking at it in a sentence. Although English-speakers use the verb gustar to mean “to like,” a closer translation is “to please/be pleasing to.” Think of it this way: When it comes to liking and disliking something, English and Spanish have a slightly different way of expressing what’s going on. In English, the subject of the sentence is in charge of liking or disliking something. You may say, “I like vanilla ice cream,” or, “I don’t like red sports cars.” In Spanish, the object of your desire (or lack thereof) is more responsible for pleasing you. When you form a sentence, then, whatever is doing the pleasing becomes the subject and therefore determines the form of the verb gustar. Use the following rules as your guide:

  • If you like a single thing, use gusta, the third-person singular form: Me gusta el helado de vainilla (I like vanilla ice cream/Vanilla ice cream is pleasing to me).

  • If you like two or more things, use gustan, the third-person plural form: Me gustan mis zapatos nuevos (I like my new shoes/My new shoes are pleasing to me).

  • If you like to do activities and you’re using verbs to describe those activities, use the third-person singular form. Stick with the third-person singular, even if you like multiple activities: Me gusta pescar (I like to fish/Fishing pleases me).

  • Use indirect-object pronouns to clarify to whom the thing (subject) is pleasing. If you need further clarification, place a clause with a and the name of the person at the beginning of your sentence: A Juan le gusta el restaurante mexicano (Juan likes the Mexican restaurant/To Juan, to him, the Mexican restaurant is pleasing). The literal translation may sound a little redundant, but in Spanish it simply emphasizes the indirect object.

  • You simply put a no in front of the indirect-object pronoun — after the clarifying clause — to make a negative statement with the verb gustar and other similar verbs: A él no le gusta lavar los platos (He doesn’t like to wash the dishes).

  • You can add mucho after the verb to say that you really like something: A ella le gusta mucho bailar (She really likes dancing).

Here’s a handy table of the two most commonly used forms of gustar — third-person singular and plural — in the preterit, imperfect, and future tenses:

Tense Third-Person Singular Third-Person Plural
Preterit gustó gustaron
Imperfect gustaba gustaban
Future gustará gustarán