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Two-Verb Constructions (in Depth)

Laptop, phone, coffee, newspaper, reports on a desk

Quiero ir a la fiesta pero no puedo ir porque tengo que trabajar. / RAWPIXEL

By Nelson Navarrete

Two-verb constructions are very common among languages and this term refers to phrases in which two verbs are connected to each other to express additional information about any particular action. For example: I want to go to the party. In this case the verb ‘to want’ informs us of the desire of the speaker.

In Spanish, many two-verb constructions only require the use of one conjugated verb and a verb in the infinitive form. For example:

Quiero ir a la fiesta. - I want to go to the party.

In this example ‘quiero’ is the conjugated verb and ‘ir’ is the infinitive one.

Ellas no pudieron terminar la tarea. - They were not able to finish their homework.

In this example ‘pudieron’ is the conjugated verb and ‘terminar’ is the infinitive one.

But some other verbs require the use of a “link” (either de, a, or que). This is no surprise to those who have taken Level 2 at Berges Institute. Do you remember the verb ‘tener que’? To express ‘to have to [verb],’ we need to include ‘que’ between the verbs. This “link” is idiomatic and carries no meaning (just like ‘to’ in ‘have to,’ in English). For example:

Juliana tiene que trabajar de lunes a viernes. - Juliana has to / must work Monday to Friday.

It is important to mention that there are other verbs that require the use of a link between verbs. The verbs ‘empezar’, ‘comenzar’ and ‘volver’ require the preposition ‘a’ and ‘terminar’, ‘acabar’ and ‘tratar’ require the use of ‘de’. For example:

Ayer empezamos a trabajar a las 9 de la mañana. - We started working at 9am yesterday.

Ella comenzó a presentar síntomas característicos de anémia. - She started to show anemia’s characteristic symptoms.

De niño, siempre terminaba de hacer mi tarea temprano para poder jugar con mi perrito. - As a child, I would always finish doing my homework early so I could play with my doggy.

Some of these verbs — ‘volver’, ‘acabar’ and ‘tratar — will not only require the use of a preposition but also will change their meaning when used in a two-verb construction. Let’s take a look at the examples below:

Anoche volví a mi casa muy tarde. - Last night, I came back home very late.

Ella nunca volvió a fumar desde ese momento. - She never smoked again since that moment.

¿Cuándo volviste a cantar? - When did you start singing again?

Los niños ya acabaron su tarea. - The boys already finished their homework.

La señorita acaba de llegar. - The young lady just arrived.

Mis suegros siempre me tratan muy bien. - My in-laws always treat me very well.

Ellos siempre tratan de arreglar los electrodomésticos dañados, pero al final, nunca tienen éxito. - They always try to fix the broken appliances, but at the end they never succeed.

Additionally, there are verbs that require the use of the gerund on the second verb in two-verb constructions. This is the case for verbs ‘continuar’ and ‘quedarse’, but there are also other verbs like ‘seguir’ and ‘terminar’ that will change their meaning in a two-verb construction using the gerund.

Let’s see some of these verbs in the following examples:

Ella continuó cantando después del concierto - She continued singing after the concert.

Ellas siempre se quedan estudiando después de la clase. - They always remain/stay studying after class.

La espía me siguió por unas manzanas, pero la perdí gracias a mi destreza tras el volante. - The spy followed me for some blocks, but I lost her thanks to my dextrecity behind the wheel.

Seguimos viviendo en la misma casa de nuestra infancia. - We are still living (keep living) in the same house of our childhood.

Anoche terminé tocando la guitarra en la banda de mi amiga. - I ended up playing guitar at my friend's band.

There are two more verbs we need to discuss when dealing with two-verb constructions, ‘andar’ and ‘pasar’. These two-verbs are often used in two-verb constructions which are also idiomatic. Let’s dive into these verbs by using some examples:

Andar

This verb has many idiomatic meanings in Spanish and it is used a lot. If you feel curious about it, we invite you to visit the RAE/DLE site to get a glimpse. But when used in a two-verb construction, it usually requires the use of the gerund on the second verb. For example:

Ellos andan buscando problemas. It is almost like saying: Ellos están buscando problemas - They are looking for trouble. But in some countries it indicates more the attitude than the actual action.

Pasar

You might be familiar to this verb as “to happen” like in ‘¿Qué está pasando? - What is happening?’, but if it's used with a combination of objeto indirecto and objeto directo, it means something different. Let’s look at a couple of examples:

Siempre me la paso estudiando los fines de semana. - I always find myself studying on the weekends or I always end up studying on the weekends.

te la pasas mirando guitarras pero nunca compras una. - You spend your time looking at guitars but you never buy one.

Being mostly idiomatic expressions, the meaning might fluctuate depending on the situation.

Hopefully, this article gave you an insight of how complex and articulate these two-verb constructions can be in Spanish. Until next time!

Nelson Navarrete is a Spanish Language Instructor at Berges NYC.