“Encantar”… Origin of Backwards Verbs

‘Encantar’ and backwards verbs like ‘gustar’ can be tricky

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Encantar is a verb meaning “to love” (as of an object) or “to be enchanting.” Similar to the verb, gustar, which means, “to like” or “to be pleasing,” the verb has a unique property — it is considered a backwards verb. A backwards verb like encantar uses an indirect object pronoun and it usually comes in front of the subject.

Origin of Backwards Verbs

Backwards verb sentence construction is not unique to Spanish.

English also uses this sentence formation in some instances. For example, look at the flipped sentence, “Love matters to me.”

This backward construction in English and Spanish is inherited from Latin verbs in the 1500s that had this flipped verb-subject usage.

The Spanish language uniquely borrowed several verbs from Latin, used the Latin backward construction, and then extended this construction to more than two dozen newly formed verbs over time. 

Latin and Spanish verbs share a commonality — the person, or semantic subject, does not actually do anything, as is usually the case with verbs. Rather, the person is responding to an external situation. The best way to understand this in English is to consider the sentence, “My car broke down on me.”

Most Common Use of Encantar

The verb encantar can be conjugated in all the different moods: indicative, subjunctive, imperative, perfect and perfect subjunctive, and tenses of Spanish: present, preterite, imperfect, conditional and future.

And, it can be conjugated into six cases of person agreement. That means that there are at least 107 ways to conjugate the verb encantar. However, that does not mean that all the forms of encantar are used all that frequently if much at all.

The most common use of the verb encantar is in the third person, where the subject in the English sentence becomes the object in Spanish, and vice versa.

So, “I like the house” in English becomes me gusta la casa in Spanish, and “I like the houses” becomes me gustan las casas. And if we wish to say “I like the house very much” or “I love the house,” we could translate it as me encanta la casa. In the plural form, it would be me encantan las casasEncantar, when used as a translation of “to like very much” is used in the same way as gustar.

Other Frequent Uses of Encantar

There are at least three ways in which you could frequently see encantar in other than the third person.

  • One way is using the verb form encantamos in a sentence such as te encantamosfor “we delight you” or “you like us very much.” 
  • A second meaning forencantar can mean “to cast a spell on” or “enchant.” In the right context, te encantamos could mean “we’re casting a spell on you.”
  • Encantar can be used in the reflexive form, encantarse, which means “to be delighted” or “to take delight,” especially when being overly descriptive or using flowery language. Here’s an example from a travel brochure: Nos encantamos de poder darles la bienvenida en nuestra casa de vacaciones,which means, “We are delighted in being able to welcome you to our vacation house.” A verb is reflexive when the subject and the object are the same, in this case, “We welcome you to us.”

Although gustar can be used in forms other than the third person, it is a rare occurrence. 

Quick Tips for Using Encantar

Backward verbs like encantar all use indirect object pronouns. Sentences with verbs like encantar may include the preposition a plus a pronoun or noun that matches the indirect object. This is usually included to draw attention to or make explicit the entity that is doing the liking. For example, Amuchasmujereslesencantanloscuentosdeamor, which means,  Many women really like love stories.

Backward verbs are always conjugated to match the subject noun. Take a look at the sentence, “Los días fríos megustan,” which means, “I like cold days.” The subject noun in the sentence is “days,” so, the verb is conjugated to reflect “days,” not “I.”

Other Backwards Verbs Similar to Encantar

The following table lists the Spanish backwards verbs.

Note that most are used to describe opinions or psychological/physical reactions, possession or involvement.

Interested in learning / practicing Spanish? Join one of our Spanish groups or schedule a private class 561-228-1688 / https://multilingualsociety.org/spanish-classes/

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