‘Se gusta’ vs ‘le gusta’

Quick answer – we use ‘le gusta’ to talk about what other people (he / she / it) like and dislike. In English we’d say, ‘he / she / it likes’, but in Spanish we either say ‘le gusta’ or ‘le gustan’. ‘Se gusta’ doesn’t actually exist and, yep, that one letter really does make a big difference!

Have you ever tried to say that someone else likes something in Spanish and accidentally spurted out ‘se gusta’?

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one!

Hopefully by the end of this article you’ll know the difference between ‘le gusta’ and ‘se gustaAND you’ll be confidently telling all your Spanish-speaking friends exactly what you like (and what you don’t!).

Let’s get to it!

When to use ‘le gusta

Le gusta’ is a conjugation of the verb ‘gustar’ which literally translates as ‘to be pleasing’ (more on that later!).

Let’s break this tricky little verb down so that you can better understand exactly how it works –

One of the first things that you´re taught when you start to learn Spanish is that ‘él’ is the equivalent of ‘he’ … so it might seem kinda logical to translate ‘he likes‘ to ‘él gusta’

 … but the thing with the verb ‘gustar’ is that it’s conjugated differently to other verbs.

In fact, we NEVER say ‘él gusta’ under any circumstances, instead we whack something called an “indirect object pronoun” before the verb.

Subject pronounsIndirect object pronouns
youte (informal) / le (formal)

So, ‘I like’ translates to ‘me gusta’ and ‘he / she likes’ to ‘le gusta’.

REMEMBER: with verbs like ‘gustar’, we NEVER use subject pronouns (‘yo’, ‘’, ‘él’, ‘ella’, etc., etc.), we ALWAYS use indirect object pronouns instead!

For example –

Le gustan los gatos y los perros.

She likes cats and dogs.

Me gusta este helado.*

I like this ice cream.

*Erika’s note – demonstrative adjective can be super tricky! Be sure to check out our article on este‘ vs ‘esto if you want to know the ins and outs of these useful little words!

And how come we say ‘me gusta, not ‘me gusto?

Well, the easiest way to understood ‘gustar’ is to think of it as the Spanish equivalent of ‘to be pleasing’ (NOT ´to like´).

So, the phrase ‘Me gusta México’ literally translates to ‘Mexico is pleasing to me’.

México’ is the subject of the sentence and ‘me’ the INDIRECT OBJECT (i.e., the person or animal to whom the subject is pleasing).

For example –

¡Échale! A Gabriela le gusta mucho verte bailar.

Go on! Gabriela really likes watching you dance.

En realidad, no me gusta la piña. Sólo me gusta la sandía.

Actually, I don’t like pineapple. I only like watermelon.

Le gusta’ can also work with plural nouns, you just have to add an ‘n’ to the end of ‘gusta’: ‘le gustan

REMEMBER: in sentences with ‘gustar’, the subject is the thing or things that are pleasing (or ‘liked’), so whether you use gusta’ or ‘gustan’ will depend on if the subject is singular or plural.

For example –

Le gusta la música.

He likes music.

Le gustan las mariposas.

He likes butterflies.

Le gustan las canciones de Michael Jackson.

She likes Michael Jackson’s songs.

If you want to form a negative sentence just add a ‘no’ before the pronoun.

For example –

No le gustan los días soleados.

He doesn’t like sunny days.

When to use ‘se gusta’

We’ve already learnt about the indirect object pronouns: ‘me’, ‘te’, ‘le’, ‘nos’ and ‘les’.

But, as you’ve probably worked out, ‘se’ ISN’T an indirect object pronoun.

As such, the phrase ‘se gusta’ ISN’T CORRECT Spanish!

So, what (the heck!) is it then?

Well, it actually has a number of uses!

Perhaps the most common use is as a “reflexive pronoun”, which are basically pronouns used when the subject and the object of a sentence are THE SAME (think ‘myself’, ‘yourself’, ‘himself’, ‘herself’, ‘itself’, ‘ourselves’, ‘yourselves’ and ‘themselves’ in English).

And what about ‘se gustan’?

Yes, you’re not imagining things, this one does actually exist!

Se’ can also be what we call a “reciprocal pronoun”, a pronoun used with “reciprocal verbs” (basically actions that two people do to EACH OTHER).

In this sense, ‘se’ almost always translates to ‘each other’ –

Se abrazaron.

They hugged each other.

¡Se gustan mucho!

They like each other a lot!

Final Thoughts

Now you know the difference between ‘me gusta’ and ‘se gusta’ (well, you’re now aware that the latter doesn’t actually exist!).

Just remember that the verb ‘gustar’ isn’t an ordinary verb; use it as you would ‘to be pleasing’ in English and you’ll be gold!

Oh, and definitely check out our article on tal vez‘ vs ‘quizás if you wanna level-up your Spanish even more!

¡Y vámonos!

Rupert's lived in Mexico for nearly a decade and has been working as a Spanish teacher for even longer (over 10 years now, wow!). He specializes in simple (yet effective) explanations and is a veritable grammar-whizz.

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