Why are the Spanish verbs in infinitive form?

We understand why it may look odd to have the infinitive form of the verb on the buttons in the Spanish vocabulary. Children learning Spanish as a first language begin with conjugated verbs. However, displaying a conjugated form for the button label would restrict the subject of the verb. If we conjugated all the verbs in the first person, it would be equivalent to only offering the pronoun "I" in English. Not only would it limit communication, it would also make it harder for the user to learn the concept of grammatical person.

Displaying verbs in the infinitive allows you to:

  1. Get a message across by combining a verb with a pronoun without having to deal with conjugations. For example "Yo ir colegio," "Yo querer manzana," and "Tú estar cansado" are perfectly understandable. If we displayed the first person singular inflection, the first two sentences would read "Yo voy colegio" and "Yo quiero manzana." These two sentences would be understandable, but the third one, "Tú estoy cansado," would be confusing.  In the sentence "Tú estoy cansado" we have a second person pronoun with a first person verb. In Spanish, both the conjugated verb and pronoun have exactly the same weight in defining the subject, so it would be impossible to know what you meant.
  2. Model and experiment with conjugations when you think the user is ready. The moment you decide to start modeling conjugations, you can start using the verb conjugation pop-up (by default it opens by tapping and holding a verb) but you still keep the person-neutral infinitives in the grid. This means that the choice of person that the user makes is always intentional.
  3. Keep using "telegraphic" speech for as long as needed without being confined into only talking about oneself.

If you do decide that you want to display a conjugated form of the verb, you can change the form displayed simply by editing the button and keep access to the grammar support popup. Just keep in mind that some conjugations can result from either of two different verbs (for example, "vengo" can mean "I come" or "I avenge") and there is no way for the conjugation system to determine which one you meant.

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