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I ran across this sentence in a news article:

O’Rourke y Cruz aseguraron sus nominaciones al ganar las elecciones primarias de sus respectivos partidos.

I see that they used "al ganar". Is this a typo or is there really a grammatical feature that allows the placement of a definite article before a verb? If such a feature exists, I'd like to know how it works, preferably with a pointer to an external source to back up the explanation.

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The definite article el can be placed in front of a verb when it is being used as a noun. For example, I can say just as well comer con los amigos es divertido as I can el comer con los amigos es divertido, although it's generally more common to just use the infinitive.

That said, al [infinitive] is a special construction, meaning upon. Thus in the sentence you provided, we can read it as

O'Rourke and Cruz secured their nominations upon winning the primary elections…

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  • A more common translation would be by winning. – Carlos Arturo Serrano Mar 17 '18 at 13:39
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    @CarlosArturoSerrano that is certainly the more idiomatic rendering, but the OP is curious about al inf. generally, and since both Spanish and English distinguish temporal al/upon from causative por/by, I kept it with the temporal wording – user0721090601 Mar 17 '18 at 20:57
  • Thanks. I had been under the mistaken impression that verbs could only be used as nouns in past participle form. You didn't provide a link, but a search for "al infinitive" points me to articles like thoughtco.com/using-al-followed-by-an-infinitive-3079461 that confirm your explanation. – Patrick Dark Mar 18 '18 at 11:09

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