I am trying to understand if the infinitive of a verb can always function as a noun. For example, take the verb cancelar (to cancel), the noun is cancela.

The infinitive cancelar acts as a noun:

No me gusta cancelar.
I do not like canceling.

However a sentence like below appears to use the noun form:

Si el evento programado para esta noche se cancela, sería un chasco.
If the event scheduled for tonight is canceled, it would be a disappointment.

There are times when I am speaking Spanish and am unable to remember the noun, but I remember the infinitive form of the verb the noun is derived from.
When is it safe to use the infinitive form of the verb as a noun?

  • 4
    "Se cancela" is not a noun form but an impersonal construction. Jan 10, 2019 at 1:39

2 Answers 2


The infinitive is the nominal form of the verb and can always work as a noun instead of the noun proper or whenever there is no noun available. The noun in the singular sometimes sounds like a specific ocurrence, while the infinitive sometimes refers to a general occurrence, in which case it may be equivalent to the noun in the plural.

  • No me gusta cancelar (I do not like canceling) = No me gustan las cancelaciones (general statement)

  • Cancelar la reunión fue un error (Canceling the meeting was a mistake) = La cancelación de la reunión fue un error (specific statement)

Note: "cancela" is the third person singular, present indicative form of the verb "cancelar".

Here follows an example in which there is no noun available and the infinitive is required:

  • No me gusta tomar sol. (I don't like sunbathing).
  • 1
    I'm sorry but your last example is not correct. The noun associated with "madrugar" is "madrugón" and not "madrugada". "No me gustan los madrugones" is a perfectly correct and common phrase. And I disagree with your first example, it's not the same "No me gusta cancelar" (I don't like cancelling, maybe because the whole process it's too complex) than "I don't like cancelations" (because I have a restuarant and I'm losing money)
    – RubioRic
    Jan 10, 2019 at 7:55
  • 1
    @RubioRic - Maybe this is regional. I never heard of "madrugón"; on the other hand, "madrugada" sounds perfectly normal to me. Jan 10, 2019 at 9:02
  • 1
    @RubioRic You're right. We do use "madrugones" occasionally even here in Argentina (coloq. Acción de madrugar (‖ levantarse muy temprano). I need to change that example. "I don't like cancelations" is ambiguous and can in fact refer to not liking the action or process of cancelling.
    – Gustavson
    Jan 10, 2019 at 12:19
  • 1
    @Gustavson Well, I was not completely right as has been pointed by aparente. "madrugada" can be a synonym of "madrugón" as well. :-)
    – RubioRic
    Jan 10, 2019 at 12:25
  • 1
    @RubioRic Yes, both "madrugada" and "madrugón" can be used to mean the action of getting up early (I'd say that "madrugón" is better because, as I had explained in my previous example, "madrugada" will not be readily associated with the action but with a time of day).
    – Gustavson
    Jan 10, 2019 at 12:28

I found a couple of nice examples of an infinitive being used as a noun in Linguée:

Dentro de nuestra forma de vivencia, el no mentir es algo sagrado, y eso no lo practicamos acá. embacubaqatar.com | In our way of life being truthful is sacred, and that is not being observed here. embacubaqatar.com

Los niños de 6 a 12 años de edad entienden lo que es mentir y el error moral de esta conducta. content.jeffersonhospital.org | Children from the ages of 6 to 12 understand what lying is and the moral wrongness of this behavior.

When we use an infinitive as a noun, we are sort of focusing on the process of the action. A nice phrase in English to use as a paradigm is

To err is human, to forgive, divine.

Here is an example using cancelar:

Cancelar de último momento sería desastroso.

Now, what you really wanted to know, I think, is your question:

There are times when I am speaking Spanish and am unable to remember the noun, but I remember the infinitive form of the verb the noun is derived from. When is it safe to use the infinitive form of the verb as a noun?

I will try to imagine a Spanish learner doing this (but if you could provide several examples, that would be helpful). Let's say you want to talk about una llamada [telefónica], but you don't remember whether you should say "una llamada" or "un llamado" or something else entirely, so you try to substitute "llamar" in your sentence. Let's see what happens:

Recibí su llamar ayer. | I received her/his/their [phone] call yesterday.

Hmmm. That is not working very well, is it? I think that I would prefer that you make up any old noun, even if you don't hit the nail on the head. For example:

Recibí su llamamiento ayer / Recibí su llamado ayer / Recibí su llamido ayer.

(I tried to imagine some possible mistakes a Spanish learner might make in trying to come up with a noun based on the verb "llamar.")

I think that even though these sound a little off, they work better than "Recibí su llamar ayer." Even though grammatically "Recibí su llamar ayer" is technically valid.

But please note that there might be other situations where it wouldn't sound weird, and your trick might work out pretty well for you.

Side note: "Si el evento se cancela" is similar to "If the event gets canceled / If the event becomes canceled (and if you want to look at it literally, word for word, you might think of it as "If the event cancels itself"). What I think you forgot is that in "If the event is canceled," the "is canceled" is the passive voice. It's a completely different pattern from "The jacket is blue."

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.