6

Looking through Spanish language versions of websites it seems it is common to use the infinitive form of the verb on an action button. However, we don't use the infinitive in English and it has me wondering if a command form of the verb would be better suited for user interface elements where the user is performing an action.

Some examples of common action buttons and the translation options:
open -> abrir, abre or abra?
close -> cerrar, cierra, or cierre?
add new -> añadir, añade or añada?
delete -> eliminar, elimine, or elimina?
edit -> editar, edita, or edite?
save -> guardar, guarda, or guarde?
update -> actualizar, actualiza, or actualice?
search -> buscar, busca or buse?

So, my question is two part:

  1. Is the infinitive form of the verb the best choice for verbs on action buttons, and if so, why?
  2. If not the infinitive form, which of the command conjugations (formal or informal) of the verb is better suited for action buttons and why?
0
9

In the article Infinitivo por imperativo Infinitive for imperative from the website of RAE there is an explanation on how this is normal in Spanish.

In short, they explain that the Spanish language uses the imperative as an exhortative form in these cases:

  • instructions
  • warnings
  • recommendations

When their target audience is not clear or is a collective one. This is used when labelling products, showing how to use a device, etc.

See the full reference:

(...) infinitivo con valor exhortativo en indicaciones, advertencias, recomendaciones o avisos dirigidos a un interlocutor colectivo e indeterminado, habituales en las instrucciones de uso de los aparatos, las etiquetas de los productos o los carteles que dan indicaciones, hacen recomendaciones de tipo cívico o prohíben determinadas acciones en lugares públicos: Consumir a temperatura ambiente; Depositar la basura en las papeleras; No fumar; Lavar a mano. Se trata, en estos casos, de estructuras impersonales en las que no se da una orden directa, sino que se pone de manifiesto una recomendación, una obligación o una prohibición de carácter general, en las que hay que sobrentender fórmulas del tipo Se debe consumir... / Es preciso consumirlo... / Hay que consumirlo... / Se recomienda consumirlo...; Debe depositarse la basura en las papeleras / Hay que depositar la basura a las papeleras; No se puede fumar / No se permite fumar; Debe lavarse a mano / Se recomienda lavarlo a mano.

6

Which verb form do you guess that is used in English? Why do you say that it's not the infinitive?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary

infinitive

the basic form of a verb that usually follows "to"
In the sentences "I had to go" and "I must go", "go" is an infinitive.
"Go" is the infinitive form.

I think that English is using the infinitive too. You can replace "go" by "open" in the highlighted sentence above.

I'm pretty sure that the label does not correspond to the third person:

This button opens a new window.

I think that the construction used in English is a very shortened version of:

If you click this button, it will open a new window.

Such construction is the second conditional form: if + present, will + infinitive.

Or

If you want to open a new window, you have to click this button

In Spanish, we use this second formulation that can be translated almost word by word as

Si usted quiere abrir una nueva ventana, tiene que pulsar este botón

Notice that in both languages the infinitive form is used.

You are not exhorting the button, it's not a command directed to the button, the navigator or the computer. You're telling users what they have to do to execute actions, to obtain a result. Infinitives.

                                      Push

6
  • 1
    Good thoughts and a different perspective than I had taken. I was considering action buttons as a command to the computer or website to do something: add my comment, save this form, or delete this record. – PeterA May 21 '20 at 8:25
  • @PeterA I think that both interpretations may be right but notice that it's called User Interface, it's directed to the user not to the undelying machine. When a door is labeled "pull" is an infinitive or an imperative? In Spanish, it's an infinitive: tirar. – RubioRic May 21 '20 at 8:48
  • I am sure I have seen tirad and empujad on doors and this advert shows door signs like that amazon.co.uk/… – mdewey May 21 '20 at 14:36
  • @mdewey I'm not sure if that advert is fully idiomatic. (vos) tirad? (vosotros) tirad? Archaic or in need of more than one person to open that door. Sounds strange to me. I'll check next time when I find such sign in a shop. :-) – RubioRic May 21 '20 at 14:48
  • 2
    Why do I say it's not the infinitive? Because the bare infinitive (without to) is not typically used except in conjunction with some modal verbs and not as a noun phrase – eques May 21 '20 at 17:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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