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I am trying to understand the difference between: Voy a trabajar (noun). I go to work (noun). AND Estoy en el trabajo(noun). I am in the work (noun) [I'm at work].

In both sentences, trabajar and trabajo are used as nouns - the place that either the person is going, or is at. If both refer to a place (work) why does one use the infinitive of the verb? El trabajo (a noun) seems the better choice.

I found a similar question entitled "Usage of "llevar a trabajar" vs "llevar al trabajo" Usage of "llevar a trabajar" vs "llevar al trabajo"

I think this person had the same question I have: Yo no llevo el coche a trabajar normalmente. I don't take the car to work (noun) normally. They ask, why use "a trabajar" (infinitive verb) here?

The person asking the question then goes on to mention examples from Google stating: Yo no tengo ningún transporte público que me pueda llevar a trabajar (inf verb). I don't have any public transportation that can take me to work (noun).

The person answering, corrects all the examples that use "a trabajar" as a noun, and replaces with al trabajo, which makes sense. : Yo no tengo ningún transporte público que me pueda llevar al trabajo (noun)

But I still don't understand why I keep seeing "a trabajar" used as a noun. Example: Voy a trabajar (noun)

Thanks in advance

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  • Be careful with literal translation; Estoy en el trabajo. means: I am at work, not in the work. Voy a trabajar todos los dias. I go to work every day. Hoy, no voy a trabajar. Today, I am not going to work. voy a verb can be present simple or present progressive. It depends on context.
    – Lambie
    Jan 22, 2022 at 19:53
  • The usage pointed out by OP is standard Spanish. It is not true that saying "voy a trabajar" meaning "I'm going to work" (i.e. to my workplace) is substandard.
    – Gustavson
    Jan 22, 2022 at 23:10
  • @Gustavson You misunderstood me completely. It is not the voy a trabajar that is substandard. What is substandard is this: Yo no llevo el coche a trabajar normalmente. which is a literal translation of: I don't take the car to work. What is meant is: No voy al trabajo de coche. i.e. I don't use my car to go to work.
    – Lambie
    Jan 23, 2022 at 20:01
  • If there was a misunderstanding, I just don't see why the comment that supposedly caused it was deleted. Anyway, I'm glad to see that the form "voy a trabajar" is finally acknowledged as a correct Spanish structure even when it means "estoy yendo a trabajar", that is, "I'm going to the place where I work".
    – Gustavson
    Jan 23, 2022 at 23:08
  • @Gustavson Please stop it. I am a professional translator [INTO English] and interpreter: How could I not know this? You misread my comments. There is no "finally acknowledging anything at all", it was never questioned. I really do not understand how you imputed that to me. It was not in my deleted comment. Ahora, te digo, ¿ cómo de atreves decirme algo asi? Nunca dije lo que dices. Borré el comentário porque lo has mal leído. Todo está en mi respuesta. Si no supiera que "voy a trabajar" está bien, como podría ejercer mi profesión???
    – Lambie
    Jan 24, 2022 at 14:46

3 Answers 3

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REFERENCES ADDED TO SUPPORT MY ANSWER BELOW:

REFERENCE 1:

The usage described in the question is confirmed by this thesis I found on the Internet (page 95 of the pdf, page 87 of the paper), which states that the verb "ir" in constructions followed by "a" + infinitive can be interpreted as a periphrastic form (going to do sth) or as an occurrence of the verb "ir" with its full lexical force (where "ir" does not express willingness or proximity of the action but actual movement):

Se advierte que la construcción ‘iban a trabajar’ se puede tomar como una construcción perifrástica o como la aparición plena del verbo ir:

(a) Iban a trabajar: se desplazaban de un lugar hacia su trabajo. [The bolds are mine.]

(b) Iban a trabajar: se disponían a trabajar, comienzo de la acción trabajar.

REFERENCE 2:

Here is another author who confirms the above: the verb phrase "ir a" + infinitive can have either of the two meanings mentioned above, modal or locative (see item 2.1 on page 2):

En (5) se dan dos lecturas de ir a + INF: una léxica, de desplazamiento físico, y otra intencional, en cuyo caso el hablante conceptualiza la acción de comprar como un proyecto que, desde el punto de vista temporal, se sitúa en el futuro:

(5) Voy a comprarme un libro.

(What the author says is that "ir a" + infinitive can have a lexical reading where there is movement or a modal reading expressing future intention.)

REFERENCE 3:

In this site the following can be read on page 1 of the pdf document:

Como nota el Manual, la aparición de ir en pretérito perfecto con el significado de (20) está limitada a los verbos télicos, que expresan procesos delimitados, por lo que se excluyen estados (21.a–b), pero también actividades, con las que ir solo puede recibir una interpretación como verbo léxico de movimiento (21.c):

(21) a. *Fueron a ser felices.

b. *Fue a haber una catástrofe.

c. #Fueron a trabajar / caminar.

(What the author says above is that, with "ir" in the past tense and an action verb like "trabajar" or "caminar", "ir" can ONLY be interpreted as a verb of movement.)

MY ANSWER BEFORE ADDING THE REFERENCES ABOVE:

In English, "work" can be a noun or an infinitive in "I'm going to work" depending on whether you refer to the place where you work or to the action: Voy al trabajo / Voy a trabajar.

Now, in Spanish the infinitive can indeed be used to refer indirectly to the place where you do an action. Proof of this is that, in answer to the question ¿Adónde vas? or ¿Dónde vas?, we can say Voy a + infinitivo. We can understand that, in these cases, we are eliding "to the place where I ...". I'm going to provide a few examples below (I'm using questions with "you" and answers with "I", but other persons can of course be used). Please note that in all of the cases, and mainly in (4), we can use the pronominal form "Me voy a ...":

(1)

A. ¿Adónde vas?

B. Voy a trabajar. (Literally, I'm going to work, meaning: I'm going to the place where I work.)

(2)

A. ¿Adónde vas?

B. Voy a estudiar. (Literally, I'm going to study, meaning: I'm going to the place where I study.)

(3)

A. ¿Adónde vas tan bien vestido?

B. Voy a comer. (Literally, I'm going to eat, meaning: I'm going to a place to have a meal, i.e. I'm going to eat out.)

(4)

A. ¿Adónde vas?

B. Voy a dormir. (Literally, I'm going to sleep, meaning: I'm going to a place to sleep, i.e. I'm going to bed.)

(5)

A. ¿Adónde vas?

B. Voy a comprar. (Literally, I'm going to buy, meaning: I'm going to a place to buy, i.e. I'm going shopping.)

(6)

A. ¿Adónde vas? (B forms part of a choir)

B. Voy a cantar. (Literally, I'm going to sing, meaning: I'm going to a place to sing, i.e. I'm going to choir practice.)

(7)

A. ¿Adónde vas?

B. Voy a pasear. (Literally, I'm going to walk/drive, meaning: I'm going for a walk/drive.)

(8)

A. ¿Adónde vas?

B. Voy a bailar. (Literally, I'm going to dance, meaning: I'm going to a place to dance, i.e. I'm going to a disco.)

You can of course also use a noun to refer to the place or to the activity. Therefore, in answer to the questions above, (B) can reply:

(1) Voy al trabajo / Voy a la oficina.

(2) Voy a clase / Voy a la escuela/universidad.

(3) Voy a un restaurante.

(4) Me voy a la cama. (Here we tend to always use the pronominal form "irse", which is optional in the other cases.)

(5) Voy de compras / Voy al supermercado.

(6) Voy a canto / coro.

(7) Voy de paseo.

(8) Voy a la disco.

Just as in the English "go to work", in Spanish the phrase "ir a + infinitive" can mean "go where you do an action" or "go and do an action". It all depends on the context. In the examples I provided at the beginning, since the question was Where?, it is clear that the infinitive refers to the place where you do the action, regardless of whether you end up doing the intended action or not.

What I explained above also applies to other verbs, like "llevar", "traer", "acompañar", "venir":

(9)

A. ¿Adónde llevas a María?

B. La llevo a trabajar. (= La llevo al trabajo.)

(10)

A. ¿Adónde traes a Pedro?

B. Lo traigo a estudiar. (= Lo traigo a la escuela.)

(11)

A. ¿Adónde acompañas a Juan?

B. Lo acompaño a comprar. (= Lo acompaño a la tienda.)

(12)

A. ¿De dónde vienes?

B. Vengo de jugar. (= Vengo de la cancha / del club.)

It is true that in some cases the infinitive with "a" may convey some purpose meaning apart from indirectly indicating the place where the action is performed.

Note: I don't agree with the other answer that this is a case of verb nominalization. That would be the case if the infinitive were used as a subject or as an object, which are typical nominal functions. In English, we typically use V-ing in these cases, but the infinitive is also possible:

  • Trabajar (= El trabajo) es bueno para la salud (Work/Working is good for health)

  • Odio trabajar (= el trabajo) (I hate to work).

Though less idiomatic, when it works as a noun the infinitive can take the article "el". Sometimes, to work with "el" the infinitive needs some complement:

  • El trabajar (= El trabajo) es bueno para la salud (Work/Working is good for health)

  • Odio el trabajar bajo presión (= el trabajo bajo presión) (I hate to work under pressure).

The article is not allowed where the infinitive is only that: an infinitive.

We CANNOT say: *Voy al trabajar.

As I said in the second paragraph after the references I added at the beginning to support my answer, the infinitive can be used to refer to the place but is NOT the place. In the phrases Voy a trabajar / Voy a estudiar, etc. referring to going to the place where you do those activities, there is simply an omission of "el lugar donde" (the place where I ...)

With the verb "ir", there are two possible interpretations: (1) "ir" indicates movement and the infinitive indirectly refers to the place, or (2) "ir a" indicates intention to do the action indicated by the infinitive.

With transitive verbs like "llevar" or "traer", there are also two possible interpretations: (1) the infinitive indirectly refers to the place; (2) the infinitive refers to the action done or to be done by the object alone or together with the subject:

(1) Como no puede dejar a su bebé con nadie, lo lleva/trae a trabajar (lo lleva/trae al trabajo). (She takes/brings the baby with her to work.)

(2) Siempre lleva/trae a José a trabajar. (She always takes/brings Jose to work alone or with her.)

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The nub of the question is the grammar of English which is causing confusion:

"I am trying to understand the difference between: Voy a trabajar (noun). I go to work (noun). AND Estoy en el trabajo(noun). I am in the work (noun) [I'm at work].

In both sentences, trabajar and trabajo are used as nouns - the place that either the person is going, or is at. If both refer to a place (work) why does one use the infinitive of the verb? El trabajo (a noun) seems the better choice."

That is an inaccurate statement.

1)

  • Voy a trabajar.
    in Spanish means: I'm going to work. where trabajar is a verb just as it is in English. It is a to-infinitive clause in English. It shows the reason or purpose of what precedes it.

  • Voy a hablar con él ahora mismo. I'm going to speak to him now. Also a verb.

Estoy en el trabajo. I'm at work. where trabajo is a noun in Spanish and work is one in English. Please note: in Spanish, "at work" = "en el trabajo".

Voy al trabajo. in Spanish means: I'm going to work (the place). Like: I'm going to school.

The trick: In English, I'm going to work can be read two ways: what I'm going to do where to is called a to-infinitive and shows action OR the place I'm going. **In Spanish, el trabajo is the the place of work and trabajar is the verb to work.

The place (el trabajo) and (the action) trabajar are both work in English.

The confusion between noun and verb, which is a bit tricky in English, is what was causing the confusion about the Spanish.

As for this: Yo no llevo el coche a trabajar normalmente.

That is a literal translation of the English: I don't take the car to work normally. You cannot translate this literally because "take a method of transportation" not: llevar un coche. It's ir de, de coche, de autobus, de avión, de barco.

One would say here in Spanish for that sentence: No voy de coche al trabajo, normalmente.

And since the meaning is: to my place of work, it's al trabajo.

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Sustantivar infinitivos

It is absolutely normal and correct in Spanish noun infinitives, also known as infinitivos nominales and/or nominalizar infinitivos (type "sustantivar infinitivos" in Google Search). Since all verbs have their equivalent noun, they can replace it many times. Both possibilities are valid, although some are more commonly used than others and it also depends on the Spanish-speaking area in which it's used.


Without being the same, it's something similar to what the English language does with gerunds, where the action replaces the noun (just as difficult to understand sometimes for Spanish speakers).

For example, Fishing Area whose literal translation Zona de pescando is impossible in Spanish: an action in gerund replacing a noun. But it's possible to see Artículos de pescar, where the infinitive refers to the action. The (also) correct way would be Artículos de pesca where "pesca" is the real noun. In the example above Zona de pescar (infinitive noun) and Zona de pesca (noun) are equally valid. Changing pesca-pescar for trabajo-trabajar works exactly the same.


There are many very common examples of substantive infinitives:

  • Fumar es nocivo para la salud

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  • Not one of the OP's examples is about this.
    – Lambie
    Jan 22, 2022 at 19:51

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