Verbs ver, oír, escuchar + infinitive/gerund

With the infinitive

When we want to express "to see/hear/listen to someone do something", the verbs of perception ver, oír and escuchar can be followed by an infinitive. By using the infinitive we perceive this action as completed and not as an action in progress.

  • If the infinitive is intransitive (i.e. it has no direct object) then this is the natural order of the sentence:
Ver / oír / escuchar (conjugated) + infinitivea [person]

For example:

Vi llegar a Marta.I saw Marta arrive.

Vi + llegar + a Marta

If there is extra information after the infinitive, making it a longer sentence, then the order tends to change to:

Ver, oír, escuchar (conjugated) +  a [person] + infinitive + extra info
Vi a Marta llegar muy asustada a la casa.I saw Marta arrive home very frightened.

Vi + a Marta + llegarmuy asustada a la casa

Bear in mind that, if the sentence uses a pronoun to refer to the person that is seen, heard or listened to, this pronoun is a direct object pronoun. The placement of the pronoun is always before the conjugated verb:

I saw Marta arrive =  I saw her arrive

La vi llegar.I saw her arrive.

La + vi + llegar

We cannot place the direct object pronoun referring to the person who is seen, heard or listened to anywhere else in the sentence.

If the direct object is referring to "singular male", we can use "lo" or "le". Remember that the use of le as a direct object is accepted if it refers to singular male (but not female nor any plural)

I saw Antonio arrive = I saw him arrive

Lo vi llegar.I saw him arrive.

Le vi llegar.I saw him arrive.

Lo and le are both correct for "him".

  • If the infinitive is a transitive verb (it has a direct object) this is the natural order of the sentence:
Ver, oír, escuchar (conjugated) +  a [person] + infinitive + direct object

 or 

Le/lo/la/los/ + ver, oír, escuchar (conjugated) + infinitive + direct object

 For example:

He oído a mi hermano decir palabrotas.I heard my brother say some swear words.

Lo he oído decirlas.I heard him say them.

Lo he oído decirlas.I heard him say them.

La he oído decirlas.I heard her say them.

Los he oído decirlas.I heard them say them.

With the gerund

The verbs of perception ver, oír and escuchar can be followed by a gerund to express "to see/hear someone doing something". When we use the gerund instead of the infinitive we express and put the focus on the progress of the action. Look at these examples:

Vi a Miguel tomando unas cervezas con sus amigos.I saw Miguel having some beers with his friends.

Lo vi tomando unas cervezas.I saw him having some beers.

When using the structure with the gerund sometimes the subject of the action may be ambiguous, for example:

La escuché cantando en la ducha.I heard her singing in the shower. [OR] I was singing in the shower when I heard her.

Here, it is not clear who was doing the singing. The person I heard singing could be the person in the shower or it could be "me".

The natural order to follow with the structure using the gerund is also:

Ver, oír, escuchar (conjugated) +  a [person] + gerund + extra info

or

Le/lo/la/los/ + ver, oír, escuchar (conjugated) + gerund + direct object/extra info

If it is a short sentence, the gerund can also be placed in front of the person doing the action expressed by the gerund:

Vi bailando a Miguel.I saw Miguel dancing.

Vi a Miguel bailando.I saw Miguel dancing.

But if this sentence had extra information, then we tend to mention the person before the action:

Vi a Miguel bailando en la discoteca con unos amigos.I saw Miguel dancing at the disco with some friends.

Remember: The difference between using the infinitive or the gerund:

  • the infinitive refers to an action that is seen or heard as "complete"
  • the gerund indicates an action "in progress" 

He visto a Carlos fumar
I saw Carlos smoke. (complete action)

He visto a Carlos fumando.
I saw Carlos smoking. (action in progress)

 

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Examples and resources

Lo vi tomando unas cervezas.I saw him having some beers.
La vi llegar.I saw her arrive.
La escuché cantando en la ducha.I heard her singing in the shower. [OR] I was singing in the shower when I heard her.
Vi a su novio besar a otra chica.I saw her boyfriend kiss another girl.
Lo he oído decirlas.I heard him say them.
Vi a Miguel tomando unas cervezas con sus amigos.I saw Miguel having some beers with his friends.
Vi a Marta llegar muy asustada a la casa.I saw Marta arrive home very frightened.
La vi dar una bofetada a su hermana.I saw her slap her sister.
Vi a Miguel bailando en la discoteca con unos amigos.I saw Miguel dancing at the disco with some friends.
He oído a mi hermano decir palabrotas.I heard my brother say some swear words.
Los he oído decirlas.I heard them say them.
Oímos a Javier cerrar la puerta.I heard Javier shut the door.
Vi llegar a Marta.I saw Marta arrive.
Vi a Clara dar una bofetada a su hermana.I saw Clara slap her sister.
Vi a Miguel bailando.I saw Miguel dancing.
Le vi llegar.I saw him arrive.
Los he oído decirlas.I heard them say them.
Los escuché decirse algo al oído.I heard them whisper something to each other.
Vi bailando a Miguel.I saw Miguel dancing.
Las he oído decirlas.I heard them say them.
Lo vi llegar.I saw him arrive.
Lo he oído decirlas.I heard him say them.
Lo vi besar a otra chica.I saw him kiss another girl.
La he oído decirlas.I heard her say them.
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