People often have trouble distinguishing when to use Ir (to go) and Irse (to leave). These two verbs, while having the same infinitive, have very different meanings and uses. 

Ir (to go) is an irregular, intransitive verb that requires a destination.

Ir, an intransitive verb (does not use a direct object), focuses on the destination. It uses prepositions such as a, hacia, and hasta to indicate where a person is going. The destination may be clearly stated or simply implied (as is common when using the informal future ir + a + infinitive construction).

  • Voy a la tienda. (I am going to the store.)
  • Fuimos hasta la esquina. (We went to the corner.)
  • Va a almorzar a las doce. (He is going to have lunch at noon.)

It can also be used to indicate a mode of transportation where there is an unspoken or implied destination.

  • Van en avión. (They are going (somewhere) on a plane.)
  • ¿Vas a pie? (You are going (somewhere) on foot?)

Irse (to leave, to leave from) is an idiomatic pronominal verb.

Irse, an idiomatic verb (infinitive plus a preposition), uses reflexive pronouns (but is not reflexive) and focuses on the starting point. The starting point is always presumed to be here (or wherever the subject is at the time). The focus is on the act of leaving or going away and can also use prepositions such as de or desde.

  • Tengo que irme. (I have to leave.)

Tengo que ir would be incorrect even if you wanted to say“I have to go” because Ir always has to have a destination. Tengo que ir...where?
Tengo que irme does not need a destination. I am simply leaving.

  • Me voy de la casa ahora. (I’m leaving the house now.)
  • ¿Por qué te vas tan temprano? (Why are you leaving so soon?)

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Category: verbs | Keywords: to go, to leave