Tocar + infinitive for "it is time for someone to do something"

In colloquial Spanish we use this verbal structure:

The verb tocar (conjugated in the 3rd person singular) + infinitivo 

with different meanings and nuances.

It can mean:

1. Something must be done/Someone must do something

For example:

Los niños necesitan zapatos nuevos para el colegio así que toca ahorrar.The children need new school shoes so we have to / must save.

In this sentence it is used as an impersonal verb "toca", but most of the time it is accompanied by an indirect object pronoun to reinforce who needs to do it. We can also say:

Los niños necesitan zapatos nuevos para el colegio así que nos toca ahorrar.The children need new school shoes so we have to / must save.

2. It is somebody's turn to do something

For example, while playing a game:

Sara, te toca tirar el dado.Sara, it is your turn to throw the dice.

or when talking about tasks:

-¿A quién le toca sacar la basura hoy? -A Javier.-Whose turn is it to take the rubbish out today? -Javier's.

Remember that tocar + infinitive works the same way the verb gustar does, with the difference that tocar is always conjugated in the 3rd person singular of any tense but never the 3rd person plural. The subject of the sentence is the infinitive. 

This would be incorrect:

"Les tocaron recoger todo y fregar el suelo."

This is correct:

"Les tocó recoger todo y fregar el suelo."

(They had to tidy up everything and mop the floor.)

Here are more examples with other tenses:

Cuando yo sea vieja, te tocará aguantar mis impertinencias.When I am old you will have to put up with my nonsense.

A Elisa le había tocado hacer turno doble en el hospital.Elisa had had to do a double shift at the hospital.

Si empiezas el trabajo mañana, te tocaría archivar los expedientes a primera hora.If you started work tomorrow [lit: if you start ...] you'd have to file the dossiers first thing.

Here is a list of expressions using the verb tocar.

Used this way, tocar works the same way we use gustar, as an "inverted verb". Here is a list of inverted verbs.

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Examples and resources

-¿A quién le toca sacar la basura hoy? -A Javier.-Whose turn is it to take the rubbish out today? -Javier's.
Si empiezas el trabajo mañana, te tocaría archivar los expedientes a primera hora.If you started work tomorrow [lit: if you start ...] you'd have to file the dossiers first thing.
Cuando yo sea vieja, te tocará aguantar mis impertinencias.When I am old you will have to put up with my nonsense.
A Elisa le había tocado hacer turno doble en el hospital.Elisa had had to do a double shift at the hospital.
Sara, te toca tirar el dado.Sara, it is your turn to throw the dice.
Los niños necesitan zapatos nuevos para el colegio así que toca ahorrar.The children need new school shoes so we have to / must save.
Los niños necesitan zapatos nuevos para el colegio así que nos toca ahorrar.The children need new school shoes so we have to / must save.
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