If you’ve been learning Spanish for a while, you’ve probably noticed that it’s a bit difficult to express the idea of “becoming” something. There just isn’t a single word that cleanly encapsulates the notion of “becoming” something.
That in mind, I’ve got good and bad news for you. The bad news is that there are (at least) 6 verbs to express the notion of “becoming” something in Spanish. The good news, however, is that you can differentiate them just by following a few rules of thumb.
What are “verbs of change"?
As the name implies, verbs of change are verbs that express some sort of transformation. This may seem slightly redundant at first glance: In English, the verb "to become" can be used to express almost any sort of change. Whether you’re physically or emotionally changing into something new, and whether this growth happens immediately or over a long period of time, you can simply say become.
In Spanish, however, things aren't that easy.
We don’t have just one verb that encompasses all types of change, but rather several verbs which each convey subtly different nuances. In other words, there are several Spanish words that all translate to “become” in English. It’s important to choose the right one. To do so, you must first consider how a particular change occurred and impacted a person’s life:
- Did it require an active, intentional effort, or was it an involuntary change — a change in response to something that happened to you?
- Did it happen immediately or did it happen over time?
- Were the consequences of that change lasting, or were they temporary?
Note: We usually use these verbs with reflexive pronouns as they describe a change that happens to ourselves/the subject in question.
Verbs of change and their nuances
Today we’re going to cover six different verbs:/phrases hacerse, volverse, ponerse, quedarse, llegar a ser, and convertirse/transformarse en. As you’re reading, be sure to make note of the specific types of change associated with each one.
1. Hacerse + noun (ideology, profession, religion, age, time)
This verb generally expresses a voluntary and conscious change (although it’s also used to talk about time and our age). For example, imagine the process of deciding on your profession. At some point you must make a conscious decision to study and become a teacher, a musician, or something else. Naturally, this decision will have a lasting impact on your life.
To express this sort of voluntary and long-lasting change, we use the verb hacerse: literally to “make yourself (into something).”
- Se hizo vegetariana cuando vio lo que le hacen a los animales.
She became a vegetarian when she saw what they do to animals.
- Nos hicimos budistas después del viaje a la India.
We became buddhists after the trip to India.
- *No quiero hacerme mayor y olvidar mi juventud.
I don’t want to become older and forget my youth.
- *Se está haciendo tarde, me voy.
It’s getting late, I’m off.
* Note: Hacerse is used in these last two examples simply because they’re discussing time and age.
2. Volverse + personality adjective (arrogant, egocentric, extroverted)
This verb conveys a change that is involuntary, happens over time, and typically (but not necessarily) negative in nature. The change can be lasting and profound. Note that whereas hacerse is describing a forward-looking change, volverse more serves to contrast the “new” you with how you were in the past.
- Después de ganar la lotería se volvió tan egoísta y arrogante.
After winning the lottery, he became so selfish and arrogant.
- Se ha vuelto insoportable después de recibir el ascenso.
He has become unbearable after getting the promotion.
- Cuando me mudé a otro país me volví más independiente.
When I moved to another country, I became more independent.
Note that whereas somebody made a conscious choice to hacerse a teacher, they aren't exactly choosing to volverse more independent. The choice they made was to go abroad, and one consequence of that decision was becoming more independent.
3. Ponerse + adjective (emotional state, health, physical changes like blushing)
We use this verb to talk about sudden, temporary, and involuntary changes. The change can be either positive or negative in nature.
- Me puse triste cuando oí las noticias.
I became sad when I heard the news. (Alternatively: The news made me sad.)
- Se puso roja cuando le hicieron un cumplido.
She turned red when they gave her a compliment.
- Los perros se pusieron muy atentos cuando les mostré el hueso.
The dogs became very attentive when I showed them the bone.
Here’s a good example of why it's super important to make sure you’re picking the right word. When you say ponerse triste, there’s an expectation that your sadness will only last for a while and you’ll be back to normal before long. If you were to say volverse triste, however, the nuance is that you’ve become sad as a person and this change is now a lasting part of your personality.
4. Quedarse + adjectives/past participles (deaf, blind, widow, pregnant)
Another way of expressing sudden, involuntary changes. This one often involves a permanent/lasting change and carries a negative nuance.
- Se quedó ciego después del accidente.
He went blind after the accident.
- Se quedó embarazada a los 40.
She got (became) pregnant at 40.
- Me quedé en blanco cuando el profesor me hizo una pregunta.
I went blank when the teacher asked me a question.
You should notice that the above transformations are essentially the opposite as those expressed with hacerse. Becoming vegetarian was a choice; becoming blind was something that happened to you. Whereas becoming a Buddhist likely took time, pregnancy is much more black and white: you weren’t pregnant, and then you were.
5. Llegar a ser + noun/adjective (come to be)
This verb describes the result of a long process which is usually considered to be positive by society. It’s achieved with active (voluntary) participation from the person in question.
- Después de años de estudio y trabajo, ha llegado a ser el mejor traductor de la empresa.
After years of studying, he’s come to be the best translator in the company.
- Aunque sus padres eran analfabetos y vivían en la pobreza, ella ha llegado a ser profesora de universidad.
While her parents were illiterate and lived in poverty, she’s come to be a university professor.
- Los libros de Murakami han llegado a ser una parte indispensable de mi estantería. Murakami’s books have come to be an essential part of my bookshelf.
Whereas hacerse focuses more on the initial impetus for a change and the conscious decision to make/achieve that change through a process, llegar a ser emphasizes the long duration of time over which efforts were made in addition to a person’s willingness to achieve a particular change.
6. Convertirse en/ Transformarse en + noun or adjective (to turn into/transform yourself)
These verbs indicate a radical change in someone; a transformation. It may either be the result of voluntary effort or be an involuntary consequence of something else, and its outcome may be positive or negative in nature.
- Sandra se ha transformado, en la escuela apenas se arreglaba y ahora parece una modelo. Sandra has transformed herself: in school she barely dolled herself up, but now she looks like a model.
- Su hija se convirtió en un gran apoyo después de la muerte de su esposa.
His daughter was (became) a huge support after the death of his wife.
- Aunque de pequeño era muy simpático y amable, después de hacerse un político muy famoso se convirtió en una persona antipática y distante.
Even though as a child he was really friendly and kind, after becoming a a famous politician he turned into a distant and unpleasant person.
Practica corrigiendo el error – Practice correcting the mistake
Here are some exercises to test yourself with: the verbs of change in the sentences below are all wrong. What verb should have been used instead? Remember to use those rules of thumb we discussed (voluntary, involuntary, temporary, permanent, sudden, process). I’ve included answers at the bottom.
(Answers are available just below the author's bio.)
- La gente que grita me vuelve muy nerviosa.
People who scream make me anxious.
- Jorge comía mucha carne antes, pero ahora se quedó vegano.
Jorge used to eat a lot of meat, but now he became a vegan.
- Me transformé en profesor después de cinco años de estudios.
I became a teacher after five years of studies.
- Se convirtió triste cuando no pudo ir al concierto.
She was sad when she couldn’t go to the concert.
- Mis amigos han llegado a ser bastante independientes desde que se mudaron a Chile.
My Friends have become quite independent since they moved to Chile.
I know this may all seem a bit too overwhelming now, but think about the array of possibilities you’ll have once you start using these verbs! Do you want to convey the idea of a radical change in your life for which you’d like to emphasize how much effort you put in, or do you just need to express the idea that something happened to you? Unlike English, Spanish lets you weight your words with exactly th enuance you wish.
- Learn Spanish: All the Basics, One Ridiculously Detailed Guide
- Por and Para: One Trick, 60+ Example Sentences
- Differences Between European Spanish and South American Spanish
- Follow us on YouTube / Instagram / Facebook
Respuestas: 1. Me pone 2. Se hizo 3. Me hice 4. Se puso. 5. Se han vuelto.