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Spanish verbs of change: hacerse, volverse, ponerse, quedarse

Spanish verbs of change: hacerse, volverse, ponerse, quedarse

To become or not to become, that is the question…for today.

Change and adaptation is a constant in life that has been the topic of many theories and thoughts. We have several ways to express the nature of these changes in Spanish that could be confusing at first glance. It is my goal to bring some clarity to four verbs that indicate change, and how they differ from each other. Let’s start by looking at a few examples and their translation in English:

Martha se hizo rica.

Martha became rich.

Pedro se volvió loco.

Pedro became crazy.

Laura se puso enferma.

Laura became ill.

Julián se quedó soltero.

Julian became single.

But why do we say “hacerse rico”, but then we say “volverse loco”, “ponerse enfermo”, or “quedarse soltero”? We’ll take a deeper look at each one of these verbs individually to gain a better understanding.

Hacerse

Let’s start by making an important distinction between “hacer” and “hacerse” by looking at two examples.

Hacer- to do/make

Javier hizo una silla hermosa. - Javier made a beautiful chair.

Hacerse - to become

Javier se hizo carpintero el año pasado. - Javier became a carpenter last year.

It is important to understand the relationship between these two verbs because it has an impact on the essence of change. Let’s look at the example above once again:

Javier se hizo carpintero el año pasado. - Javier became a carpenter last year. Meaning he made a carpenter of himself.

We use the verb “hacerse” to indicate changes that are often intentional. It usually works with adjectives that are normally used with “ser”. For example:

Pedro se hizo doctor hace diez años.

María quiere hacerse ingeniera en unos años.

Martha y Sandra se harán ricas con esas inversiones.

Manuel se hizo mas fuerte después de entrenar por dos años.

Warning: The use of a definite article before the adjective will change the meaning drastically. For example:

Mara se hizo rica - Mara became rich.

Mara se hizo la rica - Mara pretended to be rich.

José se hizo culto después de leer muchos libros y viajar mucho.

Jose became cultured/learned after reading many books and traveling a lot.

José se hizo el culto cuando hablaba con Vicky anoche.

José pretended to be cultured/learned when he was speaking to Vicky last night.

Volverse

As with the previous verb “volverse” should be treated as a different verb from “volver”, but they still have an intrinsic relationship indicating the nature of change.

Volver - to return/to come back/to go back

Ruth siempre vuelve a su casa muy tarde. - Ruth always goes back home very late.

Volverse - to become

Dario a veces se vuelve loco cuando bebe mucho tequila. - Dario sometimes becomes crazy when he drinks too much tequila.

There are two open possibilities with “volverse” that don’t apply to “hacerse”. “Volverse” doesn’t have a strong indication of the change being intentional or unintentional, but it is often understood as unintentional. Also, it can convey that the change might be, or has been, repeated. Let’s look at the example above once more but in the past this time:

“Dario se volvió loco anoche después de beber mucho tequila.” In this case, without context, most people would think that this situation was unintentional and just the result of drinking too much. Additionally, one might assume that situation of change might happen again if he drinks tequila — or anything else — in the future.

It is worthy to mention that “volverse” is often used with adjectives that work well with “ser” and could be considered negative. For example, “débil, gordo, tonto, pobre, aburrido, etc.”

Tu hermano se volvió aburrido después de graduarse.

Your brother became boring after graduating.

Ponerse

We use this verb to indicate changes of mood, very similar to the verb ‘to get’. For example, “Laura se puso enferma” could be translated as ‘Laura became ill/sick’, but it is often translated as ‘ Laura got sick’. You can already guess that “ponerse” is mainly going to work with adjectives that normally work well with “estar”, but it can also work with adjectives that usually work with “ser”. Let’s look at a few examples:

Felicia siempre se pone enojada cuando la llamamos muy tarde. - Felicia always gets angry when we call her late.

Ayer Jairo y Felipe se pusieron muy felices cuando recibieron el premio. - Yesterday, Jairo and Felipe got very happy when they received the prize.

María se está poniendo muy fuerte con ese entrenamiento. - María is becoming/is getting very strong with that training.

Quedarse

“Quedar” and “quedarse” are verbs that have multiple uses and for the purpose of not becoming too confusing, we are going to focus on the purposes of change. Coming from meaning to have something left and to remain/stay respectively, this reflexive verb will indicate to be left in a certain mood or state when it is followed by an adjective. Let’s take a look at some examples:

Quedan tres botellas de vino. - There are three wine bottles left.

Saúl y Matilde se quedaron en un hotel. - Saúl and Matilde stayed in a hotel.

Now let’s see some uses of change:

Ellos se quedaron solos en la fiesta - They were left alone at the party — indicating that they had company before

Pilar siempre se queda nerviosa cuando su hijo sale a bailar. - Pilar is always nervous when her son goes dancing / Pilar always becomes nervous when her son goes dancingIndicating that she might be calm before he goes out and after he comes back.

Pedrito se quedaba aburrido cuando no lo llevaban al parque. - Pedrito used to get/be bored when they didn’t take him to the park.

Well, that is all for today. I hope all this will help you to express changes in Spanish with more attention to the nature of it.

Nelson Navarrete