Using the Spanish Verb ‘Volver’

Verb usually means ‘to return’

Temple of the Great Jaguar
Volvieron muy contentos de su aventura guatemalteca. (They came back very happy from their Guatemalan adventure.).

Dennis Jarvis / Creative Commons.

Although the verb volver typically is translated as "to return," it has a wider variety of uses than that simple translation may suggest. Under some circumstances, its meaning can be as varied as "to turn (something) over" and even "to become."

Volver Meaning 'To Return'

The meaning of "to return" is the most common, as in the following examples. If the meaning is to return to a specified place, the preposition a typically is used. Note that a variety of ways can be used to translate the verb to English.

  • Pedro volvió a casa de su tía. (Pedro went back to his aunt's home.)
  • Volveremos a la ciudad de Panamá en el primer ferrocarril transcontinental del mundo. (We'll return to Panama City on the world's first transcontinental railroad.)
  • Volvieron muy contentos de su aventura. (They came back very happy from their adventure.)
  • ¿Cómo vuelvo a mi peso normal? (How can I get back to my normal weight?)

Other Meanings of Volver

When followed by the preposition a and an infinitive (the verb form ending in -ar, -er or -ir), volver can usually be translated as "again":

  • El profesor volvió a preguntar a los estudiantes si el bote estaba lleno. (The teacher asked the students again if the jar was full.)
  • Volveremos a intentarlo. (We'll try it again.)
  • Los democristianos vuelven a ganar las elecciones en Holanda. (The Christian Democrats are winning the elections again in Holland.)
  • Si el comandante vuelve a aparecer, vamos a volver a frenarla. (If the commander comes back again, we are going to stop him again.)

When used with a direct object, volver can mean to turn something or turn something over:

  • Volvió la página y habló de otro tema. (She turned the page and talked about another subject.)
  • El hombre volvió el rostro en dirección contraria. (The man turned his face in the opposite direction.)
  • Por algo que no puedes cambiar ¡no vuelvas la vista atrás! (Don't look back for something you cannot change!)

In the reflexive form, volverse can mean "to become," especially when used to refer to people. Its use in this way doesn't necessarily imply the return to a previous state.

  • Es imposible hablar contigo, te has vuelto muy cínica. (It is impossible to speak with you, for you have become very cynical.)
  • Me volví vegetariana hace 3 semanas. (I became a vegetarian three weeks ago.)
  • Nos volveremos pobres en menos de un año. (We'll become very poor in less than a year.)
  • En la primera mitad del siglo XX, la ciudad se volvió un centro mundial para la industria. (In the first half of the 20th century, the city became a world industrial center.)

Conjugation of Volver

Keep in mind when using volver that it is conjugated irregularly. Its past participle is vuelto, and the -o- of the stem changes to -ue- when stressed.

Verbs Derived From Volver

Several common verbs are made up of volver with a prefix. They all follow the conjugation pattern of volver. Among them are:

Devolver can refer to returning to a previous state or returning an item:

  • La noticias le devolvieron su felicidad. (The news brought his happiness back.)
  • La policía devolvió el televisor a la tienda. (The police returned the television to the store.)

Envolver is an etymological cousin of the English verbs "envelop" and "involve" and can have meanings similar to both of them. Possible translations include "to cover," "to wrap," "to enshroud," and "to implicate."

  • Envolvió el regalo de cumpleaños en papel de seda. (She wrapped the birthday gift in silk paper.)
  • La nube envolvía a todo el reino. (The cloud enveloped all of the kingdom.)
  • Ha tenido algunas experiencias que la han envuelto en la controversia. (She has had some experiences that have involved her in the controversy.)

Desenvolver usually means to undo an action of envolver.

  • Desenvolvió el regalo de Navidad de su novia. (He unwrapped his girlfriend's Christmas present.)
  • Antes de meter el perro en la bañera tiene que desenvolver el pelo. (Before you put the dog in the bathtub you have to untangle his hair.)

Key Takeaways

  • Volver is a common verb that often means "to return." It can also be used to refer to various kinds of change or to repeated actions.
  • Prefixes can be used with volver to form several other common verbs.
  • Volver is a stem-changing verb with an irregular past participle.