Using Verbs To Discuss Emotions

cigarettes in flames for Spanish lesson on emotions
Julie Vazquez/Creative Commons.

Spanish has at least five common ways of referring to emotions or describing how someone feels or becomes emotionally. These include the use of estar and tener; reflexive verbs used for specific emotions; and two verbs that often mean "to become," ponerse and volverse.

Using Estar With Emotions

For English speakers, the most straightforward way to talk about emotions in Spanish is to use estar, one of the verbs for "to be," followed by an adjective of emotion.

  • Mi papá está feliz de ver su país. (My father is happy to see his country.)
  • Las autoridades están preocupados por el incremento de casos de sobredosis. (The authorities are worried about the increase in overdose cases.)
  • Al principio pensaba que estaban enfadados conmigo. (At first I thought they were angry with me.)
  • Va a estar emocionada por conocerte. (She is going to be excited to meet you.)

Using Tener With Emotions

Although estar can be used with some emotions, Spanish speakers often prefer to use tener, the verb for "to have" in the sense of "to possess," with some emotions. In effect, the idiom is that a person has a particular emotion rather than that the person is in a certain emotional state. For example, although you could say "está asustada" to say that a friend of yours is afraid, it would be more common to say, "Tiene miedo," literally "She has fear."

Here some examples of this use of tener:

  • Mi senador no tiene fe en la ciencia. (My senator distrusts science. Literally, my senator doesn't have faith in science.)
  • Antonio le tenía celos a Katarina cuando eran niños. (Antonio was jealous of Katarina when they were children. Literally, Antonio had jealously toward Katarina when they were children.)
  • Si las cosas son diferentes, tendré la ilusión de regresar. (If things are different, I will be thrilled to come back. Literally, if things are different, I will have the thrill of coming back.)

Reflexive Verbs for Specific Emotions

Some reflexive verbs include in their acquiring of an emotion. Perhaps the most common such verb is enojarse, which typically means "to become angry" or "to get angry": Jennifer se enojó cuando la periodista la llamó por teléfono. (Jennifer got angry when the newspaper reporter called her on the telephone.)

Enfadarse is preferred over enojarse in some regions: Si pierden los llaves, me enfadaré. (If they lose the keys, I'll get angry.)

Here are some of the reflexive verbs frequently used for other emotions:

  • aburrirse (to get bored with, to get tired of): El abuelo de la actriz se aburrió de su libertina nieta y la desheredó. (The actress' grandfather got tired of his wild granddaughter and disinherited her.)
  • asustarse (to become frightened): Vi a la policía y me asusté. (I saw the police and I got scared.)
  • alegrarse (to become happy): Se alegró mucho de recibir la noticia. (She became very happy upon hearing the news.)
  • enamorarse (to fall in love): (Te enamorarás de los chicos salvadoreños. You will fall in love with the Salvadoran children.)
  • fastidiarse (to become annoyed): Mi decisión se debió sencillamente a que me fastidié de depender de la nicotina. (My decision came about simply because I became annoyed at depending on nicotine.)
  • irritarse (to become irritated): ¿Se irrita usted con facilidad? (Do you get irritated easily?)
  • calmarse (to become calm): Durante todo el trayecto estaba preocupado, pero me calmó cuando estábamos aterrizando. (During the whole flight I was worried, but I calmed down when we were landing.)
  • entusiasmarse (to get excited): Cuando oyó estas palabras, Paula se entusiasmó. (When she heard these words, Paula got excited.)
  • exasperarse (to lose patience): (En ocasiones me exaspero. Sometimes I lose my patience.)
  • preocuparse (to become worried): Nos preocupamos por el nivel académico de los alumnos. (We got worried about the academic level of the students.)
  • sorprenderse (to become surprised): Me sorprendí cuando veía que era tan joven. (I became surprised when I saw she was so young.)

Using Ponerse and Volverse

The reflexive verbs ponerse and volverse are frequently used to refer to changes in emotional state. Although the two can be interchangeable, the difference is that ponerse tends to be used for rapid changes in emotions while volverse tends to be used for more lasting changes.

  • El jugador se puso triste por no ser titular. (The player got sad for not being the champion.)
  • Mi problema es cuando mi amigo se pone indiferente conmigo. (My problem is when my friend becomes indifferent to me.)
  • Los españoles se volvían felices con la medalla de plata. (The Spanish became happy with the silver medal.)
  • Se ha vuelto cariñoso y responsable. (He has become caring and responsible.)
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Erichsen, Gerald. "Using Verbs To Discuss Emotions." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Erichsen, Gerald. (2023, April 5). Using Verbs To Discuss Emotions. Retrieved from Erichsen, Gerald. "Using Verbs To Discuss Emotions." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).