Spanish Verbs of Becoming

Not all verbs translated as ‘to become’ mean the same thing

Woman lifting barbells
Quiere llegar a ser fuerte. (She wants to become strong.).

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Spanish has no single verb that you can use to translate "to become." Your choice of verb typically will depend on the nature of change that occurs, such as whether it's sudden or involuntary.

Spanish also has a multitude of verbs that are used for specific types of change — for example, enloquecer often means "to become crazy" and deprimirse means "to become depressed."

Llegar a ser

Llegar a ser typically refers to change over a long period of time, often with effort. It is often translated as "to eventually become."

  • Andrea Montenegro llegó a ser considerada una de las modelos más populares del país. (Andrea Montenegro came to be considered one of the country's most popular models.)
  • Es inevitable que todos lleguemos a ser ancianos. (It's inevitable that all of us will become old.)
  • No creo que llegue a ser un problema. (I don't believe it'll become a problem.)
  • Lo más importante para que un niño llegue a ser bilingüe es hacer que su desarrollo del lenguaje sea una experiencia agradable y positiva. (The most important thing for a child in becoming bilingual is making language development a pleasant and positive experience.)

Ponerse

The reflexive form of the common verb poner, ponerse, is often used to refer to a change in emotion or mood, especially when the change is sudden or temporary. It can also be used to refer to changes in physical appearance and many other traits and can apply to inanimate objects as well as persons.

  • Cuando llegó Antonio, su madre se puso feliz de tenerlo en casa. (When Antonio arrived, his mother became very happy to have him at home.)
  • En aquel día me puse enfermo. (On that day I became sick.)
  • Cuando el cielo se pone oscuro las mariposas dejan de volar. (When the sky becomes dark the butterflies quit flying.)
  • No nos pongamos tristes. Se va a un lugar mejor. (Let's not become sad. He's going away to a better place.)

Hacerse

Another reflexive verb, hacerse, usually refers to deliberate or voluntary changes. It often refers to a change in identity or affiliation.

  • Admite que se hizo escritor por desesperación. (He admits that he became a writer out of desperation.)
  • ¿Cómo me hago miembro de Mensa? (How can I become a member of Mensa?)
  • Vamos a hacernos millonarios. (We're going to become millionaires.)
  • Mi padre nunca fue muy religioso, pero sé que se hizo ateo aquel día trágico. (My father was never very religious, but I know that he became an atheist on that dreadful day.)

Convertirse en

This verb phrase convertirse en typically means "to change into" or "to turn into." It typically suggests a major change. Although less common, transformarse en can be used in much the same way.

  • Es el día que me convertí en mujer. (It is the day I became a woman.)
  • Nos convertimos en lo que pensamos. (We become what we think.)
  • Me convertí en una persona mucho más feliz. (I turned into a much happier person.)
  • Nos transformamos en lo que queremos ser. (We turn ourselves into what we want to be.)
  • En la metáfora, la oruga se transforma en mariposa. (In the metaphor, the caterpillar becomes a butterfly.)

Volverse

Volverse typically suggests involuntary change and generally applies to people rather than inanimate objects.

  • Los jugadores se volvieron locos. (The players went crazy.)
  • Con el tiempo, me volví perezoso y terminé escribiendo. (With time, I became lazy and ended up writing.)
  • Es la paradoja del ahorro: Si todos ahorramos, nos volveremos pobres. (It's the paradox of savings: If we all save, we will become poor.)

Pasar a ser

This phrase pasar a ser suggests change that occurs in the course of events. It is often translated as "to go on to be."

  • Pasé a ser subordinada de él. (I came to be his subordinate.)
  • Pasamos a ser nuestro peor enemigo. (We are becoming our own worst enemy.)
  • Al mismo tiempo, Europa pasaba a ser el mayor inversor extranjero en Argentina y Chile. (At the same time, Europe came to be the biggest foreign investor in Argentina and Chile.)

Reflexive Verbs and Changes in Emotion

Many verbs that refer to having emotions can be used reflexively to refer to a person becoming someone with a particular emotional state. Reflexive verbs can refer to other kinds of changes as well:

  • Me aburrí de la monotonía. (I got bored with the monotony.)
  • El soldado se exasperó por la incapacidad de decisión de sus jefes de guerra. (The soldier became frustrated by the inability of the war chiefs to make a decision.)
  • Me alegré al ver el hospital. (I became happy to see the hospital.)
  • Casi se atragantó cuando vio los noticieros. (She almost became choked up when she saw the news.)

Nonreflexive Verbs Denoting Change

Many reflexive verbs denote change or becoming, but so do a smaller number of nonreflexive verbs:

  • Milton enrojeció cuando la vio. (Milton turned red when he saw her.)
  • Las ideas buenas escasearon. (Good ideas became scarce.)
  • La situación empeoró con rapidez. (The situation quickly became worse.)

Key Takeaways

  • Spanish uses a variety of verbs to translate "to become," the choice depending on what is changing and the nature of the change.
  • Most of Spanish verbs of becoming are in the reflexive form.
  • Spanish verbs exist for some highly specific types of change, such as enrojecer, to become red.