How To Use the Spanish Verb ‘Llegar’

Common meanings include ‘arrive’ and ‘to come’

airport arrivals sign
¿Cuándo llegan? (When do they arrive? The language of the top word is Catalan, one of the official languages of Spain.).

Marcela Escandell / Creative Commons

Although llegar typically is translated as "to arrive," it has a wider range of uses than does the English word and is often used figuratively. "To come" is also a common translation.

Keep in Mind

  • Llegar usually carries the idea of arriving at a destination, either literally or figuratively.
  • Llegar a followed by ser or another infinitive carries the idea of arrival at a goal or situation unexpectedly or after considerable effort.
  • In terms of pronunciation, llegar is conjugated regularly, although sometimes its spelling changes to accommodate usage of the letter g.

Using Llegar for Arriving

In its most common usage, llegar refers to arrival at a place. The destination is frequently preceded by the preposition a, and de can be used to indicate the origin:

  • Por fin llegamos a Madrid. (We finally arrived at Madrid.)
  • Cuando llego a casa hago mis tareas. (When I get home I'll do my homework.)
  • Llegaron a México los cuerpos de estudiantes muertos en Ecuador. (The bodies of the students killed in Ecuador arrived in Mexico.)
  • Llegaron de diferentes partes de España. (They came from different parts of Spain.)
  • Hay miles de refugiados que llegan de África. (There are thousands of refugees who are arriving from Africa.)

As can the English word "arrive," llegar can also refer to the coming of a time:

  • Llegó la hora de la verdad. (The moment of truth is here. Literally, the time of truth came.)
  • Ya llega la primavera. (Spring is already here. Literally, spring already arrived.)

Using Llegar for Reaching a Goal

Llegar can often refer to the reaching of a goal, physical or otherwise:

  • Los tres mexicanos llegaron a la cima del Everest. (The three Mexicans reached the summit of Everest.)
  • El museo llegó a las 100.000 visitas en menos de un año. (The museum reached 100,000 visits in less than a year.)
  • Microsoft y Marvel llegaron a un acuerdo para distribuir los videojuegos. (Microsoft and Marvel reached an agreement for distributing video games.)
  • No puedo llegar a fin de mes. (I can't make it to the end of the month.)

The phrase llegar a ser or simply llegar a can suggest a long or sometimes difficult period of change to become something:

  • Nunca llegué a ser doctor. (I never became a doctor.)
  • Diez de estas tribus llegaron a ser la Europa moderna. (Ten of these tribes became modern Europe.)
  • ¿Cómo fue que los computadores llegaron a ser parte de nuestra sociedad? (How was it that computers came to be a part of our society?)
  • Mi hermano llegó a atleta olímpico. (My brother became an Olympic athlete.)
  • Realicé mi sueño de niño: llegué a escritor. (I realized my childhood dream: I became a writer.)

Llegar With Infinitives

When llegar a is followed by an infinitive, it is often the equivalent of the English "to come to." It often carries the connotation that the activity is extreme, unusual, or unexpected. Note how a variety of translations can be used:

  • Algunos seguidores del candidato llegaron a llorar mientras escuchaban a su líder. (Some of the candidate's followers even cried while listening to their leader.)
  • Los Leones nunca llegaron a ganar un campeonato. (The Lions never came to win a championship.)
  • Llegó a decirme que mi pequeña era mocosa. (He went so far as to tell me that my little one was a brat.)
  • Llegué a comprender lo que quería decir. (I even came to understand what he wanted to say.)

Idioms Using Llegar

Llegar is used in a variety of idioms and set phrases. Here are some examples:

  • La secuela no llega a la suela del zapato al original. (The sequel doesn't hold a candle to the original.)
  • Las negociaciones entre el equipo y Gustavo Torres llegaron a buen puerto. (The negotiations between the team and Gustavo Torres reached a satisfactory conclusion.)
  • La empresa que no construya confianza no llegará lejos. (The business that doesn't build confidence won't get far.)
  • El cantante llegó y besó el santo con su canción "Silencio." (The singer had success on his first try with his song Silencio.)
  • Afortunadamente no llegó la sangre al río, gracias a la rápida reacción de mis amigos. (Fortunately, there were no serious consequences, thanks to the quick reaction of my friends.)
  • Después de insultarse, llegaron a las manos. (After insulting each other, they came to blows.)
  • Llegamos a la conclusión que el coche está roto. (We came to the conclusion that the car is broken.)
  • Los dos llegaron a las manos dentro del túnel. (The two resorted to violence inside the tunnel.)
  • Mis padres llegaron tarde. (My parents arrived late.)
  • Queremos llegar a tiempo. (We want to arrive on time.)
  • Mi nieta va a llegar lejos en la vida profesional. (My granddaughter is going to go far in her professional life.)

Conjugating Llegar

Llegar is conjugated regularly in terms of punctuation, but not in terms of spelling. The final g needs to be changed to gu when followed by an e. This occurs in the first-person indicative preterite (llegué, I arrived) and in the subjunctive and imperative moods. In this way it follows the pattern of pagar.

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Erichsen, Gerald. "How To Use the Spanish Verb ‘Llegar’." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Erichsen, Gerald. (2023, April 5). How To Use the Spanish Verb ‘Llegar’. Retrieved from Erichsen, Gerald. "How To Use the Spanish Verb ‘Llegar’." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).