Uses of 'Llegar'

Common Meanings Include 'To Arrive' and 'To Come'

airport arrivals sign
¿Cuándo llegan? (When do they arrive?). Photo by Marcela Escandell; licensed via 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.

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.

Arrival of a time: 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.

Accomplishing 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.

Llegar a ser: The phrase llegar a ser typically suggests a long or 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?

Llegar a + infinitive: 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:

  • 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: 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.

Conjugation: 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.