Verbs for 'To Turn'

Context Is Key to Translation

turn of the roulette wheel
¡Gira la ruleta para obtener un premio! (Turn the roulette wheel to win a prize!). Photo by Håkan Dahlström; licensed via Creative Commons.

The verb "turn" is one of those verbs that has so many meanings that when translating to Spanish you may find it useful to try translating a synonym instead. For example, "turn" in "The car turned into the driveway" and "turn" in "The caterpillar turned into a butterfly" have such vastly different meanings that it wouldn't make sense to think that a single Spanish verb could be used both times in translation.

As always, the principle here is to translate the meaning rather than the word. Although there are probably dozens of ways you might translate "turn" depending on the context, here are some of the most common:

When "turn" or "turn around" means to rotate, girar or, less commonly, rotar can often be used.

  • Venus, el segundo planeta, gira una vez cada 243 días terrestres. Venus, the second planet, turns around once every 243 Earth days.
  • El monstruo tenía una cabeza que rotaba 360 grados. The monster had a head that turned 360 degrees.
  • ¡Gira la ruleta para obtener un premio! Turn the roulette wheel to win a prize!
  • Lo que sucede es que no gira la ruedita donde va el DVD. What happens is that the platter where the DVD goes isn't turning.

Girar can also be used to refer to a change in direction, such as turning to the right or left.

  • Los coches giraron bruscamente para evitar la colisión. The cars turned abruptly in order to keep from crashing.
  • Puedes girar a la derecha para ver una puerta cerrada. You can turn to the right in order to see a closed door.
  • El presidente de la república gira a la izquierda. The president of the republic is turning to the left.

Torcer (related to the word "torque") can sometimes be used for "turn" when it refers to twisting.

  • Un poco más arriba, la calle tuerce a la derecha de nuevo en un ángulo de 90 grados hacia el norte. A little bit higher, the street turns to the right again at an angle of 90 degrees toward the north.
  • Inserta un tornillo en cada agujero y tuércelo para que los agujeros queden alineados unos con otros. Insert a screw in each hole and turn it so that the holes stay lined up with each other.

When "turn" refers to change in nature rather than of direction, you can often use one of the verbs of becoming.

  • Mi hijita ha llegado a ser un adulto. My dear daughter has turned into an adult.
  • Justo cuando la oruga pensó que el mundo había llegado a su fin, se convirtió en una mariposa. Just when the caterpillar thought the world had come to an end, she turned into a butterfly.
  • María se puso triste al escuchar la canción escrita por su madre. Maria turned sad when she heard the song written by her mother.

The phrase "turn around," when it means facing the opposite direction, can often be translated by darse la vuelta.

  • El hombre se dio la vuelta y miró a las montañas. The man turned around and looked at the mountains.
  • Wall Street se da la vuelta tras un buen dato de confianza del consumidor. Wall Street is turning around after upbeat data on consumer confidence.

    "Turn down" when referring to rejection can be translated with rechazar: Sin embargo, la empleada de la agencia me rechazó. Nevertheless, the employee at the agency turned me down.

    "Turn on," when it means to switch on, can be translated as encender: El gobierno encendió las luces como un regalo para el pueblo del Zulia. The government turned on the lights as a gift for the people of Zulia.

    But note that "turn on" can sometimes mean to turn against, which can be translated as volver(se) en contra or poner(se) en contra: La población local se volvió en contra los alemanes. The local population turned against the Germans.

    "Turn off," when it means to switch off, can be expressed with apagar: Voy a apagar la luz para pensar en ti. I'm going to turn off the light to think about you.

    "Turn in," when it means to hand over, can often be expressed using entregar: Necesito una cita para entregar mis papeles.

    I need an appointment to turn in my papers. But if it means to go to bed, you can use ir a la cama or acostarse: Me acosto a las diez. I'm turning in at 10.

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    Your Citation
    Erichsen, Gerald. "Verbs for 'To Turn'." ThoughtCo, Mar. 2, 2017, thoughtco.com/verbs-for-to-turn-3079673. Erichsen, Gerald. (2017, March 2). Verbs for 'To Turn'. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/verbs-for-to-turn-3079673 Erichsen, Gerald. "Verbs for 'To Turn'." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/verbs-for-to-turn-3079673 (accessed May 24, 2018).