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How Spanish Expresses the Various Meanings of the English Verb "to Become"

written by: Eric W. Vogt • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 1/5/2012

In English, one can speak of someone "becoming" a firefighter or "becoming" angry, but in Spanish these require different structures. In fact, in Spanish there are more than two ways to split up the meanings and uses of the English verb "to become." This lesson teaches you how!

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    The Many Faces of "Becoming" in Spanish

    This lesson on the various Spanish verbs and verb phrases that correspond to the English verbs "to become" and the expression "to make something of oneself" also are reminders that different languages do not cut up the one planet we occupy in the same way linguistically speaking. The tool of language, humankind's first major (and highly portable, exportable and importable) "technology" impacted on culture from the outset. But, to get down to becoming...

    HACERSE. In Spanish, when we speak of a person making something of him or herself, we commonly use the verb hacerse. It is reflexive because the people make something of themselves -- just as we do express in English. In Spanish, we say, for instance, Juan se hizo médico or Teresa se hizo contadora. The verb hacerse goes right to the result -- without any stopping on the way to discuss or mention the process. Notice that the preterite is used most often the tense of choice when the concept of becoming is viewed in this way, precisely because the processes (in these examples, education), are viewed as over.

    LLEGAR A SER... When the speaker wishes to introduce some notion of the process of becoming and imply that it involved hard work, the verb phrase llegar a ser + profession is used. It can be used quite simply, in grammatical terms, just as hacerse, thus: Juan llegó a ser médico or Llegué a ser professor. Even without mentioning the hard work specifically, the mere use of the phrase llegar a ser + profession declares that it was a long haul. The fact that the preterite was used does not diminish the effort either. If a speaker used the imperfect, it would suggest that a story in about to be told about all the studying and struggles the subject went through on the way to becoming. The reason for the difference is that the verb llegar evokes images of a journey -- its basic meaning being "to arrive." It could also be used in other tenses, e.g., Sigue estudiando y llegarás a ser professor un día.

    METERSE A ... When we speak of becoming something, as in joining an organization or particularly common, when someone joins a religious order or changes religious or political affiliation, we use meterse a + the name of the thing someone is now a member of. For example: Juan se metió a cura or Linda se metió a liberal.

    PONERSE ... As for becoming angry, sad or some other emotion (for which English also has the verb "to get"), the Spanish counterpart is the verb phrase ponerse + adjective that expresses the emotion. Examples: Me pongo triste cuando escucho esa canción. La niña se ponderá alegre cuando reciba el regalo. Notice how this expression can also be in tenses other than the preterite.

    Finally, there is a very closely related verb -- CONVERTIRSE -- a reflexive verb meaning to turn into. It is always followed by the preposition en: La casa se convirtió en ruinas.

    Keep learning! Find out how to say "To Be" in Spanish.


  • Based on the author's more than 20 years experience teaching and translating Spanish