gramática

Los verbos de cambio: ponerse, volverse, hacerse, quedarse

One of the featured topics in most grammar books is the so-called 'verbos de cambio'.1

As well as using the pronominal form of the verb (e.g. se enfadó - he got angry), the four main ways of expressing the idea of 'getting' or 'becoming' are with the pronominal verbs ponerse, volverse, hacerse and quedar(se). While each of these verbs has its own special meaning, there is often an overlap between them.

 

Ponerse

The general rule is that if an adjective accepts estar (i.e. it denotes a resulting state or temporary condition), ponerse can be used. While in most cases the change is spontaneous or involuntary especially with state of health, mood or appearance ponerse can also denote voluntary/intentional changes.2

-Se puso contento - He cheered up

-Me pongo nervioso cuando tengo que hablar en público — I get nervous when I have to speak in public

-No te me pongas chulo — Don't get cocky on me [Used with dativo ético]

-Se puso zalamero para ligarse a la chica — He turned on the charm in order to make out with the girl

 

Ponerse can also be used with state changes in non-living subjects such as situations, food, prices, and weather. Here we can see the overlap with volverse and hacerse. In the following examples ponerse would indicate a shorter-lived, temporary state change, while volverse and hacerse would be more permanent.

Remember: if the adjective doesn't normally accept estar, then ponerse isn't usually possible.

"Así, los atributos que rechazan 'estar' y aceptan 'ser', rechazan a su vez 'ponerse' y admiten 'hacerse', lo que da lugar a contrastes como 'El cambio (era - *estaba - *se ponía - se hacía) inevitable".2

 

-La leche se ha puesto mala — The milk has gone off [Ahora está mala]

-La situación se ha puesto / se ha vuelto / se ha hecho insoportable— The situation has become unbearable

-La convivencia se ha puesto / se ha hecho / se ha vuelto muy difícil — Living together has got really difficult [Ahora es/está difícil]

-El tiempo se está poniendo / se está volviendo frío — The weather is getting / turning cold

 

Volverse

Volverse can be combined with either adjectives or a noun and article. It is generally used with adjectives that appear with ser (and estar, but not estar only, e.g. se volvió contento??), especially indicating changes in a person's character, personality or attitude. While volverse can be used for positive changes in the person's character or qualities, more often than not it is used with negative changes that have come about as a result of life experience or circumstances.2

-Se volvió un solitario intelectual — He became a solitary intelectual

-Te has vuelto muy rata — You've become a real tight-ass

-Su tono se volvió amenazador — His tone turned threatening

-Juan se ha vuelto desconfiado — Juan has become distrustful

-Te has vuelto un hombre romántico — You have become quite the romantic

-Te has vuelto imprescindible — You've become indispensable

 

With adjectives that accept both ser and estar, both ponerse and volverse are often possible. Once again, just like the ser/estar contrast, volverse denotes a more permanent change in quality. The adjective loco is unusual in that in Spain, where ser loco is not the norm, volverse loco is accepted.3

-Juan se ha vuelto más nervioso en los últimos años — Juan has become more nervous in recent years [Ahora es una persona nerviosa]

→Juan se ha puesto más nervioso. Las pastillas no están haciendo efecto — Juan has got more nervous. The pills aren't taking effect [Está nervioso ahora]

 

-Se está volviendo loco — He is going crazy

 

Hacerse

Hacerse is also used for adjectives/nouns that tend to take ser (i.e. they denote stable qualities, characteristics or type), especially with professions or ideological changes. With human subjects, hacerse usually denotes an intentional, conscious change, but not always.4

-Se hizo abogado — He became a lawyer

-Se hizo rico — He got rich ['Se volvió rico' en algunos países]

-Te has hecho budista — You have become a Buddhist

-Me estoy haciendo viejo/mayor — I'm getting old ['Me estoy volviendo viejo' en algunos países]

 

But hacerse is also commonly used for inanimate objects or situations where no voluntary change has taken place. With adjectives that can accept estar, ponerse is also often possible. Remember, if an adjective or noun doesn't accept ser, then hacerse is usually not possible*.

-Se hizo tarde — It got late [Es tarde]

-La situación se ha hecho / se ha puesto difícil — The situation has got tricky [Es o está difícil]

-El vino se ha hecho vinagre — The wine has turned to vinegar [Ahora es vinagre]

-La medida se ha hecho necesaria — The measure has become necessary [Es necesaria]

-Te has hecho / has puesto más fuerte — You have got stronger [Eres o estás fuerte]

*Se ha hecho contento?? ['Está contento', not 'es contento']

 

Volverse and hacerse often have an overlap when referring to people; however, volverse implies a un unintentional change in the person's character or attitude, while hacerse usually indicates intentional change. In general, hacerse is preferred in cases where it can alternate with resultar, llegar a ser, and venir a ser.5

-Se ha hecho española — She has become Spanish [intentional; possibly Spanish nationality]

Se ha vuelto (muy) española — She has become (very) Spanish [unintentional; referring to way of being]

-Se ha hecho drogadicto — He's become a drug addict [intentional]

Se ha vuelta un drogadicto —He's become a drug addict [unintentional]

 

-La niña se está volviendo / se está haciendo cada vez más vaga — The girl is becoming lazier and lazier

-Te has vuelto / te has hecho imprescindible — You've become indispensable

-El paseo se hacía agradable (resultaba agradable) — The walk was pleasant

-El aire se volvía / se hacía espeso — The aire became dense (little or no difference in meaning)

 

Hacerse is commonly used with an indirect object pronoun to indicate that the change is subjective, often translating as 'to seem' –read more.

-El trabajo se me hace imposible — Work is becoming impossible for me / I'm finding the work impossible [≈Me resulta imposible]

-La película se me hizo muy larga — The film seemed really long to me [≈Me resultó larga]

-Cuidar de su abuela se le hizo una obligación — Looking after his grandmother became an obligation for him / seemed like an obligation to him [≈Le resultó una obligación o llegó a ser una obligación]

-Se me ha hecho tarde — It's getting late

 

Quedar(se)

Quedar is particularly common with adjectives that are also participles (e.g. dormir-dormido) and tends to focus more on the resulting state than the change itself, similar to 'end up' in English. In many contexts it alternates with the pronominal form quedarse, with the former being more frequent in formal register and in Latin America. As discussed previously, quedarse (the pronominal form) also tends to focus on the change of state, while quedar focuses on the resulting state following an event.

More often than not, it is used with adjectives and participles that denote some form of loss or negative change from the standard state, often translating as 'to go', as in 'to go bald', 'to go blind', etc. In most cases, changes expressed by quedarse can be paraphrased using the transitive verb dejar.6-7-8

"La primera interpretación de 'quedar(se)' es propia de los adjetivos que designan estados carenciales, así como otros análogos que se caracterizan por expresar la pérdida de algo [...]".

 

-Se quedó ciego/calvo/sordo — He went blind/bald/deaf

-El café se quedó frío — The coffee went cold

 

-(Se) quedó huérfano a los diez años, cuando asesinaron a su padre — He was orphaned at the age of ten, when his father was murdered [≈ El asesinato lo dejó huérfano]

 

-La casa quedó vacía — The house was left empty [Resulting state; a partir de ese momento estuvo vacía durante un tiempo/para siempre; dejaron la casa vacía)

→La casa se quedó vacía — The house emptied [Change of state; se vació y permaneció así]

 

-Tras el accidente la mujer quedó viuda — Following the accidente the lady was windowed/became a widow [Focusing more on resulting state; more formal; El accidente la dejó viuda ]

→La mujer se quedó viuda con treinta años — The lady was widowed at the age of thirty [Focusing more on change of state]

 

The other main use of quedar(se) is when referring to, usually sudden, changes in people's mood or state of mind.

"Se construyen también con 'quedar' y 'quedarse' un gran número de adjetivos que denotan diversos estados anímicos transitorios, muchas veces causados por alguna impresión".8

 

-(Me) quedé asustado — I got/was frightened

-¿(Te) has quedado más tranquilo? — Do you feel better now?

-Cuando se enteró, (se) quedó alucinado/ pasmado/ sorprendido/etc. — When he found out, he was gobsmacked

→La noticia lo dejó alucinado/pasmado/sorprendido — The news astonished her / left her dumbstruck

 

As discussed previously, quedar+participio can often be used instead of ser or estar for passive-like constructions. While ser focuses on the action performed by an unnamed agent, quedar focuses on the resulting state following an event –a distinction that English often fails to make.

 

-El coche estaba destrozado — The car was destroyed [The state at that time]

-El coche fue destrozado — The car was destroyed [The action performed by an unnamed agent]

El coche quedó destrozado — The car was (left) destroyed [The resulting state following the action; it ended up destroyed]

 

-El empleado estaba sorprendido — The employee was surprised [His state at that time]

-El empleado fue sorprendido — The employee was surprised [The action performed by an unnamed agent]

El empleado (se) quedó sorprendido — The employee was surprised [The resulting state following the action]

 

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