How to talk about transformations in Spanish


What you are to be, you are now becoming.

– Carl Rogers

We are constantly changing, evolving, becoming and yet, changing is not easy. Allowing transformation is not uncomplicated, and it is definitely not effortless. 

But I am not here to talk about how to become the person you are meant to be, or how to stop resisting whatever transformation you are going through.

I am here to guide you to talk about transformation in Spanish because even this is not easy.

The 6 verbs of transformation in Spanish

There 6 verbs in Spanish that mean the same as “to become”. These verbs are:

HACERSE

PONERSE

VOLVERSE

QUEDARSE

LLEGAR A SER

CONVERTIRSE

Not all personal transformations or changes are the same. Some are coincidental and involuntary, others are conscious and effortful. Some changes are temporary others for life. Some transformations affect externalities others are about inner changes.

And these nuances are important. I dare say that all nuances, the subtle differences in meaning and expression, are important. 

In this article, you will learn:

– The three areas of change these verbs affect.

– The differences in the meaning of these verbs.

The 3 areas of transformation

These three areas are:

TIME

MODE

ASPECT

Time

As mentioned at the beginning, not all transformations are the same. Some transformations are life-long (permanentes), others are long-lasting (duraderas) and others are temporary or brief (temporales o breves)

The 6 verbs of becoming in Spanish can be separated in these three groups.

  • Life-long transformations

Hacerse //  Volverse // Quedarse* // Convertirse en // Llegar a ser

These verbs refer to permanent changes in various aspects of the person.

  • Long-lasting transformations

Here we only have “quedarse” which can be used to express a life-long change or a long-lasting one.

For example:

Me he quedado calva (I went bold). This change is pretty permanent. Once you loose your hair, it is not coming back!

Me quedé callada (I didn’t say anything or I remained silent). This is a temporary change that is perceived as longer than immediate.

We also say, quedarse embarazada (get pregnant), because it refers to a change in the female body that albeit being temporary is not brief. 

  • Temporary / Brief transformations

Maybe here, instead of a transformation, we can talk about changes. In this category, we have “ponerse“.

Mode

The way a change occurs is also relevant and can vary. Transformations can be voluntary or involuntary, quick or slow, and effortful.

  • Involuntary

Ponerse // Volverse // Quedarse // Convertirse

These 4 express an involuntary change or can express an involuntary change.

For example: Me puse nerviosa is involuntary because we can’t control nerves, however “me puse guapa para la fiesta” implies that I willingly got dressed up.

But normally, these 4 express involuntary transformations.

  • Voluntary

Only “hacerse” and “convertirse” express voluntary transformations. Think about the idea of the self-made person, “hacerse” talks about the idea of “making oneself” and becoming something different than one was before. However, “hacerse” nor “convertirse” refer to the idea of success. 

  • Quick

Hacerse“, “ponerse” and “convertirse“.  Here we need to specify the kind of changes each verb is used for. 

Some changes, like changing ideology or religion, could take years, but it could also be sudden. This is why “hacerse” and “convertirse” belongs to this category.

Ponerse“, on the other hand, belongs here in its own right, because it is used to talk about a change of mood and this change is always quick.

  • Slow / Long

Hacerse“, “convertirse” and “llegar a ser“.

As explained in the previous point,  “hacerse” and “convertirse“, when talking about the change of ideology, religion… can express a slow change or a sudden one, depending on the situation. Normally, though, the change would be slow.

Llegar a ser” expresses always a long process that leads to the change.

  • Effortful

In this category, we have only “llegar a ser“. This construction implies that the change or transformation has happened as a result of a long, voluntary and effortful process. 

Aspect

By aspect, I refer to the individual’s facets, such as public life, appearance, personality or character, mood, family status…

  • Physical Appearance

Changes in physical appearance include weight, beauty, hair… And the two verbs that express a change in this area are: “ponerse” and “quedarse“.

Ponerse doesn’t tell us anything about the permanence of the change, the focus is on the change (from past to present).

– Tu hijo se ha puesto muy alto (Your son has grown very tall)

Whereas “quedarse” focuses on the permanence or long-lasting change in the individual’s appearance. (from past to present and inferring future)

– Tu hijo se ha quedado muy pequeño (Your son hasn’t grown much, meaning that he’s small for his age and we assume that it’s not likely he’s going to grow any taller).

  • Character / Personality

Volverse” is the only one that deals with “personality” changes that are perceived as involuntary and permanent. Often expresses a negative change, but not necessarily.

  • Mood / State of mind

This change is the result of something of an event that caused it. Mood and states of mind are intrinsically temporary, but the choice of verbs gives a deeper nuance about how that change is perceived. Let me explain.

The only two verbs in this group are “ponerse” and “quedarse“.

– Me puse triste tras hablar con mi ex.
– Me quedé triste tras hablar con mi ex.

Both sentences mean “I got sad after talking to my ex”, but the first option, with “ponerse” only refers to the transformation of my mood that went from not being sad, to being sad due to the event of talking to my ex. It doesn’t say anything about how long I remained sad.

Whereas the second option “quedarse” refers to the change of mood but also to the idea that I remained sad after the call, which something I want to emphasise. 

  • Public life

By public life, I mean profession or any external achievement. For this, we use “convertirse” and “llegar a ser“.

  • External aspects

External aspects like ideology, religion, profession, age… are expressed with “hacerse“. Changes that, with the exception of age, are voluntary.

If you want to understand deeper the nuances of the 6 verbs of transformation in Spanish and practise with them, consider signing up for “Become in Spanish: Spanish verbs of transformation Masterclass”: A 90 min class + a guide + a workbook for only 40€. 

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