How to say "to become" in Spanish

Expressing change in Spanish (to become angry, to become a lawyer, etc) is not a straightforward translation from English. "Become" an expert at it with these 6 verbs.

Sep 26, 2019
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The verb “to become” in English can be used to express many different kinds of changes. One can become excited, become a teacher, become strong, etc.

In Spanish, there is no single verb that works with such a wide variety of different changes. Instead, we have a small group of different verbs that we use, depending on the context. They are:

  • Hacerse
  • Llegar a ser
  • Convertirse en
  • Volverse
  • Quedar(se)
  • Ponerse

Six verbs?! That’s right. It seems like a lot at first, but our guide will help you learn how to intuitively sense which verb is correct for the situation at hand.

Expressing changes in defining characteristics

The first four verbs in the list - hacerse, llegar a ser, convertirse en and volverse - are used to express changes in defining characteristics (personality, religion, etc) that are often long lasting.

However, each of these verbs has a very specific "feeling" (la sensación) that we need to understand in order to use them properly.

Sometimes, more than one verb can be correctly used to express a change. For example, volverse rico and hacerse rico. Grammatically, they both work, but volverse rico implies that it happens naturally and effortlessly, maybe from winning the lottery, whereas hacerse rico implies that a deliberate effort is made, perhaps from working hard and making wise investments.

Take a look at this chart of la sensación of each verb:

VerbLa sensación
VolverseNatural and effortless change. Mostly involuntary.
Convertirse enRadical change triggered by an event or situation. Like "to turn into".
Llegar a serChange that denotes a milestone or achievement.
HacerseChange resulting from a voluntary effort, with some exceptions in common expressions.

With this in mind, continue reading and learn about the correct contexts to use each of them in. You won’t find a more complete explanation than this one!


Natural and effortless change. Mostly involuntary.

Used to express changes in:

Defining characteristics

  • Susana se volvió prepotente y antipática después de ganarse la lotería.
    Susana became arrogant and unfriendly after winning the lottery.
  • Me volví vegana hace muchísimo tiempo.
    I became vegan a long time ago.

Belief or ideology

  • José se volvió ateo.
    José became an atheist.
  • Con los años, ellos terminaron volviéndose liberales.
    They ended up becoming liberal over the years.

This is the most common verb used to express changes in personality, as these tend to be involuntary.

Convertirse en

Radical change triggered by an event or situation. Like "to turn into".

Grammatically speaking, we can’t use this verb right before an adjective; we need to have a noun first. For instance: convertirse en un país peligroso, convertirse en una persona pacífica, etc.

Used to express changes in:

Defining characteristics (must be used with nouns)

  • Ella se convirtió en una persona más considerada después de pasar un tiempito en Somalia.
    She became a more considerate person after spending some time in Somalia.
  • El salón de clase se convirtió en un zoológico después de que llegó el profesor suplente.
    The classroom turned into a zoo after the substitute teacher arrived.

Religion (must be used with the preposition "a")

  • Charlotte se convirtió al judaísmo para poder casarse con Harry.
    Charlotte converted to Judaism in order to marry Harry.

Note: With acquired titles or names we use this verb because it involves a change in identity.

  • Clark Kent se convertía en Superman cuando había problemas.
    Clark Kent would turn into Superman when trouble would arise.

Llegar a ser

Change that denotes a milestone or achievement.

Used to express changes in:

Defining characteristics

  • Por muchos esfuerzos, Medellín ha llegado a ser una ciudad reconocida por su historia de transformación.
    Through great effort, Medellín has become a city recognized for it's story of transformation.

Professional achievements

  • Obama llegó a ser el primer presidente negro de los E.E.U.U.
    Obama became the first black president of the United States.


Change resulting from a voluntary effort, with some exceptions in common expressions.

This verb can be used to express changes in all of the contexts the verbs above do, (i.e. hacerse fuerte - to become strong, hacerse vegetariano - to become a vegetarian, hacerse católico - to become a catholic, etc), but only when there is a voluntary effort and work. If you’re not sure about these characteristics being present, then don’t use it.

Do not use with superlatives

Another fact to be considered is that hacerse cannot be used with superlatives (the best, the most, etc). The other verbs of change in defining characteristics can instead be used. For example:

  • Jeff Bezos llegó a ser el hombre más rico del mundo.
    Jeff Bezos became the richest man in the world.

Now, let's focus on some very common change-related expressions that are unique to hacerse:

To become friends (with)

  • Ellos se hicieron muy buenos amigos inmediatamente después de conocerse.
    They became good friends right after they met.
  • Michael se hizo amigo de Ricardo cuando estaban en la universidad.
    Michael became friends with Ricardo when they were in college.

Changes in time

Here is a list of examples:

  • Se me está haciendo tarde, tengo que salir inmediatamente.
    It's getting late for me. I have to leave right now.
  • Se hicieron las 11 pm y todavía estábamos metidos en esa reunión. Fue horrible.
    It was already 11 pm and we were still in that meeting! It was awful!

Changes in age

  • Ya no soporto ver la cama sin tender... Me estoy haciendo vieja.
    I can't stand an unmade bed anymore... I'm getting old.
  • Jane Fonda se está haciendo una mujer mayor con mucha gracia y glamour.
    Jane Fonda is getting older with grace and glamour.

Which do you use for changes in profession?

You may use any of the previous verbs with professions as long as the process specifically involves the characteristics they describe and for that, context is needed.

But there are exceptions. For example, to express the natural, normal process of getting a degree, we use graduarse (to graduate). E.g.:

  • Después de muchos años de estudio, finalmente se graduó de doctor.
    After many years of studying he finally became a doctor.

Expressing changes in state

We only have two verbs left: quedar(se) and ponerse. Unlike the previous 4, the changes expressed by them typically aren't the result of a significant process such as studying for years to get a degree or lifting weights to become stronger. They tend to happen suddenly and are often involuntary.

Here’s a comparison:

VerbLa sensación
Quedar(se)*Describes the resulting state of a generally negative event. Changes could be long lasting or temporary.
PonerseDescribes reactions and physical appearance changes. Changes are generally temporary.

* When expressing change, the pronominal form of "quedar", "quedarse", is just an emphatic usage and the "se" is optional.

Now, their contexts and some examples:


States resulting from a generally negative change process.

Expresses changes in these types of state:

Mood: describing the resulting mood

  • Cuando escuchó sobre el escándalo de la compañía, María se quedó con la boca abierta.
    When Maria heard about the company's scandal, she was stunned.
  • Todos quedaron muy satisfechos con los resultados de la investigación.
    Everyone was very satisfied with the results of the investigation.

A social loss affecting economic position, marital status or family relations

  • Me quedé huérfano cuando tenía 8 años.
    I became an orphan when I was 8.
  • Después de divorciarse, José se quedó completamente solo y sin dinero.
    After the divorce, José was left all alone with no money.


  • Tres sobrevivientes del accidente de avión quedaron paralíticos y otro quedó ciego.
    Three survivors of the plane crash were paralyzed and another blinded.
  • La cantidad de hombres que se quedan calvos después de los 40 aumenta cada año.
    The number of men who go bald after 40 is increasing every year.


Emotional reactions and changes in appearance.

Expresses changes in these types of state:

Mood: describing the exact moment of change

  • Cada vez que mi mamá me compraba un juguete, me ponía muy feliz.
    Every time my mom would buy me a toy, I would get really happy.
  • Ella se puso rojita cuando él la invitó a bailar.
    She blushed when he asked her to dance.

Reversible physical changes (either voluntary or involuntary)

  • Ella se puso bonita para salir con sus amigas.
    She got all dolled up to go out with her friends.
  • El día se puso oscuro. ¿Será que va a llover?
    It got really dark out. Maybe it's going to rain.

A very common phrase with this verb that doesn’t quite fit in any of the categories above is ponerse de moda (to become fashionable).

  • ¡El reggaeton se puso de moda hace más de diez años! ¡Increíble!
    Reggaeton became fashionable more than ten years ago! Unbelievable!

Do not use with participles

Ponerse does not work naturally with participles such as confundido, sorprendido, aburrido, calmado, estresado, relajado, satisfecho, etc. The participles generally have a specific verb - confundirse, sorprenderse, aburrirse, calmarse, etc.

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