“To become” + “to realize”


Understand and use the various ways to say “to become” and “to realize” in Spanish

Note: This section’s grammar involves some verbs that are not only reflexive, but also frequently (not exclusively) used with the preterit past tense.

“To become” en español

There are three verbs in Spanish that are used reflexively and imply transformations or changes; these verbs are not interchangeable!  Note the situations described below for each verb:

  1. Play AudioPonerse (sudden, physical or emotional change, effortless, almost always a person)

    • Play AudioSe pone rojo cuando le preguntan su edad. (She blushes when they ask her age.)
    • Play AudioSe puso enfermo después de trasnochar demasiado. (He got sick after staying up all night too often.)
  2. Play AudioVolverse (sudden and extreme transformation, emotional/physical/situational, involuntary change; doesn’t have to be a person)

    • Play AudioMi perro se vuelve loco con el olor a comida. (My dog goes crazy with the smell of food.)
    • Play AudioLa madre se volvió un ogro cuando trataron de hacerle daño a sus hijos. (The mother turned into an ogress when they tried to harm her children.)
    • Play AudioLa situación se volvió peligrosa cuando empezó a nevar y la temperatura bajó rápidamente. (The situation got dangerous when it started to snow and the temperature dropped quickly.)
  3. Play AudioHacerse/ Play AudioPasar a ser/ Play AudioLlegar a ser (long term, requires an effort; these are usually used in the past when the action is completed)

    • Play AudioSe hizo abogada después de mucho trabajo.  (She became a lawyer after working hard.)
    • Play AudioLlegó a ser muy famoso en su tiempo.  (He became very famous in his time.)
    • Play AudioPasó a ser el heredero de toda la fortuna. (He became the heir to the whole fortune.)

Play AudioDarse cuenta de

This is often translated into English as “to realize”, meaning “to find out” or “to know for the first time”. When followed by a noun or an infinitive use “darse cuenta de”. When followed by a conjugated verb, standard Spanish uses “darse cuenta que”, but it’s possible to say “darse cuenta de que”.

  • Play AudioLas personas que escuchan música con audífonos en el metro no se dan cuenta de lo fuerte que es el sonido. (The people who listen to music on headphones on the subway don’t realize how loud the sound is.)
  • Play AudioDejé mi pasaporte en el hotel y solo me di cuenta del error cuando llegué al aeropuerto. (I left my passport in the hotel and only realized my error when I got to the airport.)

¡OJO! There is a related false cognate that English speakers will need to be careful of—“realizar” actually means “to make real” or “to achieve”.


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