Acabar can be a challenging verb for beginners learning Spanish—at first.
However, once you’ve finished learning all about it here, it’ll be one of your favorites!
It’s so versatile, and it can be a handy tool for crafting smooth Spanish sentences.
Acabar literally means “to finish” or “to end,” but it can convey a few different meanings depending on the preposition that follows it.
This is where many language learners get stuck. They confuse the prepositions, not knowing when to use acabar de versus acabar con or acabar por.
Fortunately with some knowledge and practice, everyone can learn how to properly use this multifaceted verb.
One and Done: The Singularly Awesome Guide to Using Acabar
Before we get into all the uses of acabar, let’s take a look at some great study strategies you can use to learn and reinforce everything in this post.
5 Quick Tips for Fully Learning Acabar
1. Create Flashcards
Flashcards are always a go-to technique for learning verbs.
Try writing out different conjugated forms of acabar on one side of the card and the English translation on the back. The more you practice, the faster you’ll learn how to differentiate between the various uses of acabar.
In no time, you’ll be able to use acabar de, acabar con and acabar por like a native speaker. Don’t worry if you don’t know about all those phrases yet—keep reading and we’ll explore them all in depth.
2. Write Letters
Consider writing a letter to a friend or family member, telling a story about something you’ve done recently. This is a great way to practice the use of acabar. If you mention anything that you’ve just completed, expect to use this verb in your letter.
If nobody you know speaks Spanish well enough to be involved in your practice, find a Spanish-speaking penpal on InterPals.
3. Watch the News
If you watch the news in English, you’ve likely heard the anchor say “this just in,” when sharing breaking news.
To share recent news in Spanish, it’s likely that the anchor will need to use the verb acabar at some point. That’s why, if you want to listen to acabar being used in a natural setting, watching the news is a great choice.
4. Read a Newspaper
Just as news anchors need to use the verb acabar to share breaking news, journalists in all situations are likely to use the verb as well.
Try reading a newspaper in Spanish and highlighting every time you see the verb acabar. Not only will you learn about what’s going on in the world, but you’ll improve your Spanish grammar in the meantime.
5. Learn with FluentU
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
The 4 Main Uses of Acabar in Spanish
Acabar literally translates to “to end” or “to finish.” Plain and simple.
It’s somewhat different than the verb terminar, which also means “to end.” Acabar is most commonly used to express having just done something in the recent past. Depending on the preposition used with acabar, the meaning can change.
You don’t need perfect grammar for people to understand you, but if you want to sound like a native speaker then you’ll need to understand the different forms of acabar and when to use them appropriately.
By itself, acabar means “to end.” As a reflexive verb, acabarse means “to use up,” “to run its course” or “to die.”
When a verb is reflexive, it means that the action of the verb remains with the subject. For example, if a concert ends or your perfume runs out, the reflexive form of acabar must be used. Por ejemplo:
El concierto se acabó. (The concert ended.)
On the contrary, if you finish your homework, it isn’t your homework itself that has ended, but rather you’ve finished it, so you’d use the regular form of acabar. Por ejemplo:
Yo acabé mi tarea. (I finished my homework.)
In the reflexive form, the verb is conjugated the same, only an object pronoun is replaced before the conjugated form of the verb or after the infinitive.
Below is a conjugation chart for acabarse in the preterit form (its most common use):
Here are some examples of the use of acabarse to reflect when something is used up, has died or has run its course.
Los boletos se acabaron hace una semana. (The tickets sold out a week ago.)
Él se acabó cuatro días antes de su cumpleaños. (He died four days before his birthday.)
La película se acabó cuando la pareja se reunió. (The movie ended when the couple reunited.)
2. Acabar de + Infinitive
Acabar de + infinitive is used to describe something that just happened in the recent past.
The English equivalent of acabar de + infinitivo would be “to have just finished something.”
To use acabar effectively in this situation, the preposition de must be used. In English, the past participle of the verb is used, but in Spanish an infinitive is used instead.
The present tense of acabar de + infinitivo is used for describing something that just happened in the immediate past. These events are so recent, that they almost happened in the present tense. To speak of things that happened further in the past (the past perfect tense in English), the imperfect past tense is used in Spanish.
Conjugating Acabar de + Infinitive
Conjugating acabar de in the most recent past requires the present tense of the verb, as shown below:
Conjugating acabar de in the more distant past requires the imperfect past tense of the verb, as shown below:
Here are some examples of how it can be used in the present and imperfect past tenses.
Yo acabo de escribir. (I just finished writing.)
Ella acaba de comer. (She just finished eating.)
Tú acababas de leer. (You had just finished reading.)
Ellos acababan de jugar. (They had just finished playing.)
3. Acabar por + Infinitive
When using acabar with the preposition por, the meaning changes slightly. Acabar por + infinitivo is used to express finally doing something or ending up doing something that perhaps wasn’t initially expected.
Because it refers to something that happened in the past, the preterit tense is used.
Conjugating Acabar por + Infinitive
In the case of acabar por, the preterit tense is always used, as shown below:
Below are some examples of how to use acabar por + infinitivo in the context of ending up doing something and finally doing something:
To finally do something:
Yo acabé por llegar a mi casa. (I finally arrived at home.)
Usted acabó por bailar conmigo. (You finally danced with me.)
To end up doing something:
Nosotros acabamos por ir en tren. (We ended up taking the train.)
Ellos acabaron por comer pollo en lugar de carne. (They ended up eating chicken instead of beef.)
4. Acabar con (algo)
Acabar con algo means “to have ended,” “to have ruined” or “to have destroyed” someone or something.
While the preposition con literally translates to “with,” in this case it simply translates to “to have ended something.” This form of acabar is also used in the preterit tense. The only thing that changes in the conjugation is the preposition following the conjugated form of the verb.
Conjugating Acabar con (algo)
In the case of acabar con, the preterit tense is most often used, as shown below:
Listed here are some examples of how to use acabar con to describe having just ended, ruined or destroyed a person, place or thing:
Ese tiro acabó con el juego. (That shot ended the game.)
Tú acabaste con nuestro matrimonio. (You destroyed our marriage.)
La lluvia acabó con nuestro picnic. (The rain ruined our picnic.)
Learning the different forms of acabar can be a challenge for new learners. But, with significant study and practice, you can learn to use the verb like a native speaker.
Study the conjugations and try to use the verb as naturally as much as possible.
For example, you just finished reading this article. So, tell someone about it by saying “yo acabo de leer un artículo de FluentU sobre el uso correcto del infinitivo acabar.”
You’re already on your way!
Brittany Tackett, MA is a freelance writer, tutor, transformational life coach, world traveler and Spanish language enthusiast. Check out Brittany’s inspirational personal development blog The Buttered Muse.