Do you believe in magic?
Gosh, that’s some cliché question, isn’t it? But do you?
I believe in magic. Isn’t it magical when you’re able to read in a foreign language as if it were your own?
Isn’t it marvelous when you can communicate with people in another country because you’re fluent in their language?
Isn’t it an “abracadabra moment” when you listen to that same song for the 500th time and you’re finally able to understand it?
Languages are magic, I tell you! I’m a magician with Spanish, using grammar to transform the meanings of vocabulary words.
Grammar nerd, #4everalone, cat feeder… but you know what? I don’t mind people laughing at me because of my love of languages. Guess who’s gonna laugh last when we travel to another country and they aren’t even able to ask for a glass of water? Exactly!
So, languages are magical. And today’s lesson is one very magical trick, because you’ll see verbs changing meanings in front of your eyes without even noticing what has happened until you have a second look.
Today, we’re going to learn about the magic of Spanish verbs and prepositions—and their power to enrich your vocabulary.
So, here we go. Here you’ll find a list of eight Spanish verbs which can work with quite a few different prepositions to produce different meanings. You’ll learn their basic meanings, just in case they aren’t clear, and then you’ll see how they magically change their meanings—sometimes a little, sometimes a lot—when they’re accompanied by one of our magical friends.
I’ve added tons of examples so you can be completely sure that you understand the differences in meaning.
I’m sure you’ll enjoy this post. Just read on and let the magic happen!
8 Spanish Verbs That Change Their Meanings When You Add Prepositions
I have done my best below to break down each word and exactly how it changes when paired with certain prepositions. But to really get a sense of how these words sounds in use, check out FluentU.
Meaning: To finish
Acabar (to finish) is a very simple verb that normally doesn’t cause trouble for Spanish learners. You use empezar (to start, to begin) when you begin an action, and then you use acabar when the action comes to an end. Simple. Nice, neat bookends.
The problem may come when the verb acabar decides to partner up with a preposition. Being the good magician that it is, you’ll most likely find prepositions with acabar on stage—and I say “prepositions,” plural, because it works with quite a lot.
Let’s have a look at a handful of them separately.
a. Acabar con
Meaning: To root out, to kill
Yes, kids, you get two new meanings with one preposition added to this verb.
Use acabar con when you want to root something out completely, and I really mean completely, as in “it will no longer exist afterwards.”
Do you want hunger to disappear from the face of the earth? Use acabar con. Do you think politicians have too much power? Use acabar con. Does your friend tell too many lies? Tell him to acabar con lies! Here you have some sample sentences to show you how this looks.
La misión de esa ONG es acabar con el hambre en el mundo. (That NGO’s mission is to root out world hunger.)
Tenemos que acabar con los políticos. (We have to root out politicians.)
¡Acaba ya con tus mentiras! (Stop with your lies already!)
You can also use acabar con with the meaning of “to kill,” both literally and metaphorically. When it comes to its literal meaning, you’ll most likely hear it in movies or the news, while metaphorically it can be found in any sentence that needs to convey irony, a touch of humor or anger. Have a look:
¡Voy a acabar contigo! (I’m going to kill you!) Situation: In a movie, one actor holds a gun and prepares to kill another actor.
¡Voy a acabar contigo! (I’m going to smash you!) Situation: Two friends play Monopoly and one is clearly winning.
¡Voy a acabar contigo! (I’m going to ruin your life!) Situation: Your business partner has just fled with all your money. You call him and cry this out loud.
b. Acabar de + infinitive
Meaning: To have just done something
When acabar de is followed by an infinitive, it means that the action of the verb has just been finished, i.e. somebody has just done something. Have a look:
Acabamos de casarnos. (We have just gotten married.)
Acabo de oír la noticia. (I have just heard the news.)
Advanced students: I’m sure you already know by now nothing is black or white in Spanish, and this is another example of that. You’ll find situations when acabar de + infinitive doesn’t strictly refer to something that has just been done, but rather something that will be done or something that had just been done before something else happened in the past.
Lost much? Have a look at some examples, then:
Cuando acabe de comer llamaré a mi hermano. (When I finish eating I will call my brother.)
Acababa de comer cuando lo llamó su hermano. (He was just finishing eating when his brother called him.)
c. Acabar de + profession
Meaning: To end up working as [profession]
Even though we have the same preposition again, this time acabar de is followed by a profession, not an infinitive.
Use acabar de + profession to describe that the subject ended up working in a profession they don’t like or didn’t expect (hence the negative connotations this expression often has).
Acabó de camarero en el peor restaurante del mundo. (He ended up working as a waiter in the worst restaurant in the world.)
He acabado de secretario del club. (I have ended up working as the secretary of the club.)
d. Acabar por + infinitive
Meaning: To end up doing something
Acabar por + infinitive is used when, after many attempts, hardships and trouble, you finally do, finish or accomplish something. However, the fact that you’ve finished it doesn’t mean the outcome was the best you could expect.
I normally associate this expression with giving up or ending up doing something because I’ve run out of options, and the action I’ve ended up doing is my last resort. Call me pessimistic!
Acabé por usar la puerta de atrás. (I ended up using the back door.)
In the above example, maybe this back door was the final solution because someone wouldn’t let me use the front door, or I couldn’t find my keys.
Acabaron por dormir en el parque. (They ended up sleeping in the park.)
In the above example, we can assume this was their final option after other plans didn’t work out, as sleeping in a park is usually not ideal—unless perhaps you’re camping in a wilderness reserve.
Meaning: To give
Our second magician of the night is the verb dar and its alter ego, the reflexive version darse.
a. Dar a
Meaning: To overlook, to open into
I personally love the verb “overlook.” I still remember the first time I heard it while learning English, and I still prefer the English version to the Spanish one.
Regardless, the Spanish way of saying this is valuable for learners to know!
If you need to say that something—for example, your window—overlooks a lake, you better start being generous, because in Spanish you’ll say that your window “gives to” a lake:
Mi ventana da al lago. (My window overlooks the lake.)
If you need to say that something—for example, a door—opens into a living room, guess what? You’ll say that the door “gives to” a living room:
Esa puerta da al salón. (That door opens into the living room.)
b. Dar con
Meaning: To find
Now this one always surprises my students. How can dar con possibly mean “to find”? If you’re feeling classy and want to use a synonym for encontrar, you’ve found what you were looking for.
Todavía no hemos dado con la solución. (We still haven’t found the solution.)
Quiero dar con un regalo para mi hermana antes de su cumpleaños. (I want to find a present for my sister before her birthday.)
c. Darse con/contra
Meaning: To hit, to bump into
This verb-preposition combo is quite the lovely fella, as you can see.
When darse does its magic with the preposition con or contra, it gets a little aggressive in its tricks and changes its original meaning (to happen, to occur) to “to hit” or “to bump into” (also used metaphorically).
Acabo de darme con la pata de la mesa. (I have just bumped into the table leg.)
Me he dado contra la pared y no sé qué hacer. (I have just hit a wall and I don’t know what to do.)
Meaning: To be
Estar may be the most popular magician around town, because it seems every magician’s assistant wants to work for him. All that means is: It works with lots of prepositions. I’ll try to keep things simple for the sake of clarity, but don’t worry, I’ll still let you have examples of each magic trick.
a. Estar a
Meaning: To cost, to be
Use estar a when you talk about variable things, like prices, temperatures, dates, distances and so on.
Los tomates están a 2 euros el kilo. (Tomatoes cost 2 euros per kilo.)
Aquí estamos a 40ºC. (It is 40ºC here.)
b. Estar con
Meaning: To suffer from, to have an illness, to agree with, to be romantically involved with
Mi padre está con la gripe. (My father has the flu.)
Estoy con los socialistas. (I agree with the socialists.)
Luisa está con Manolo. (Luisa is [romantically involved] with Manolo.)
c. Estar de
Meaning: To work as, normally when talking about temporary work
Estoy de canguro en Madrid. (I am working as a babysitter in Madrid.)
María está de cocinera este verano. (María is working as a cook this summer.)
d. Estar por + infinitive
Meaning: To be yet to + infinitive
Los platos están por fregar. (The dishes are yet to be done.)
Aunque la noticia estaba por confirmar, empezamos a celebrar la victoria. (Even though the news was yet to be confirmed, we started celebrating the victory.)
e. Estar para + infinitive
Meaning: To be about to + infinitive
This verb-preposition combo is primarily used in Spain.
Estoy para irme. ¿Quieres venir? (I’m about to go. Do you want to come with me?)
Estamos para aterrizar. (We are about to land.)
f. Estar por + infinitive
Meaning: To be about to + infinitive
Yes, same meaning as the last combo! This is the version that’s most commonly used in Latin America.
Estoy por irme. (I’m about to leave.)
Estamos por aterrizar. (We are about to land.)
g. (No) estar para + noun/infinitive
Meaning: To [not] feel like doing something
Hoy no estoy para celebraciones. (I don’t feel like celebrating today.)
Estoy para llorar. (I feel like crying.)
Meaning: To do
Our next performer is the verb hacer, which likes to make an appearance with its alter ego, hacerse—the reflexive form of the verb.
a. Hacer de
Meaning: To serve as, to play the role of
No, I haven’t gone crazy. Hacer de has two very different meanings, so different that it’s even weird for me, a native Spanish speaker! But that’s the way it is.
Unfortunately, you’ll often see hacer de when talking about bad situations, catastrophes and disasters, but it’s still worth knowing:
La escuela hizo de refugio tras la tormenta. (The school served as shelter after the storm.)
Mi hermano hace de Romeo en el Teatro Real. (My brother plays the role of Romeo in the Royal Theater.)
b. Hacerse a
Meaning: To get used to
A very easy one, really. Here you have some examples:
Tengo que hacerme a la nueva situación. (I have to get used to the new situation.)
Tuvimos que hacernos al mal olor. (We had to get used to the bad smell.)
Tendrás que hacerte a la idea. (You’ll have to get used to the idea.)
c. Hacerse con
Meaning: To get hold of, to win
Me gustaría hacerme con el premio. (I would like to get hold of/win the prize.)
Tendremos que hacernos con una copia. (We will need to get hold of a copy.)
Meaning: To put inside, to place
If you know the verb meter already, you may know it means “to put inside” or “to place.”
However, it’s possible you don’t know its ghostly brother, meterse. Meterse is one of those magicians that likes to keep the mystery in its life, and even its beloved public doesn’t know its real name (in other words, it doesn’t have a specific meaning by itself).
In order for meterse to stop being so mysterious, its lovely assistants need to take the stage. When prepositions are added to this verb, that’s when the magic starts happening.
a. Meterse a + infinitive/noun
Meaning: To start doing something, to have a go at something, to become
Meterse a means the same thing as comenzar a, empezar a and even echarse a, and it can be followed by an infinitive or a noun. If you want to say someone will start, has started, starts or started doing something (especially just to have a go at it), use an infinitive in Spanish.
Juan se metió a escribir novelas de ciencia ficción. (Juan started writing/had a go at writing sci-fi novels.)
However, much of the time you’ll see meterse a followed by a noun.
The meaning is practically the same, because there’s a person who starts doing something—but this time you don’t mention the action they’re performing. Instead, you name the position/profession/activity they’ve chosen, and this time, at least theoretically, they plan to keep on doing that for a while. Have a look:
Juan se metió a escritor. (Juan became a writer.)
b. Meterse con
Meaning: To pick on somebody, to tease somebody
¡Deja de meterte conmigo! (Stop picking on me!)
Se metió con quien no debía. (He teased the wrong person.)
c. Meterse de
Meaning: To find a job as
It seems we’re a little obsessed with working—and then they say we Spanish-speakers only like to party! Go figure.
Use meterse de when you want to say a person has finally found a job, normally a temporary one and after a long time fruitlessly looking for another one.
Al final se metió de camarero en McDonald’s. (At the end he found a job as a waiter in McDonald’s.)
Pepe quiere meterse de cantante. ¡Está loco! (Pepe wants to find a job as a singer. He’s crazy!)
Meaning: To pass, to happen
Pasar is a very versatile verb. It isn’t only a magician, but also a bad cook (arroz pasado means overcooked rice) and an investigator (¿qué ha pasado? – what has happened?). It has many other day jobs, but that isn’t important now.
Here are three ways you can use pasar with different prepositions.
a. Pasar a + infinitive
Meaning: To start doing something new
Ahora vamos a pasar a estudiar los infinitivos. (We will now start studying infinitives.)
This gives the impression that they haven’t been studying this all along. For example, maybe they were studying gerunds before.
Pasó a calentar sopa como si nada hubiera ocurrido. (He started heating up some soup as if nothing had happened.)
The above example implies that something—possibly something serious, dramatic or otherwise distracting—just happened.
b. Pasar de
Meaning: To not to care, not to give a damn
Very self-explanatory, very informal, very necessary sometimes. Examples, please!
Paso de todo. (I don’t care about anything.)
¡Pasa de lo que te diga ese desconocido! (Don’t care about what that stranger tells you!)
c. Pasar por
Meaning: To walk near or through, to go through
Pasar por is a verb that we speakers of Spanish use both literally and metaphorically.
English speakers have two different verbs, one for the literal action (to walk through) and one for the metaphorical one (to go through). So, you’ll need to remember that when having a conversation in Spanish we’ll say both pasamos por un parque (we went through a park) and pasamos por un mal momento (we went through a bad time).
Pasaba por el parque cuando lo vi. (I was walking through the park when I saw him.)
Están pasando por un momento difícil en sus vidas. (They’re going through a difficult moment in their lives.)
Meaning: To arrange to meet, to remain, to be left
Oh, the joys of the Spanish language! Quedar is another multifaceted magician and its other personality, quedarse, is quite a hard worker, too.
Here are four different pairings of these verbs with prepositions.
a. Quedar con
Meaning: To arrange to meet with
Normally with a person, but who knows. Spanish magicians are known for their eccentricities anyway!
He quedado con Ana. (I have arranged to meet/I have a date/I have an appointment with Ana.)
¿Con quién has quedado esta noche? (Who are you meeting tonight?)
b. Quedar en + place/infinitive
Meaning: To meet in, to agree to
Pay attention when using the verb quedar followed by the preposition en. Depending on whether you add a place name or an infinitive, it can either mean “to meet in a place” or “to agree to do something with somebody.”
Now that’s a trick!
He quedado en Starbucks con Ana. (I am meeting Ana in Starbucks.)
Hemos quedado en casarnos en Las Vegas. (We have agreed to get married in Las Vegas.)
c. Quedarse con
Meaning: To keep
Whether you keep that giant house because you’ve inherited it or because you’ve filed for divorce is none of my business. The point is that you’re keeping the house for yourself. Period.
Elena se ha quedado con la casa de su ex. (Elena is keeping her ex’s house.)
Me he quedado con el reloj de mi abuelo. (I am keeping my grandpa’s watch.)
d. Quedarse en
Meaning: To remain in a place
Use quedarse en when you want a person to remain/stay in a place. For example, if you want your best friend to stay over, just ask her to quedarse en tu casa a dormir.
¡Quédate en tu sitio! (Don’t move!/Stay in your place!)
¿Quieres quedarte en este parque hasta que vuelva María? (Do you want to remain/stay in this park until María comes back?)
Meaning: To throw, to waste
Tirar is our last magician, and it isn’t too different from the rest.
a. Tirar con
Meaning: To get by with
This informal expression is used when we don’t have a lot of resources and we have to make ends meet. It’s very often used in the south of Spain, in case you wanted to know.
Tengo que tirar con 50 euros hasta fin de mes. (I have to get by with 50 euros until the end of the month.)
María va tirando con la comida que le da la gente. (María is getting by with the food people give her.)
b. Tirar de
Example: To pull
Paradoxical, isn’t it? If you just say tirar, you’re throwing something. If you tiras de algo, then you’re pulling. Boom!
Debes tirar de la cuerda para ganar. (You need to pull the rope to win.)
Tire de la puerta para abrirla. (Pull the door open.)
c. Tirar hacia
Example: To go
Use tirar hacia in informal situations instead of ir a. You’ll also hear this expression when people are giving directions, but I wouldn’t use it to talk to people I don’t know.
Debes tirar hacia la derecha. (You need to turn right.)
Tira hacia adelante y vuelve aquí. (Go ahead and turn back here.)
I hope you’ve enjoyed our magic special, and that you’ll come back for more.
You may not believe in magic yet, and that’s okay, but you can’t deny the importance of learning these Spanish verbs and their different meanings.
The road to fluency may be tricky, but this list has gotten you one step closer to being able to magically transform Spanish verbs in an instant.
Francisco J. Vare loves teaching and writing about grammar. He’s a proud language nerd, and you’ll normally find him learning languages, teaching students or reading. He’s been writing for FluentU for many years and is one of their staff writers.
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