26. ficar (to remain / to stay), estar (to be), tornar-se (to become / to get), ser (to be)

The main copulative verbs in portguese are ficar, estar, tornar-se, ser. Copulative verbs assign the property of a pronominal noun, an adjective or a noun, to the subject of the sentence. However the way this property is assigned to the subject is different depending on the copulative verb used.

He was ill. => description of a status.
He remained ill. => There was an event, for instance a long rest, but the status didn't change.
He became ill. => There was an event, that triggered a change of the status.

The system of the copulative verbs of one language doesn't necessarily comply with the system of the copulative verbs in other languages. Sometimes one language makes distinctions that the other language doesn't make and vice versa. In English for instance the same copulative verb, to be, is used, to describe an inherent property, "He is tall", and a transitional state, "He is drunken". Let's have a closer look on the following sentences.

1) The tomatoes are red.
2) The tomatoes are still green.
3) The tomatoes remain green.
3) The tomatoes become red.


1) Is a description of a property. Tomatoes, at least the ones we can buy in the supermarket, are red.
2) In this case one would use another verb in Portuguese, estar, and no adverb would be needed. Estar describes a transitional state. Tomatoes are not green, they are red, but for a certain time they are green.
3) This sentence would be used by someone who expected that the tomatoes change the color and didn't do that. Remain implicitly suggests that a change was expected, desired, supposed etc. The translation would be with ficar.
4) This describes a change. The tomatoes are not red right now, but they are going to change their state. The translation would be with ficar as well.

The diffrence between ser (to be), estar (to be), tornar-se (to become / to get) are easy to see. The problem is ficar. Those who speak Spanish might be induced to believe that it corresponds to the Spanish quedar. Very often that is true, but ficar is used in a broader range of contexts. As well as quedar in Spanish it is used in the sense of to be located. If the sentence can be formed with to be located then estar can be used as well. This is an exception to the general rule. In this case estar is used to describe a definitive state.

Ficar competes with estar when estar has the meaning of to be located.

to be located: ficar as well as estar possible
O Museu de Arte Moderno fica em Nova Iorque.
O Museu de Arte Moderno esta em Nova Iorque.
The museum of Modern Art is in New York.
The museum of Modern Art is located in New York.


However it is useful to see the difference. Ficar can be used in two very different situations. In opposite to estar ficar can describe as well a reason why a state doesn't change.

1) no chage, both are possible
O carro esta na rua.
O carro fica na rua.
The car is in the street.
The car is located in the street.
2) result of a process, only ficar is possible:
O carro ficou na rua.
The car remained in the street.


1) is just a description of a state. The fact that the car is parked in the street is not described as the result of a process and no process that could have triggered a change in the state is supposed. In other words: It doesn't matter how the car gets there and why he is still there.

2) is different. The sentence can be interpreted in two different ways. Possibly something happened and the owner was obliged to park his car in the street. If he had for instance forgotten the keys of his parking slot he has to park his car on the street. Another possible interpretation could be that something happened that could have triggered a change of the state, but that didn't happen. If for instance for security reasons the police tows away all the cars and only this one remained there, there is an event that could have triggered a change in the state. Ficar can mean to remain as well as to be. Another example:

The state is the consequence of something
Como a casa dele não tem garagem, o carro fica na rua.
Since his house doesn't have a garage, the car remains at the street.
Não há estacionamento fechado, o carro fica na rua mesmo.
There is no secure parking, the cars simply remain in the streets.


Ficar is used as well when the main assertion is the remaining in a certain state. A possible translation can be as well to keep staying.

Remaining in a certain state
Enquanto os companheiros fogem, ele fica onde está.
While his comrades fled, he kept staying.

In this sense ficar corresponds to the Spanish quedar, with one big difference: Quedar can be used in the sense of to be located, in this context it is an alternative to estar, but quedar can never be used if a change is not supposed.

quedar / estar in
1) Mi carro quedó aparcado en la calle.
My car remained parked on the street.
2) Mi carro estaba aparcado en la calle.
My car was parked on the street.


Sentence 1) implicitly suggests that there was an event that could have removed the car. Sentence 2) is just a description, it suggests nothin. A substitution of quedar by estar is therefore, as in Portuguese with estar and ficar, only possible, if we can deduce from the context that not the result of a process is described, but a state.

In case of the change of a mood the difference between change and state is very subtle and this author would say that in English as well we only use to get / to become if the change of the mood is the main assertion.

a) to get / to become when the increase of intensity is important
a) When I asked him what he did yesterday he got nervous.
b) not: When I asked him what he did yesterday he was nervous.
a) He got angry when he learned it.
b) not: He was angry, when he learned it.


b) would suggest that he was nervous and angry the whole time. The main assertion, that something triggered his change of mood, would get lost.

The change of mood is described in Portuguese in general with ficar. Therefore if we can deduce from the context that an event has triggered a change of the mood there is a preference for ficar, although estar is possible as well.

1) Estou feliz com a notícia.
2) Fico feliz com a notícia.
I am pleased by this news.


It is possible that 2) stresses more than 1) the fact that the news triggered a change in his mood, but in this example this is not very obvious. However in other cases the difference is more obvious.

1) Ele não veio trabalhar porque estava doente.
He didn't came to work because he was ill.
2) Ele não veio trabalhar porque ficou doente.
He didn't came to work because he got ill.


2) underlines the fact that an event triggered the change. Obviously he got ill, we suppose that he wa not born ill, in both cases, but in 2) it happened in an unforeseen way. Everybody expected him to come but an event triggered a change in his behaviour.

A still more obvious difference we have in this sentence.

1) Nós estamos em casa.
We are at home.
2) Nós ficamos em casa.
We remain at home.


2) describes implicitly a decision or at least a situation where an alternative is possible. (They tried to change the world while we remained at home.) If someone is asked where he is, he can answer "I am at home". If someone is asked what he is going to do, he is asked for his plans, for the decisions he is going to make and in this case he will answer "I remain at home".

If one looks in a dictionary for the verbs to get and to become both are translated with ficar and tornar-se. This is actually correct given that in English there is no difference between an spontaneous, reversible change and a long-lasting process that led to a certain state. However in the translation in Portuguese a distinction is to be made. Portuguese distinguishes clearly between a spontaneous, unwanted and reversible change and a long-lasting process. Tornar-se is mostly used in a context where a certain result is obtained by an effort.

1) He becomes a physician.
2) He gets nervous.



In 1) we have state that is voluntarily in a long-lasting effort obtained and that is not reversibel. The translation in Portuguese is tornar-se. In 2) we have a espantoneous change that is reversibel. The translation in Portuguese is with ficar.

Tornar-se focuses on the process and not on the result of the process. Ficar focuses more on the result of the process. There are a lot of people who say that there is no difference between to become and to get in English and in many contexts there is actually no difference. However the author of these lines would say that a long-lasting irreversible process is in general described with to become in English.

the state is the result of a long-lasting process
Nesse período tornou-se um bêbado costumaz e acabou preso.
In this time he became an alcoholic and ended up in prison.
Esta situação tornou-se mais complicada do que pensávamos.
The situation became more and more complicated.
The situation got more and more complicated.
Tornou-se a cantora mais popular do país.
She became the most famous singer of the country.
Michel Temer, aos 75 anos, tornou-se o presidente mais idoso a assumir o cargo.
With 75 years Michel Temer is the oldest president ever elected for this office.

We see more clearly that tornar-se focuses on the process if we confront it directly with ser. The difference is very obious für Portuguese nativ speakers.

Ser e tornar-se professor.
Beeing a teacher and becoming one.
Quando a Russia deixa de ser monarquia para tornar-se uma republica?
When Russian stops to be a monarchy and become a republic.


It is obvious that to be, to become and to get describe a change if they are use in the future form. However there is a difference. 1) describes a state in the future and not what will trigger this change. 2) Describes a decision, in this case that he will keep staying with her. 3) Describes a long-lasting process. Ficar eventually can be substituted by estar, but in case 2) and 3) there are no other options and ser, ficar and tornar-se are not interchangeable.

1) Eu serei o último.
I will be the last. .
2) Eu ficarei aqui com você.
I will keep staying with you.
3) Eu me tornarei uma celebridade.
I will become famous.


Schematically the use can of these four copulative verb can be described as shown in the following table.

estar
- The state is not the result of a process. (In other words, it is irrelevant how we got to this state. Similar in English: He was ill / Birmingham is in the United Kingdom. We don't care why he got ill and we don't care why Birmingham was built at the place where it is.)
- If we put aside the case where to be could be translated as well with to be located (Lisbon is in Portugal <=> Lisbon is located in Portugal) estar describes a transitional, reversible state. Inherent properties are described with ser. ( Os morangos estão ainda verdes (The strawberries are still green) <=> Os morangos são vermelhos (Strawberries are red.))
ficar
- Can be used as estar if a translation with to be located is possible. (A cidade fica em um vale. <=> The town is located / is in a valley.)
- If ficar is used to express that a state is the result of something, we translate with remain in English.
- Describes a espontaneous, not voluntarily triggered, reversible change. ( Ficamos de boca aberta <=> We stayed speechless. [We stayed with open mouth.])
tornar-se
- In opposite to ficar the verb tornar-se describes a long-lasting process that is not reversible. In the case of ficar it is sometimes not very cleare whether it describes the process itself or the result of a process. However tornar-se always describes a process. (Ele ficou muito bêbado naquela noite (He got completely drunken this night. ) <=> Fui criado por bêbados, por isso tornou-se um bêbado (He grew up in a family of alcoholics thats why he became an alcoholic himself). In general the predicative noun, alcoholic in this example, is a noun.
ser
- As estar it describes a state, but in opposite to estar it describes an inherent property and therefore, it van never describe a change, because an inherent property never changes. The distinction between inherent property and transitional state is not made in English, in both case it is to be.




contact privacy statement imprint