I am a native English speaker, and I have been learning Portuguese for just over 1 year.

However, I am confused as regards the difference between the verbs 'Tornar-se' and 'Ficar', when trying to convey the English verb; "become". For example:

Ele ficou contente depois de ouvir as boas notícias = He became pleased after hearing the good news.


Ele tornou-se um médico de classe mundial = He became a world-class doctor.

When should I use 'tornar-se', and when should I use 'ficar'?

What is more, are the other forms of saying 'become' (such as 'pôr-se' & 'fazer-se') used?

Thanks much for your help & insights in advance :)


I am a native Portuguese speaker, and this is the very first time I've ever thought of the difference between tornar-se and ficar. I think I got it. (Ok, eight months afte I wrote this answer I can say that it is broadly consistent with the massive Gramática do Português, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 2013, pp. 1315-8; I’ll just add a little quote further down.)

You use tornar-se if you become a different person; you use ficar to say that you are now in a different, usually temporary, state, but are still the same person as before. Also, tornar-se suggests a slow change, whereas ficar suggests a more sudden change. This article in Veja has more.

(a) Ele tornou-se um médico de classe mundial. If you become a world-class doctor you are in a way a different person from what you were before.

(b) Ele ficou contente depois de ouvir as boas notícias. He got happy. So he is now in a different state, but you would not expect his nature to have changed in a fundamental way.

(c) Ele tornou-se um homem irritável. He aquired an irritable disposition, and now gets angry easily.

(d) Ele ficou irritado com o teu comportamento. He got angry, but did not become an angry man.

(e) Ele tornou-se (um homem) sujo. He became a dirty man (a man who's usually dirty).

(f) Ele ficou sujo. He got dirty.

There is a relationship between tornar-se and ficar and ser and estar. If ele tornou-se something, now ele é ou foi something. If ele ficou something then ele está ou esteve something. So:

(a') Ele tornou-se um médico de classe mundial. E era convidado para conferências por ser um médico de classe mundial.

(b´) Ele ficou contente depois de ouvir as boas notícias. Depois a namorada chegou perguntou-lhe "por que razão estás tão contente?"

(c') Ele tornou-se um homem irritável. E as pessoas evitava-no porque ele era um homem irritável

(d´) Ele ficou irritado. Então a namorada disse "ele está muito irritado, ainda faz algum disparate."

(e') Ele tornou-se um homem sujo. Agora ele é um homem sujo

(f') Ele ficou sujo. A mãe quando o viu disse "estás tão sujo, vai já lavar-te e mudar de roupa."

So, typically tornar-se leads to ser, and ficar leads to estar. But ser and estar don't make any reference to the becoming. The Gramática do Português (Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 2013, pp. 1317-8) makes the same point with an example that mirrors my (e) and (f), ele tornou-se sujo/ficou sujo (my boldface):

Note-se também que em a Maria tornou-se triste, o adjetivo é reinterpretado como denotando um estado estável; ou seja, infere-se que, depois da mudança, a Maria é uma pessoa triste; não que está triste (esta última inferência obtém-se de a Maria ficou triste).

[My translation:] Note too that in a Maria tornou-se triste, the adjective is reinterpreted as denoting a stable state; that is, one infers that after the change Maria is a sad person; not that she is in a sad mood (we would make this last inference from a Maria ficou triste).

In some cases both tornar-se and ficar feel natural:

Ele tornou-se/ficou famoso com a publicação do seu último livro. I suppose we're not quite sure whether being famous is an inherent or accidental feature of his.

You can use ficar in place of tornar-se if you're talking of change in degree rather than nature:

Ele tornou-se/ficou ainda mais irritável depois do divórcio.

Fazer-se suggests a slow development, and can often replace, sometimes advantageously, tornar-se: ela fez-se uma excelente profissional.

Pôr-se can replace ficar in some idiomatic expressions where the change is under one's control: põe-te/fica quieto (be still), vê se te pões/ficas bom depressa (make sure you get well soo, said as encouragement to someone who's sick).

Now, I'm pretty sure someone will find exceptions to what I've written. Also, I'm from Portugal, and some of my examples may sound more or less natural to Brazilian ears. But I hope this helps.

  • 1
    Focus on transformation/state was my first thought, but as I surveyed more and more examples I concluded that, while that is generally true, it is changes in essence (ser) versus changes in accidental features (estar) that matters. Even if you want to focus on state you won't say ele ficou um grande homem/médico/excelente profissional. Or even if you want to focus on a non-essencial transformation you wouldn't say ao longo de um duro dia de trabalho ele tornou-se cansado/faminto/sujo, you'd say foi ficando instead. – Jacinto Sep 23 '15 at 13:42
  • 1
    If you say ele tornou-se sujo you mean he became a person who doesn´t look after himself and is usually dirty, not that he got dirty for a while while working and before washing. It does focus more on his becoming so than ele é sujo, but the crucial difference relative to ele ficou sujo is that in the latter you expect him to wash and get clean again. – Jacinto Sep 23 '15 at 13:52
  • 2
    I also think you're confusing the transformation with process of the transformation. Indeed, "tornar-se" doesn't need to have a progressive aspect to it unless you add mais e mais, sucessivamente, and so on. – Artefacto Sep 23 '15 at 14:25
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    @MrChasi I now have the massive Gramática do Português. I think you'l be pleased to know that its two and a half pages on this issue back up my answer. – Jacinto Jun 8 '16 at 16:25
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    @MrChasi I think it exists in paper form only. 2,400 pages in two volumes, and a third volume to come at some point. I added a quote in my answer, backing up the point that has proved more controversial. – Jacinto Jun 8 '16 at 16:33

The main difference is that tornar-se has more focus on the transformation (but not necessarily with some progressive aspect), whereas ficar focuses on the final state. Remember that tornar can also be used in a similar way to "to turn" in sentences such as "ele tornou esta empresa numa das mais sucedidas no ramo".

As you may imagine, this still leaves quite a margin for overlap.

I assume you're referring to become in the OED sense 5. Let's look at the definition and the examples:

  1. To come to be (something or in some state).

✝ a. with to, into. Obs. [...]

b. with subst. or adj. complement.

  • [...] (too old for me to understand)
  • c 1350 Wilt. Palern. 881 881 He cast al his colour and bicom pale.
  • 1398 TREVISA Barth. De P. R. v. lxii. (1495) 178 Goddis sone bycame man and dwellyd among us.
  • 1483 CAXTON Gold. Leg. I35/4 So wyse a man is such a fole becomen.
  • 1549 Compl. Scot. 2 The universal pepil ar be cum distitute of Justice.
  • 1611 BIBLE Gen. xix. 26 His wife looked backe .. she became a pillar of salt.
  • 1625 BACON Ess. (Arb) 479 Their Boughs were becommen too great.
  • 1717 LADY M. W. Montague Lett. II. xlvi. 30 The asmack, or Turkish veil, is become .. agreeable to me.
  • 1774 CHESTERF. Lett. I. ii Unfortunately for her, she became in love with him.
  • 1810 HENRY Elem. Chem. (1840) II. 699 When .. more largely diluted with water, it becomes hot.
  • 1848 MACAULAY Hist. Eng. 1. 4 When first they became known to the Tyrian mariners.
  • 1876 GREEN Short Hist. vi. §4. 298 Florence .. became the home of an intellectual Revival.

Note that these are historical citations and some of these sentences use the auxiliary "to be" instead of "to have".

I think the distinction between something and state that the dictionary does can help us. With becoming something, torna-se will usually be the right word; and for _becoming some state, ficar.

So in Portuguese:

  • Ele perdeu toda a sua cor e ficou pálido. ("tornou-se pálido" would mean "tornou-se uma pessoa pálida", so a more permanent change)
  • Pouco depois, Goddis tornou-se homem e viveu entre nós.
  • Um homem tão sábio tornou-se tão tolo.
  • O (?) universal ficou destituído de justiça.
  • A sua mulher olhou para trás .. tornou-se uma estátua de sal. (or "numa estátua de sal")
  • Os seus ramos (?) tinham-se tornado grandes demais. ("tinham ficado" is also possible, but I see here a gradual process where the boughs get bigger and bigger)
  • O véu turco tornou-se .. aceitável/adequado para mim. (the original has the present participle, which suggests it was a process. Actually you could never use "ficar" here. At some point something is acceptable or it isn't -- so you would use "ser"; it can become acceptable through time though, and then you would use "tornar-se").
  • Infelizmente para ela, ficou apaixonada por ele.
  • Quando mais diluído em água, fica quente. (or "torna-se", if we want to focus on the process)
  • Quando os marinheiros de Tiro ficaram pela primeira vez familiarizados com eles.
  • Florença ... tornou-se o lar de uma renascença intelectual.
  • When first they became known to the Tyrian mariners. significa "quando os marinheiros de Tiro os conheceram (...)", e não "quando eles conheceram (...) os de Tiro". – ANeves Sep 23 '15 at 16:08
  • @ANeves Obrigado pela correção. Tive foi de dar a volta à frase para conseguir usar "ficar". – Artefacto Sep 23 '15 at 16:11
  • I do agree that tornar-se focus more on the transformation, and ficar on the ensuing state, as you can tell from my 2nd paragraph. But that may not help much a foreign speaker to choose which verb to use. Now consider these:_ao longo dum duro dia de trabalho ele (a) tornou-se um enxertador competente (plant grafter). Depois ele (b) ficou um enxertador competente._ Now this ao longo dum duro dia de trabalho ele (c) tornou-se cansado. Depois ele (d) ficou cansado. (a) funciona, (c), com a mesma estrutura, não funciona. (b) não funciona, (d), com a mesma estrutura, funciona. – Jacinto Sep 23 '15 at 20:33
  • @Jacinto It's true, but I think the explanation is more along the line of come to be something / in a state, as I mentioned in the second part and Centaurus put more perhaps clearly in his answer. So a more formal reason for the prefernce. Though I'm not happy with that as the whole explanation, since it's pretty easy to find examples where you can use either with an adjective or a noun, and I would classify the difference then as transformation vs state. Maybe we're missing a simpler polysemic explanation. – Artefacto Sep 24 '15 at 8:00
  • That's funny: your come to be something / in a state translates as vir a ser alguma coisa / vir a estar num estado. You're getting quite close to my own explanation. – Jacinto Sep 24 '15 at 17:59

Em poucas palavras e de uma forma simples, para aquele que está aprendendo português como segunda língua. (válido para ptBR)

Em geral, tu te tornas "um substantivo" e tu ficas "um adjetivo"

  • tornou-se o dono da fábrica, um médico, o prefeito da cidade. uma celebridade, um mentiroso, um escravo de suas obsessões, um indivíduo egoísta, um mau exemplo para seus filhos. (Eu não poderia usar "ficou" nos exemplos acima)

  • ficou infeliz, triste, cansado, magoada, ferida, pasma, assustado, indignado, supreso, feliz, etc. (Não caberia o uso de "tornou-se" aqui)

Já "ficou" seguido da preposição "com", pede um substantivo

  • ficou com... frio, calor, raiva, fome, vontade, desejo, inveja.

E existem as expressões idiomáticas:

  • "ficou uma fera",
  • "ficou a ver navios",
  • "ficou p... da vida",
  • "ficou com a pulga atrás da orelha",
  • ficou chupando o dedo,
  • ficou boiando (gíria),
  • ficou na mesma,
  • ficou na mão,
  • ficou fora de si, etc.
  • Interessante o teu ponto de vista +1 – Jorge B. Sep 24 '15 at 16:37

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