Unit 15: Past perfect subjunctive, word families, relative pronouns, and passive voice

15.4 Verbs Formed from Adjectives

There are many Spanish verbs, often reflexive, the meaning of which can be deduced from an adjective (or recognizable form thereof) or, occasionally, a noun, contained within it. The adjective is usually formed by the prefix en– or em– and the suffix almost always ends in –ecer. The meaning is “to become (to get, to turn)” + adjective. A few adjectives take different prefixes or suffixes, but this should not generally be an impediment to their recognition.

Look at these verbs and try to deduce their meaning from the adjective or noun (or part thereof) contained within, highlighted in bold. Consult the vocabulary list for new adjectives. All answers are listed at the bottom of this page.

  1. emblanquecerse
  2. empobrecerse
  3. enaltecerse
  4. enfriarse
  5. ennegrecerse
  6. enloquecerse
  7. enorgullecerse
  8. enriquecerse
  9. entristecerse
  10. adelgazar
  11. amanecer
  12. anochecer
  13. atardecer
  14. engordar
  15. esclarecer
  16. oscurecer

The general rule with the above verbs is that they are used reflexively when the meaning is “to become + adjective” but when used transitively (taking a direct object), they are not. In other words, by removing the reflexive pronoun, when present, most of the above verbs change meaning, for example, emblanquecer = “to make (something) white,” (versus emblanquecerse, “to become white”), enriquecer = “to make rich,” “to enrich” (versus enriquecerse, “to become/get rich”). Note the differing translations of the verbs in the sentences that follow.

La noticia del desastre me entristeció. The news of the disaster saddened me.
Me entristecí al oír las noticias. became sad upon hearing the news.
Lucio la enloquece. Lucio drives her crazy (nuts/mad).
Tania se enloquece haciendo ese trabajo. Tania is going crazy (nuts/mad) doing that work.

Many other adjectives and nouns add an –to make their corresponding verbal form. Again, recognizing the adjective root helps you identify the meaning of the verb:

cierto certain, true
acertar (ie) to be correct, to guess right, to hit upon
grave grave, serious
agravar to aggravate, to make worse
manso tame
amansar to tame
mueble piece of furniture
amueblar to furnish
puñal dagger
apuñalar to stab, to knife


Answers to activity above:

  1. to become white
  2. to become poor
  3. to praise/ to exalt [from alto]
  4. to grow/become cold
  5. to become/turn black
  6. to go crazy
  7. to feel proud, to be proud, to pride oneself
  8. to become rich
  9. to become sad
  10. to grow thin, to lose weight
  11. to dawn, to get up early, to wake up [in a certain place]
  12. to get dark, to stay up late
  13. to draw toward evening, to get late
  14. to grow fat
  15. to lighten, to make clear, to clarify
  16. to grow dark


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