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The pseudo-copular use of the Spanish verbs hacerse and volverse: two types of change

Nicole Delbecque & Lise Van Gorp


Les distinctions proposées dans les études existantes pour décrire la relation pseudo-copulative de changement exprimée par hacerse (‘faire-refl’) et volverse (‘tourner-refl’), à savoir, [± intentionnalité], [± gradualité], [± positivité], s’avèrent être insuffisantes et inadéquates. En dehors de la construction pseudo-copulative, hacer renvoieessentiellement à des notions telles que ‘réaliser, produire’, et volver à des notions telles que ‘tourner, retourner’. Les composantes centrales de leur signification qui persistent dans la projection métaphorique de la forme réflexive dans l’expression d’un changement d’état sont, respectivement, celle d’ ‘(auto)génération’ et d’ ‘(auto)détournement’. Les interprétations possibles en termes de progression ou promotion, d’une part, et de déclin ou de régression, d’autre part, sont analysées ici comme des effets de prototypicité. De plus, il est possible, notamment dans le cas de hacerse, de distinguer plusieurs degrés de subjectivisation. L’analyse est basée sur un corpus espagnol de prose de fiction contemporaine.

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1 Introduction1

  • 1 This study is part of the research project G.0308.10 funded by the FWO (Flemish Science Foundation) (...)
  • 2 Two other classes of pseudo-copular verbs are usually distinguished, viz. those expressing permanen (...)

1In Spanish there are three common ways to express a change of state: (i) a periphrastic construction consisting of a motion verb followed by an infinitive, e.g., llegar a ser (literally ‘arrive to be’) or venir a ser (literally ‘come to be’), (ii) an intransitive verb, generally derived from an adjective, e.g. engordar (‘get fat’, from gordo ‘fat’), enrojecer (‘blush’ from rojo ‘red’), or (iii) a ‘verb of change’ (verbo de cambio, Morimoto & Pavón 2007: 23, RAE-ASALE 2009: §38, p. 2855) construed with a predicate complement, i.e. used as pseudo-copula.2 In present-day Spanish, the latter construction with a pseudo-copula (sometimes also called semi-copula) is more common than the two others (Porroche Ballesteros 1988: 128). In all, a dozen verbs of change can be used in the pseudo-copular construction expressing change. The most frequent verbs used in this construction are hacerse (literally ‘make-refl’), volverse (literally ‘return-refl’), ponerse (literally ‘put-refl’), and quedar(se) (literally ‘stay(-refl)’).

  • 3 On ponerse ‘put-refl’ and quedarse ‘stay-refl’, see Lise Van Gorp (this volume).
  • 4 The larger objective of our approach is to apply the same kind of analysis to the other verbs which (...)

2 Our starting point is that these pseudo-copular verbs (henceforth PCVs) cannot be synonymous. Adopting the Cognitive Grammar approach, we assume that a difference in form entails a difference in meaning, and postulate that part of the verbs’ source semantics can be traced in their grammaticalized use as PCV. In other words, we argue that each PCV yields its own conceptualization of the change event. The present paper focuses on hacerse ‘make-refl’ and volverse ‘return- refl’.3 The aim is to understand what motivates their use and to explain the conceptual differences between these two verbs.4

3The outline of this paper is as follows. We first briefly review the existing studies (Section 2). We then elaborate on the hypothesis that the conceptual images associated with hacerse and volverse are arrived at via the metaphorization of their basic meaning, viz. ‘realization’ and ‘regression’ (Section 3). The descriptive adequacy and explanatory value of the characterization of the pseudo-copular relation in terms of ‘progression’ vs. ‘regression’ is further illustrated by means of representative examples (Section 4). The subjects and predicate complements that are alternately construed with the two pseudo-copulas are shown to accommodate to the conceptual image of the selected pseudo-copula (Section 5). Finally, we will recapitulate our findings (Section 6).

2. Previous studies: hacerse vs. volverse

4Previous publications tackle the notion of change in rather global, preliminary and explorative terms (Crespo 1949, Coste & Redondo 1965, Fente 1970, Lorenzo 1970, Eberenz 1985, Pountain 1984, Alba de Diego & Lunell 1988, Porroche Ballesteros 1988, Eddington 1999, Escandell Vidal et al. 2011). In these studies, three criteria are invoked for distinguishing between hacerse and volverse:

a) [+voluntary] / [-voluntary]. While hacerse highlights an active and intentional participation, volverse suggests a passive, unintentional participation.

b) [+gradual] / [-gradual]. Hacerse denotes a gradual change (of overcoming) (poco a poco ‘bit by bit’, cada vez más ‘more and more’), volverse evokes a sudden, abrupt or brutal change (de repente ‘suddenly’, de pronto ‘at once’).

c) [+positive] / [±positive]. While hacerse usually appears in contexts of progression, promotion, or development, yielding positive appraisal, volverse also appears in contexts of regression and failure, yielding negative appraisal.

5Next to the typical examples found in the literature, such as (1) and (2), quite a few corpus examples seem to corroborate these oppositions, e.g. (3) and (4).

  • 5 The abbreviations used are: refl: reflexive, inf ‘infinitive’, sg ‘singular’, pl ‘plural’, and the (...)


Juan se hizo rico, trabajando mucho.

‘John became rich [literally: refl made-3sg rich], working hard.’5


Con el descubrimiento del petróleo, el país se ha vuelto rico.

‘With the discovery of the petroleum, the country became rich [literally: refl made-3sg rich].’


En torno suyo el grupo se hace más compacto, la espuma se queda tibia y se deshace en alguna jarra de cerveza, olvidada sobre la barra, [...].

‘Around him, the group becomes [literally: refl makes] more compact, the foam gets warm and dissolves in a glass of beer, forgotten at the bar [...].’


Por lo tanto, si el habla de un miembro de la familia se vuelve de repente incomprensible, debería llamarse inmediatamente al teléfono de urgencias.

‘Therefore, if the speech of a member of the family becomes [literally: refl turns] suddenly incomprehensible, one should immediately call the emergency service.’

  • 6 César Romero (1907-1994) was a famous Hollywood actor who remained a fashion icon till an advanced (...)

6In many cases, however, the applicability of these features is far from clear. Consider the feature ‘positive’. Viejo ‘old’, for instance, habitually collocates with hacerse. The aging process, however, hardly qualifies as intentional or positive, and as it involves more than just the number of years, the relative control over aspects such as vitality, force, abilities may even downplay its gradualness. In (5), for instance, the negative appraisal (signaled by the aviso ‘warning’) vis-à-vis the sportsman, judged too old to play well, contrasts with the evaluative inversion conveyed in (6) to volverse ‘turn-refl’ by the association with the negative adverbial modification ni a tiros ‘no way (literally: not even by shooting)’. The latter evokes an ineffective counterforce, thus enhancing the successful resistance of the subject entity (César Romero) towards decay.6 In terms of Talmy’s (2000: Chapter 9) theory of force dynamics, the scene involves a dynamics between two opposing forces, an Agonist and an Antagonist. At issue in the interaction is whether the Agonist, the participant in focal attention, here the subject, can exert its force tendency and overcome, or not, the counterforce exerted by the Antagonist, in (6) the forces of decline. Here, the subject does not appear as a mere undergoer, but takes part in a dynamic relation.


El boxeo, que tiene la virtud de enseñarte a controlar la violencia y dota de una disciplina excepcional, soporta entre otros el defecto de su peligrosidad. Cuando un futbolista se hace viejo, el aviso lo recibe de su entrenador, pero el boxeador lo recibe de los puños del contrario.

‘Boxing, which has the virtue of teaching you to control violence and provides you with an exceptional discipline, supports among others the flaw of its dangerousness. When a soccer player becomes old [literally: refl makes old], he receives the message from his coach, but the boxer receives it from the fists of the opponent.’


Cruces salió personalmente a recibirme. Debía de ser uno de los atributos del ayudante del secretario del cónsul. Era un tipazo de metro noventa, gallardo a pesar de su buena sesentena y propietario de una barba canosa de lo más aristocrática. Me recordó bastante a César Romero, que no se vuelve viejo ni a tiros.

‘Cruces came personally out to welcome me. [...] He was a guy of one meter ninety, fine-looking despite his well advanced sixties and owner of a very aristocratic-like white-haired beard. He reminded me of César Romero, who does not get old[literally: not refl turns old] no way.’

7Also the features ‘gradualness’ or ‘suddenness’ often apply in ways opposite to the one predicted, e.g. de golpe ‘suddenly’ with hacerse in (7) and día a día ‘day by day’ with volverse in (8). Such gradualness can, in addition, be evaluated from various vantage points. In (7), e.g., various perspectives can be adopted: that of the discourse participant Zach Dusteen, that of the narrator, or a more diffuse one that extends to the reader. While in (8) the evolution can be objectively situated in lacentralización ‘the centralization’, the subjective perception of the narrator is also susceptible of evolving. Likewise, in example (3) above the locative en torno suyo ‘around him’ suggests that the compacting of the group besides being perceptible from outside, first and foremost corresponds to a mental representation of the narrator. And while in (4) the incomprehensibility of the speech appears as objectively verifiable, the specification de repente ‘suddenly’ also contributes to limit its initial reach to the immediate setting. The possibility of having alternative, changing or equivocal perspectives hints at the importance of subjectivization in pseudo-copular constructions and attests the advanced degree of grammaticalization of the verbs in these constructions.


[…], este buen comienzo se le había ocurrido a Zach Dusteen pero después no supo seguir, las cosas se hacen difíciles de golpe y los caminos se tuercen en el suspiro más inesperado, […].

‘[...] this good start had occurred to Zach Dusteen but then he did not know how to continue, things become difficult [literally: refl make-3pl difficult] suddenly and the paths bend in the most unexpected sigh, [...].’


[...] el peligro de la crisis imponía un cambio de estructuras. Fue entonces cuando le propuse a don Alberto instalar una sucursal en Madrid: “Es absolutamente necesario mantener contacto con la capital. La centralización se vuelve día a día más exigente.”

‘[...] the danger of the crisis imposed a structural change. That’s when I suggested Don Alberto to install a branch in Madrid: “It is absolutely necessary to maintain contact with the capital. Centralization becomes[literally: refl turns] day by day more demanding.” Don Alberto hesitated; [...].’

8While in (7) de golpe ‘suddenly’ can mark the velocity at which the change occurs - focusing on its start (iii) and/or on its result (ii) -, it does not exclude a segmented view of the process. In contrast, with día a día ‘day by day’ in (8), which is supposed to signal gradualness, it is not automatically possible to segment the trajectory leading from the previous to the actual state; the intensification expressed by the predicate complement más exigente ‘more demanding’ relates to the perception of the effects of the state reached, viz., awareness of the action to be undertaken in response to the change. All in all, the difference in relational profile between hacerse and volverse does not appear to hinge on the notion of ‘gradualness’ but seems rather to rely on a contrast between ‘progression’ and ‘regression’.

9In short, the criteria adduced in the literature are of limited applicability. Besides, they belong to different levels of analysis. Intentionality relates to an agentive property of the entity affected by the change. Non-human subjects are thus left aside. As to the positivity vs. negativity distinction, it relates to an axiological modality that does not operate on the level of the verb since it supposes a value system for judging whether or not a change or its effect is favorable to the affected entity. Gradualness, for its part, has to do with the possibility of distinguishing stages or segments in the process of change. For hacerse ‘make-refl’, gradualness may explain the habitual inference of extension in time and the aspectual interpretation in terms of ‘realization’, as corroborated by the possibility of adding adverbial modifications of the type paso a paso ‘step by step’, cada vez más ‘more and more’, etc. The notion of gradualness is not unequivocal, however. A distinction has to be made between (i) change-internal gradualness, i.e., segmentation of the process, (ii) projection in time of the effect of the change, and (iii) the perception of some previous ‘preparatory’ stage.

3. Hypothesis: conceptual (image) persistence and metaphorical mapping

10The constraints invoked in the literature, though suggestive, lack explanatory power. Since the above reviewed binary contrasts do not behave as clustered sets of distinctive features and do not systematically link up with one or the other pseudo-copula, they do not permit to arrive at a comprehensive account of the meaning conveyed. A more promising way to reach this aim is to dig into the underlying knowledge structures, so as to capture the corresponding conceptualization. In our view, the possibility to use different pseudo-copular verbs to refer to the same change of state does not mean that they denote the same. When various linguistic expressions alternate, each can be assumed to encode things in its proper way. In line with this fundamental cognitive linguistics assumption, we argue that each verb construes the concept of change in a different way, as supported by our cognitive-semantic approach, which unlike referential semantics, does not make the selection of the verb depend on the extra-linguistic reality but on the conceptualization the language user projects on it, i.e., on the way “reality” is perceived and/or conceived of.

11We thus postulate that the template imposed on the change-relation holding between the subject entity and the category, state or quality denoted by the predicate complement consists of a complex pattern rooted in bodily experience (cf. Lakoff & Johnson 1980, Johnson 1987, Lakoff 1987). The changes that can be experienced in daily life can indeed be conceptualized in a number of ways. We hypothesize that this shows up in the variety of pseudo-copular verbs that are available to express the notion of change. Our starting point is that two notions play a central role in their grammaticalization as pseudo-copula, viz., conceptual persistence and metaphorical mapping.

  • 7 “When a form undergoes grammaticization from a lexical to a grammatical function, so long as it is (...)

12Advocating a semasiological approach, we postulate that the basic meanings the verbs have outside the pseudo-copular construction perspire in the conceptualization of the notion of change when they are used as pseudo-copula. As the semantic component of the verbs has undergone schematization, they can be considered semantically weak when used as pseudo-copula. In our view, however, the (relative) grammaticalization of their pseudo-copular use is not to be equated with total desemanticization. By virtue of lexical persistence (cf. Hopper 1991),7 an essential part of the lexical semantic base can be assumed to subsist. As each verb brings in its relational Gestalt, it makes for a proper conceptualization of the pseudo-copular construction. More precisely, we hypothesize that the conceptual image the verb imposes on the pseudo-copular construction traces back to its source semantics, and can thus be considered the result of conceptual persistence (cf. Verveckken 2012: 277-278).

13Change is a basic semantic concept that is inherently metaphorical (Lakoff 1993: 212). Metaphors are based on our bodily experience of the world, which we transpose into basic schemata. According to Johnson (1987: 29), a schema is “a recurrent pattern, shape, and regularity in, or of, [our] ongoing ordering activities. These patterns emerge as meaningful structures for us chiefly at the level of our bodily movements through space, our manipulation of objects, and our perceptual interactions”. Among the basic image schemata, Johnson (1987: 126) includes path, the pattern of which presents three component parts: “(1) a source, or starting point; (2) a goal, or endpoint; and (3) a sequence of contiguous locations connecting the source with the goal. Paths are thus routes for moving from one point to another” (Johnson 1987: 113).

  • 8 “Various aspects of event structure, including notions like states, changes, processes, actions, ca (...)

14From the general metaphor states are locations, it follows that change of state is change of location. As the latter involves motion, changes are movements (Lakoff 1993: 220). Motion originates at some point, follows a certain trajectory, and ends at another point: “changes of state are construed as movement into or out of a location” (Jeppsson et al., 2013: 79). The source-path-goal schema, including the structural, topological component direction, is a fundamental cognitive schema with a (possibly pre-conceptual) kinesthetic basis (cf. Lakoff 1987: 275 ff., Johnson 1987: 11, Casad 1993: 595). It allows for the conceptualization via metaphor of the notion of change at the level of the event structure.8 The change-of-state event itself is conceived as a moving object whereby reaching a state is arriving at a location. As already stated by Lyons (1977: 720), “all verbs denoting a change of state may be regarded as verbs-of-motion”.

  • 9 We understand force dynamics as “the ways that objects are conceived to interrelate with respect to (...)

15According to our hypothesis, the pseudo-copular construction exploits the knowledge structure of the source domain, viz., movement, with each verb bringing in its proper image-schematic basis of the path schema. With both verbs, spatial source and goal can be considered to correspond to the states before and after transition, the path component to the transitional stage(s), and spatial direction can be understood as the ‘direction’ of a change-of-state. At the same time, the metaphorical mapping from the source domain of motion onto the abstract target domain of change-of-state differs from one verb to the other. What accounts for the distinct conceptualizations of the pseudo-copular verbs hacerse (literally ‘make-refl’) and volverse (literally ‘return-refl’) is, as we will argue, the difference in path configuration, more particularly, in relation to the force dynamics which determines the vector component direction.9

  • 10 “ICMs are proposed as a way in which we organize knowledge, not as a direct reflection of an object (...)

16In addition, the conceptions of change activated by the pseudo-copular constructions can be considered to correspond to general idealized cognitive models (in the sense of Lakoff 1987: 68 ff.).10 An idealized cognitive model (henceforth ICM) is a concept (or conglomerate of related concepts) that defines the knowledge we have of some category. Conversely, we also turn to ICMs to understand the world.

4. The difference of Gestalt between hacerse and volverse

17The pseudo-copulas result from the grammaticalization of the corresponding lexical verbs (e.g., RAE-ASALE 2009: 2836). Rather than simply expressing the abstract notion of change, the hypothesis is that the meaning of each verb in their pseudo-copular use can be described in terms of a conceptual image that the verb imposes on the subject-predicate relationship. For the validation of the hypothesis we have examined a sample of 400 contexts per verb taken from contemporary Spanish prose, drawn from the online Corpus de Referencia del Español Actual (CREA), in order to verify to which extent the same relational meaning emerges across the variety of contexts encountered.

  • 11 In a future study we project to compare our results with the predicate complement groupings establi (...)

18The approach adopted here is complementary to that taken by Bybee & Eddington (2006), who focus on the predicate complement without paying attention to the meaning of the verb. Relying on the frequency and exemplarity of some adjectival or prepositional predicate complements with hacerse ‘make-refl’, ponerse ‘put-refl’, quedar(se) ‘stay-refl’ and volverse ‘turn-refl’, they argue that in Spanish the expression of change presents a high degree of conventionalization, and that the extension to new, less frequent adjectives proceeds via semantic analogy. For our part, we opt for privileging the relational dimension, thus heavily relying on the contextual evidence that permits to throw light on the way each verb instantiates the notion of change.11

19In the description per verb (4.1-2), we summarize their meaning import in the pseudo-copular construction and draw attention to the inferential mechanisms that can be attached to them.  To round off, we compare the alternate use of the two verbs in similar contexts.

4.1 Hacerse: from successful causation to auto-generation and cumulative progression

20Hacer ‘make, cause’ is the central member of the category of the causative action predicates. It heads, at a superordinate level, a whole class of more specific action verbs, such as ‘do, create, produce, prepare, acquire, carry out’. It basically indicates causative action with result. In force dynamic terms, it stands for “intrinsic force tendency toward action” (Talmy 2000: 414). By contrast, hecho ‘fact’, the nominalization formed after the past participle, only retains the resultative aspect.

  • 12 On prototypical causation, see Lakoff (1987: 54 ff.).

21Although hacer is not a motion verb as such, its meaning structure can be characterized in terms of the source-path-goal schema. The causative action of ‘making’ something, in the sense of creating a product by transforming initially given material(s) indeed includes an underlying path configuration: the creative process involves an agent, acting as a forceful causer on the given materials, leading them from a source situation to a targeted goal; the process is incremental: the resulting product is progressively built up and ends up transformed into a new entity or existence. The lexical uses thus already activate the prototypical path schema. When the creative process involves direct manipulation, as in (9), hacer ‘make’ is associated with a cluster of prototypical causation properties:12 the making involves meaning components such as preparing, carrying out, acquiring, or gaining and the product is conceived of as a beneficial creation.

  • 13 Unless stated otherwise, the examples are drawn from the online Corpus de Referencia del Español Ac (...)


Juan hace excelentes paellas. [own example]13

‘Juan makes excellent paellas.’

  • 14 This model characterizes the prototypical transitive clause, which “profiles an action chain involv (...)

22Creative action requires an agentive subject and conforms to the prototypical transitive source-goal schema, conveying a one-directional energy flow, following the billiard-ball model of physics.14 There seems to be a considerable gap, however, between the basically active and product-oriented causation relation, on the one hand, and the highly schematized causative profile of the pseudo-copular construction, on the other. Yet, hacer presents other (semi-)functional uses with varying degrees of conceptual persistence with respect to the semantic components of its lexical use in the simple transitive construction illustrated in (9). Those alternate constructions are situated at different levels of schematization and can be considered to bridge the leap to the pseudo-copular construction. In 4.1.1 we therefore sketch the ways in which they open up the conceptualization of the causation relation, allowing for extensions in which the notion of energetic interaction fades away while that of progression along a goal-oriented trajectory is maintained, be it in a bleached way. In 4.1.2 then, the metaphorical mapping of the directed path schema which characterizes the pseudo-copular use is spelled out in terms of auto-enabled progression. Finally, in 4.1.3, the combination of certain types of subjects with certain types of predicate complements is shown to induce subjective readings which testify to the advancement of the process of grammaticalization.

4.1.1 The constructional potential of hacer

  • 15 By construal we refer to the way a situation is represented (cf. Verhagen 2007: 48, Langacker 2008: (...)

23The way hacer is instrumental in various construction types, (semi-)lexicalized as well as (semi-)grammaticalized ones, may contribute to shed light on its schematization in the pseudo-copular construction. The reflexive clitic se deserves special attention, since it modulates the verb’s force dynamics, and alternately marks passive, reflexive and middle construals.15 We therefore start reviewing these possibilities, before considering some relevant properties of the complex transitive constructions, viz., those with predicate complement, with finite and with non-finite clausal complement.

24The reflexive marker centers the process on the subject entity, thus locating the available argument roles in the same referent. In (10), for instance, a sí mismo ‘himself’ indicates that todo hombre ‘any man’ is simultaneously agent and patient and bears full responsibility for what he makes of his life. Except for this extremely marginal use, restricted to animate subjects conceived of as “self-made” persons, the reflexive clitic basically marks the construction as intransitive; the reduction to a one-argument structure goes at the expense of the Agent role, thus yielding the so-called ‘reflexive passive’, with the Patient as grammatical subject; example (11) is the passive counterpart of the simple transitive construction given in (9).


Todo hombre se hace a sí mismo durante su vida realizando las posibilidades de plenitud que están en su constitución natural, o rechazando tales posibilidades.16

‘Any man makes [literally: refl makes] himself during his lifetime realizing the possibilities of plenitude which are in his natural constitution, or rejecting such possibilities.’


Se hacen excelentes paellas en ese restaurante. [own example]

refl make-3pl excellent paellas in this restaurant.

‘Excellent paellas are made in this restaurant / They make excellent paellas in this restaurant.’

25The pseudo-copular construction further calls for a comparison with the complex transitive construction, e.g. (12). Unlike the direct object of the simple transitive construction, e.g. excelentes paellas in (9), that of the complex transitive construction, e.g. Penélope Cruz in (12), does not ‘come into existence’, but constitutes the initial ‘material’, so to say, which the causing subject entity (Almodóvar or la película de Almodóvar, i.e. animate or inanimate) submits to a transformation, the result of which surfaces in the predicate complement (famosa). Together, this predicate and the direct object nominal form the complex constituent which complements the verb; the propositional nature of the bond between these two component parts is captured by the term ‘small clause’ or ‘minimal clause’. This terminology reflects the presence of a predicational relation with a ‘notional subject’ (the nominal entity) but without the tense, mood, aspect and polarity specifications that characterize a finite clause. The complex transitive construction thus focuses on the incorporation of the nominal entity in the resultant state depicted by the predicate complement, not on the way followed to reach that result; this explains why the paraphrases adduced to corroborate this constructional similarity only use the copula ser ‘to be’, not a verb of change (cf. Demonte & Masullo 1999: 2470 ff.), e.g. (13).


A Penélope Cruz (la película de) Almodóvar la ha hecho famosa. [own example]

To P.Cruz (the movie of) Almodóvar made famous.

‘(The movie of) Almodóvar has made P.Cruz famous.’


(La película de) Almodóvar ha hecho que Penélope Cruz sea famosa. [own example]

(The movie of) Almodóvar has made that P. Cruz be.pres.subj.3sg famous.

‘(The movie of) Almodóvar has made that P. Cruz is famous.’

  • 17 A diachronic study could perhaps shed light on the possible filiation between the complex transitiv (...)

26Formally speaking, the pseudo-copular use mirrors the complex transitive construction.17 Depending on the kind of participants involved and on the predication applied to them, however, the linkage can range from highly active to more passive-like. We start with the active end of the continuum.

  • 18 Ramón Vinay (1911-1996) was a successful Chilean opera singer, known for having switched from barit (...)

27The reflexive variant of the complex transitive construction presents the self of the subject entity as divided into two role components, a fully agentive one and an affected one, the former acting upon the latter (cf. Talmy 2000: 431-432, 460-461). In an example such as (14), language users who know that Napoleon was omnipotent and crowned himself to emperor willingly corroborate the transitive reading by doubling the reflexive clitic se by means of a sí mismo ‘(lit.: to) himself’, thus focusing on the reflexivity of the action, i.e., Napoleon taking his proper person as object of action. This can be glossed as ‘Napoleon does something to Napoleon so that Napoleon becomes emperor’. The requirement that the subject’s self be divided into a controlling and an undergoing part is confirmed by the sole example found in the CREA databank: the context of (15) precisely characterizes R. Vinay as the kind of person who by relentlessly working his talents succeeds in acquiring immortal fame as artist.18


Napoleón se hizo(a sí mismo) emperador. [own example]

‘Napoleon made [literally: refl made] himself emperor.’


Alguien decía que el genio es producto de una larga paciencia. En efecto, Ramón Vinay se hizo grande a sí mismo sobre el fundamento de su esforzado trabajo, de su „sufrimiento”, como él señalaba. [CREA, oral, Chile]

‘Somebody said that the genius is the product of a long patience. Effectively, Ramón Vinay made himself great [literally: refl made big] on the basis of his zealous work, of his “suffering”, as he signaled.’

28The glide from the reflexive construal to the pseudo-copular one occurs when the construal ceases to put onstage a “divided self”, i.e., when the reflexive clitic ceases to function as direct object and to form a small clause with the predicate complement. The clitic form is then rather interpreted as middle voice marker than as reflexive pronoun, coreferential with the subject. The distinction is not always straightforward to apply, however, and often relies on contextual clues. The “divided self” reading, i.e. the non-copular one, is enhanced by contrastive contexts of the kind illustrated in (16): the non-periphrastic gerund (imitando…) makes the addition of a sí mismo ‘(lit.: to) himself’ acceptable even for those who do not know who Bokassa was. In (17), on the contrary, various indications point to a pseudo-copular reading and block a sí mismo insertion; Fernando I is a compliant participant: he does not force his way to kingdom by auto-proclamation, but awaits his brother’s retirement and accedes to the crown upon the Court’s decision. While he is of course not devoid of a certain agentivity, he does not appear as a divided self.


Bokassa se hizo emperador de Centroáfrica imitando la ceremonia de coronación de Napoleón Bonaparte.19

‘Bokassa made himself emperor of Central Africa imitating the crowning ceremony of Napoleon Bonaparte.’


Ese mismo año decidió que a su hermano Fernando I se le debía ofrecer la corona imperial. Fernando se hizo emperador dos años después de que Carlos se retirara a un monasterio español.20

‘The same year he decided that the imperial Crown should be given to his brother Fernando I. Fernando became [literally: refl made-3sg] emperor two years later after Carlos had retired to a Spanish monastery.’

  • 21 Needless to say, in (19) and (20) adding a sí mismo would be infelicitous.
  • 22 Coordination with a non-coreferential nominal object characterizes the scarce occurrences in Google (...)

29A similar contrast can be observed with adjectival predicates denoting social status. The default reading of (18) is the pseudo-copular one: the subject entity, Almodóvar, is not profiled in terms of a divided self but as an agonist affected by a change-of-state manifesting his intrinsic force tendency no matter whether the focus is on outside impulses, as in (19), or on his proper merits, as in (20).21 As can be seen in (21), however, the addition of a nominal direct object imposes the transitive reading and requires the marking of the divided-self reading by a sí mismo.22


Almodóvar se hizo famoso. [own example]

Almodóvar refl made-3s famous.

‘Almodóvar became famous.’ / ??‘Almodóvar made himself famous.’


El Festival ha sido siempre un punto de referencia cultural importantísimo para Berlín. Pedro Almodóvar se hizo famoso gracias a nosotros.23

‘The festival has always been a very important cultural point of reference for Berlin. Pedro Almodóvar became famous [literally: refl made-3sg famous] thanks to us.’


Almodovar se hizo famoso gracias a comedias alocadas.24

‘Almodóvar became famous [literally: refl made-3sg famous] thanks to crazy comedies.’


Almodóvar se hizo famoso a sí mismo y a sus actrices. [own example]

‘Almodóvar made himself [literally: refl made-3sg famous to him-self] and his actresses famous.’

  • 25 By means of a causative main clause introducing the pseudo-copular construction, as shown in (i), i (...)

30The alternate line of reasoning consists in postulating that the subject of the pseudo-copular construction does not echo the subject of the complex transitive construction but rather its direct object, which is simultaneously the notional subject of the predicate complement. Under this view, example (22) would trace back to example (12) and P. Cruz would be assigned a Patient role, indicating that ‘she was made famous’. This passive interpretation is, however, unlikely to obtain. To mark off the patienthood of individuated persons, while excluding reference to the agents, standard Spanish rather turns to the so-called ‘impersonal se-passive’ construal which encodes the specific patient as prepositionally marked direct object and requires the unspecified agent to have the qualities to perform the action (cf. Delbecque 2002: 118-119), as shown in (23). By contrast, the pseudo-copular construal does not prevent the Experiencer-subject (P. Cruz) from consciously and willingly participating in the process; at the same time, as shown between parentheses in (22),25 it does not preclude mentioning circumstantial or “secondary agents” as Maldonado (1999: 88) calls them. As indicated by the # sign, however, a sí misma is excluded.


Penélope Cruz se ha hecho famosa (#a sí misma) (a través de esta película / gracias a Almodóvar). [own example]

‘Penélope Cruz has become [literally: refl has made] (#herself) famous (through that movie / thanks to Almodóvar).’


Así se ha hecho famosa a Penélope Cruz. [own example]

‘This way Penélope Cruz was made famous [literally: refl has made famous].’

31With inanimate subjects, the attributive relation is, of course, more likely to approximate the passive one. In practice, however, this takes a specific kind of predicate complement, viz., deverbal adjectives containing a causative component analogous to that of ‘make’, e.g. efectivo ‘effective’, productivo ‘productive’, público ‘public’. It is then a matter of whether or not the process is tied up to a controlling agent. In (24), the spreading of the news enters the realm of the semi-copular change-of-state insofar as it is conceived of as occurring outside the scope of a specific external agent. On the contrary, a passive reading can come in, akin to that of the ‘reflexive passive’ (26), when the construal can not only be linked to the complex transitive construction (25), but can also alternate with the periphrastic construction with infinitive, in which hacer ‘to make’ functions as causative auxiliary (27), and with the simple predicate of the same stem as the adjectival predicate (28). These paradigmatic alternations indicate that the agent is contextually retrievable. With a deontic modal the passive reading prevails especially when the subject entity itself supposes an agent and a patient argument, e.g. la expulsion ‘the expulsion’ in (29).


La noticia se hizo pública.

The news refl made-3sg public.

‘The news became public.’ (pseudo-copula) / ‘The news was made public.’ (passive)


El periódico hizo pública la noticia.

‘The newspaper made the news public.’


Se publicó la noticia.

refl published-3sg the news.

‘The news was published.’


El periódico hizo publicar la noticia.

Literally: ‘The newspaper made publish the news.’


El periódico publicó la noticia.

‘The newspaper published the news.’


La expulsión debe hacerse extensiva a todo el equipo.

‘The expulsion has to be extended [lit.: must make-inf-refl extensive] to the whole team.’

32The effect of this marginal class of predicate complements can be seen as the ‘passive’ counterpart of the ‘active’ one triggered by the divided-self configuration of animate subjects. Overall, however, the pseudo-copular use with inanimate subject can be analyzed as the ergative counterpart of the causative transitive construction with a predicate complement oriented to the direct object, as the latter occupies the subject position in the corresponding pseudo-copular construction. Examples (30) and (31) corroborate the idea that the very subject entity displays an intrinsic propensity to be the locus of the change profiled by the predicate complement. While circumstantial factors may incidentally favor or disfavor the process, accelerate it or slow it down, the change is essentially seen as internally driven.


La dieta Dukan se ha hecho famosa por ser la utilizada por Penélope Cruz.26

‘The Dukan diet became [literally: refl has made] famous for being the one used by P. Cruz.’


Las películas de Almodóvar se han hecho famosas. [own example]

‘The movies of Almodóvar became [literally: refl have made] famous.’

33With animate subjects, on the other hand, the pseudo-copular construal can be considered to belong to the domain of the basically anti-causative Middle Voice. The subject is essentially depicted as a self-energetic Experiencer, susceptible of benefitting from impinging forces (cf. (22) above), overcoming contrary ones, or complying with evolving circumstances. The degree to which the subject is affected by the change, as well as the degree to which (s)he contributes to it, highly vary. While (32), e.g., permits a vocational reading, this is not the case in (33).


Han pasado muchos años y luego llegaron otras misses. Mi vida cambió, yo me hice modelo y luego actriz. [CREA, prensa, España]

‘Many years went by and then came other misses. My life changed, I became [literally: refl made] a model and later an actress.’


Yo era un paracaidista. Luego me hice soldado de infantería contra mi voluntad y ahora quieren convertirme en guarda de fronteras. [CREA, prensa, España]

‘I was a parachutist. Later I became [literally: refl made] a foot soldier against my will and now they want to turn me into a frontier guard.’

  • 27 In contrast with the Patient role of the subject in so-called ‘reflexive passives’ (cf. example (11 (...)

34From the preceding discussion, it appears that in the pseudo-copular construction the focus is on the transformation process, and only lateral or circumstantial causal factors, if any, come into picture. Although the subject entity is not in full control, its involvement in the process goes beyond that of a mere patient.27 Its argument role is typically that of the central participant in the Spanish middle constructions with which it shares the reflexive marker se. There is neither a well-defined patient nor an identifiable agent, yet both semantic functions coexist in a participant whose degree of activity can be called “intermediary” (Maldonado 1999: 97 ff.) and heavily varies in function of the verb and the context.

35After having discussed the relevance of the complex transitive construction, we now briefly list a few other construction types which can also contribute to shed light on the grammaticalization of hacerse as pseudo-copula.

  • 28 The only selection restriction seems to be that the subject cannot denote a first order entity, i.e (...)
  • 29 In (35), e.g., the result is that ‘Ana is late’, like in (22) the result is that P. Cruz is famous, (...)
  • 30 The construction with finite complement clause, for its part, only sporadically occurs in the passi (...)

36Construed with a complement clause, hacer admits any kind of subject, e.g. (34).28 The accomplishment of the event expressed in the complement clause parallels that of the production of the nominal object entity in the simple transitive clause. In combination with an infinitival complement clause hacer forms a periphrastic construction, e.g. (35). In this semi-auxiliary use, various elements indicate that the relation is a very cohesive one, expressing direct successful causation: the subject of the complement clause (Ana) falls under the control of the main clause subject, which explains the relative awkwardness of inanimate subjects (e.g. las circunstancias ‘the circumstances’); the clitic object precedes hacer and simultaneously represents the object of hacer and the subject of the subordinate event, very much like the nominal direct object of the complex transitive construction is notionally the notional ‘subject-of’ the predicate complement.29 And, also like the complex transitive construction, the periphrastic causative construction does not admit passivization, although it is traditionally called ‘accusativus cum infinitivo’.30 Example (36) illustrates the difference between the periphrastic and the pseudo-copular construal: while the former shows the impact of external factors on a person’s cognizing and behavior (te hace comprender… empatizar… ‘makes you understand… empathize…’), the latter depicts the person’s internal evolution (te haces más humana ‘you become more human’).


{Sus amigos / Las circunstancias} han hecho que Ana se retrase. [own example]

‘{Her friends / The circumstances} made [lit.: have made] that Ana came late.’


{Sus amigos / ?#Las circunstancias} la han hecho retrasarse. [own example]

‘{Her friends /  ?#The circumstances} made her [lit.: her have made] come late.’


Trabajar con diferentes colectivos te hace comprender un poco mejor la realidad en la que vivimos, empatizar con los problemas actuales, comprender y saber escuchar a las personas con problemas, te haces más humana, y sobre todo no permaneces aislada de la realidad. [CREA, prensa, España]

‘Working with different collectivities makes you understand a little better the reality in which we live, empathize with the actual problems, understand and listen to the persons with problems, you become [literally: refl make-2sg] more human, and above all you do not remain isolated from reality.’

  • 31 Introduced by Jespersen (1965: 117), the term ‘light verb’ indicates that a common verb, such as gi (...)

37Hacer further functions as ‘light verb’.31 It combines with nominal predicates indicating a specific communicative action, e.g. hacer una señal ‘make a signal’, un signo ‘a sign’, un favor ‘a favor’, una promesa ‘a promise’, etc. When the nominal has the form of a bare noun, the complex predicate can generally be considered more lexicalized, e.g. hacer alarde ‘show off [lit.: make show]’, hacer fortuna ‘become successful [lit.: make fortune]’, hacer mención ‘make mention’, hacer referencia ‘make reference’, hacerse cargo de ‘take charge/care of’, hacerse ilusiones ’delude oneself’, etc. Interestingly, these expressions single out the way consciously behaving subjects have of positioning themselves, e.g. (37):


Marina se hace cargo de la situación y sale lo más rápidamente que puede. [CREA, teatro, España]

‘Marina  becomes aware of the situation and leaves as soon as she can.’

  • 32 It parallels the non-reflexive construction schema of hacer construed with a definite nominal denot (...)

38A slightly different, yet also semi-lexicalized construction schema consists of hacerse ‘make refl’ with a nominalized adjective as predicate complement, meaning ‘feign, fake’, and denoting a temporary behavior, profiles the subject’s intentionality. Paradoxically, the collocates which fit this paradigm all refer to a state or property one normally cannot control, e.g. hacerse el tonto ‘play the fool [lit.: make the dumb]’, hacerse el despistado/distraído/longui ‘the distracted, lost in thought’, el desentendido ‘the ignorant’, el sordo ‘the deaf’, elsorprendido ‘the surprised’ (38), el valiente ‘the brave’. The association with hacerse precisely conveys the idea of performing in a purposive and controlled way, similar to role playing.32


Pablo se hizo el sorprendido. [own example]

‘Pablo feigned surprise [lit.: refl made the].’


Un día me hice el loco. Fingía darme golpes en la cabeza contra una pared. [CREA, prensa, España]

‘One day I played [lit. refl made-1sg] the fool. I feigned giving me blows in the head against a wall.’

39Finally, hacerse can be used as motion predicate with directional oblique. It then depicts the subject entity as ‘moving over to a location it is naturally projected into’. In the physical sense it denotes physical objects fitting particular kinds of spaces, e.g. boats moving into navigable spaces, as in (40). In the mental sense, it analogously denotes the experience of becoming increasingly acquainted with a specific setting, e.g. (41), state of affairs or even an idea, e.g. (42).


Ningún balsero se hizo a la mar tras expirar el ultimátum. [CREA, prensa, España]

‘No ferry took [lit.: refl made] to the sea after the ultimatum expired.’


Yo ya me he hecho a este lugar. [CREA, teatro, España]

‘I already got used [lit.: refl have made] to this place.’


Se habían hecho a la idea de que no tardaría en pasarle algo.

Theyhad accepted the idea that [lit.: refl had made-3pl to the idea of that] soon something would occur to her.’

40From the above review it can be concluded that in its non-copular uses hacerserefl make’ takes various kinds of complements and imposes certain selection restrictions on its subject. In the pseudo-copular construction, on the contrary, the compatibility condition holds between the predicate complement and the subject entity; as pseudo-copula, hacerse contributes the aspectual meaning of change while behaving as a linking device, i.e. without selecting any argument.

41In the above array of construction schemas, various specific metaphorical mappings are at work, next to the general metaphor actions are self-propelled movements (Lakoff 1993: 220), viz., causes are forces, purposes are destinations, making progress is forward movement, thus yielding the overall conceptualization purposive action is self-propelled motion to a destination (Lakoff 1993: 221-223).

4.1.2 The conceptual image corresponding to the pseudo-copular use of hacer

42Moving on to the pseudo-copular construction, it takes but one step to map these source concepts of the directed path schema onto the non-perceptual target domain of change. The bleaching of “action” into “change”, i.e. into a conceptualization in which the performing dimension is abstracted away from, makes for the activation of the metaphor purposive change is self-propelled motion to a destination.

  • 33 Cf. Tesnière (1959: Ch. 66-67) and Alarcos Llorach (1968: 159).
  • 34 By contrast, some generative accounts (e.g. Suñer 1990) analyze the pseudo-copular construction in (...)

43In the pseudo-copular uses the predicate complement is the lexical nucleus. Due to the conceptual persistence of the result-oriented action meaning of hacerse ‘make refl’, however, it is not always easy to draw the dividing line with lexical uses, especially those containing a predicate complement. A useful guideline in this respect is the functional analogy of (pseudo-)copulas with clausal predication auxiliaries: they indeed also conform to the strict adjacency condition and convey tense, aspect, mood, person and number.33 The difference is that auxiliaries construe verbal complements and profile a dynamic dimension while the pseudo-copula’s predicate complement yields a stabilized view of a resultant state, in accordance with its nomino-adjectival nature. For example (1), for instance, repeated here as (1’), the bracketed formula [Juan] [[se hizo] rico] shows that the predicate complement rico ‘rich’ is the lexical nucleus of the construction.34


Juan se hizo rico. [own example]

'John became [literally: refl made-3sg] rich.’


El once de Ronaldo se hizo dueño del partido. [prensa, España]

‘The team [lit. the eleven] of Ronaldo became [lit.: refl made] master of the match.’

  • 35 Except in fables and tales, of course.

44The human being denoted by the subject is profiled as the experiencer of the change-of-state. The source semantics of the verb explains that animate subjects tend to be conceived of as quite actively participating in the process. In many cases, the goal-orientedness is part of the activated frame. On the basis of the context and of our encyclopedic knowledge, we understand that the resultant state depicted in (43)-(45) corresponds to the expected outcome given the “nature” of, respectively, competitive sports teams, girls and dogs, following widespread ICMs. It is therefore hard to accommodate hacerse with animate subjects devoid of the internal driving force necessary to reach the resultant state, e.g. (46).35


Con ese niño en sus brazos la muchacha se hace madre.

‘With that child in her arms the girl becomes a mother [lit.: refl makes mother].’


El perro se hizo fiel compañero del hombre. [own example]

‘The dog became a true companion of man [lit.: refl made faithful companion of the man].’


?# El caballo de Calígula se hizo cónsul. [own example]

‘The horse of Caligula became [lit.: refl made.3sg] consul.’

45The conceptual image associated with hacerse can thus be argued to be one of auto-generation, whereby the change originates from the subject entity. This explains why predicates denoting religious or ideological obedience (e.g., budista ‘Buddhist’, comunista ‘communist’) as well as occupation or social status, fame, friendship, etc. (e.g., ingeniero ‘engineer’, rico ‘rich’, famoso ‘famous’, amigos ‘friends’) usually combine with hacerse. As shown in (43’), the intentionality and control of the animate subject can be made explicit by means of agent-oriented manner adverbials, such as magistralmente ‘master(ful)ly’, hábilmente ‘skilfully’, intencionadamente ‘intentionally’, libremente ‘freely’, and goal-oriented or effect-oriented adjuncts, e.g., para agrado ‘for the pleasure’, para agradar ‘in order to please’, or para derrotar ‘in order to defeat’. Inserting a sí mismo, however, is not possible. This indicates that the ‘active experiencer’ role does not proceed from the separation of a passive from an active facet; in other words, it does not correspond to the divided-self reading.


El once de Ronaldo se hizo (*a sí mismo) magistralmente dueño del partido para agrado del público. [own example]

‘The team of Ronaldo became [lit.: refl made-3sg] (*itself) expertly master of the match to the satisfaction of the public.’

  • 36 In the words of Lakoff (1993: 223): “One’s expected progress through life is charted in terms of a (...)
  • 37 In our corpus no example of this kind appears with an inanimate non-organic subject. This means tha (...)

46Rendering advancement in age, e.g., viejo ‘old’, mayor ‘grown-up’, by means of hacerse follows the same rationale: by virtue of metaphors such as life is a journey36 and time passing is motion (Lakoff 1993: 217) aging is conceived of as advancement (47). More generally, hacerse is typically used for changes conceived of as (physical or psychological) corollary of time passing by, i.e. of aging, not only of animate human subjects, as for example in (48), but also of organic ones e.g. (49).37


Los que se hicieron adultos después de la guerra civil pertenecían a la “antiespaña”.38

‘Those who became [lit.: refl made.3pl] adult after the civil war belonged to the “anti-Spain”.


Con los años Ana se hizo solitaria. [own example]

‘With the years Ana became [lit.: refl made.3sg] solitary.’


Las hortensias medraron hasta hacerse enormes en el costado más umbrío.

‘The hydrangeas grew till becoming [lit. make.refl.inf] enormous at the most shadowy side.’

  • 39 A direct causation view is proper to the divided-self reading which characterizes the active reflex (...)

47The pseudo-copular construction conceptually differs from possible constructional variants with verbal predicates. Unlike the direct transitive constructions, e.g., envejecer ‘make old’ in (50), the pseudo-copular relation does not profile a relation of direct causation, ascertaining the impact on a patient entity.39 Like in ergative/unaccusative predication relations, e.g., the intransitive use of envejecer ‘become old’ in (51), the process is conceived of as self-contained; the difference, however, is that the pseudo-copular predication does not only present an entity as the locus where the change occurs, abstracting away from a possible external instigation, but also attributes it a proper, internal force dynamics. In (52), e.g., this is corroborated by the combination of viejo ‘old’ with predicate complements denoting a state of mind or attitude (más escéptico, más pesimista, incrédulo).


La jubilación envejece a los hombres más que la edad. [CREA, prensa, España]

‘Retirement ages [lit.: to] men old more than age.’


Los pies son la parte del cuerpo que envejece de un modo menos humano.

‘The feet are the part of the body that ages in a less human way.’


Uno se hace viejo, más escéptico, más pesimista, incrédulo. Me he hecho más zorro en algunas cosas, en otras sigo siendo igual de ingenuo y soñador que antes.

‘One [lit.: refl makes] gets old, more skeptical, more pessimistic, cynical. I became [lit. refl have made.1sg] more shrewd in some matters, in others I keep being as ingenuous and idealist as before.’

48By metaphoric projection, the change profiled by means of the pseudo-copula hacerse, conceived of as movement in time, thus fundamentally represents a transformation in terms of advancement, if not progression to a superior level, echoing the force dynamics notions of creation and production which characterize the meaning of hacer. At the same time, however, the pseudo-copular use supposes a process of de-agentivization (cf. Langacker 1999); this means that the rationale of the progression becomes internal to the process and that, next to the experience of self-enablement attributable to animate entities, hacerse is also apt at projecting on inanimate entities the notion of auto-generation in some sort of ‘life-cycle’, so to say; in (53), e.g., the change depicted is highly predictable, as it follows from a natural process.


Cuando la seta envejece, el pie se hacemás oscuro de color. [CREA, botánica, España]

‘When the mushroom gets old, the foot takes ona darker color [lit.: refl makes more dark of color].’

49In accordance with the product-oriented causative meaning of hacer, three dimensions can be considered to be constitutive of the change conceived of in the pseudo-copular construction, viz., cumulative progression on aligned stages on an ascending path. As shown by the configuration given in Figure 1, hacerse profiles a change in terms of a unidirectional progression (horizontal arrow), prototypically conceived of as an ascending movement (broken arrow) comprising a series of aligned phases (squares). The forward movement supposes that an internal causal force is at work which orients the mobile entity and guides the path traversal all along in a straight fashion.

Figure 1: Schematic representation of hacerse as pseudo-copula

50In light of this characterization of the conceptual image, using the pseudo-copula hacerse, as exemplified in (43)-(45), (47)-(49) and (52)-(53) above, thus makes progression in time be conceived of as the internally ordered progress towards a higher level. On the basis of this account, the features proposed in the literature, viz., intentionality, gradualness, positivity, can be reanalyzed as prototypicality effects or low-level schemas in a Construction Grammar view. They correspond to expectations that can get reinforced or attenuated depending on the context.

51By way of inference based on encyclopedic knowledge a change conceived in terms of ascending progression tends to be thought of as an intentional, desired and positively valued one, e.g. (54). However, as can be seen in (48), (52) and (53), this is not necessarily the case. The bottom line is rather that the gradual achievement is by default considered to belong to the natural course of things, to the raison d'être of the entity involved and, in particular, to a person’s destiny. While this kind of linearity typically characterizes our view of the course of life (55), it can also be projected on the internal evolution of a socio-professional trajectory, a life within life so to say, e.g. a career in the publicity business (56).


Se hizo íntimo del comerciante a base de visitas.

‘[lit.: refl made-3sg] became intimate of the shopkeeper through visits.’


[...] ella estaba ya delante de él, era delgada y frágil, qué curioso, pensé, en los países anglosajones los niños se hacen grandes antes que las niñas, la levantó sin esfuerzo, no pesaba nada, [...].

‘[...] she already stood in front of him, she was thin and frail, how strange, I thought, in the Anglo-Saxon countries the boys [lit.: refl make tall] grow up before the girls, he lifted her up easily, she weighed nothing [...].’


Víctor Jr. se hizoexperto en publicidad y Pablo escogió la carrera militar. [CREA, prensa, España]

‘Victor Jr. [lit.: refl made.3sg] becamespecialist in publicity and Pablo chose the military career.’

  • 40 The paraphrase with convertirseen un N 'literally: convert-refl/be converted into/turn into a N' sh (...)

52The pseudo-copular uses of hacerse share the representation of an augmented effectiveness principally conceived of in terms of self-enablement. When the predicate complement is nominal, like in (56), the self-energizing process yields a category change. The transmutation is in keeping with the directionality and telicity inherent in the semantics of hacer ‘to make’.40

53It should be borne in mind that the interpretation of the change event relates to some knowledge domain and is inspired by ICMs. The latter determine the underlying time scale and allow for highly variable degrees of dynamicity. In other words, neither the time-path nor the force dynamics, understood in its kinesthetic sense, are part of the conceptual image of the pseudo-copular construction with hacerse.

4.1.3 Subjectivity and fictive change

54As shown in the preceding section, the predicate complements of the pseudo-copular construction typically characterize a state or property acquired over time by the subject entity. As the latter is the locus of the change event, the change-of-state appears as ‘objective’. Subjects which denote living beings are by definition endowed with a proper life-cycle. By default, their progression tends to be conceived of as intrinsic to their nature, i.e. as observable in an ‘objective’ way. The change-of-state originates in the very subject entity, i.e. the object of conceptualization, and the conceptualizer (the external narrator) simply registers the change-event, as an eye-witness facing a ‘real’ change. There may, of course, be various ways to qualify the resultant state. Yet, using for example especialista or publicista instead of experto in (56), does not alter the fact that the change affects the subject entity and not the conceptualizer as such.

  • 41 For a detailed account of the continuum in subjectivity, including more subtle cases such as e.g. ( (...)

55Beyond the default part of subjectivity inherent in any lexical and constructional choice, however, some categorizations point to a subjectivization path along a gradient from minimal to maximal subjectivity as the change event is no longer situated in the object of conceptualization but rather in its relation with the conceptualizer and in the perspective adopted by the latter. Predicate complements which bear an experiential load depict how the subject entity is perceived or felt to change. This makes them particularly prone to signal not only a process of change undergone by the subject entity, but also, and sometimes above all, to depict how the image, the impression or way of experiencing the subject entity, changes in the conceptualizer’s mind. In what follows, we first illustrate changes of state which do not only affect the subject entity but (can) also alter the conceptualizer’s mind state; we then move on to changes which are seemingly or ‘fictively’ attributed to the subject entity while covertly reflecting the conceptualizer’s evolving mind state.41

56A first possibility is that a change which an entity undergoes in the visual field of an observer results from the latter’s construal of the world as moving past him, while he himself remains stationary. The construal in (57), for instance, displays a low degree of subjectivity.


Dos niños corretean entre las mesas de la terraza, el viento arrecia y se hace muy molesto.

‘Two children run around between the tables of the terrace, the wind worsens and [lit.: refl makes] becomes very unpleasant.’

57The change applies to a subject entity which is intrinsically evolutionary in nature, viz. el viento ‘the wind’; the coordination of pseudo-copular construction with the intransitive change-of-state predicate arreciar ‘worsen, get worse’ enhances the description of the force dynamics developed by the very subject entity: the wind gets stronger so as to become muy molesto ‘very unpleasant’. As entities with inherent energetic properties are by default conceived of as evolving in time and space, they naturally yield a direct experience of change. It is therefore not necessary to adopt the scene-internal perspective of the event participants to register the increase in force and violence. This perception, however, need not be attributable exclusively to an increase in the wind’s force dynamics. By projection onto the perspective of the characters exposed to the wind at the terrace during some time in the narrated world, the awareness of the impinging force may also reflect a gradually augmenting receptivity to it, regardless of whether the wind is striking harder or not.

58The relative indeterminacy as to the locus of the change, viz., the very subject entity and/or the relation to it of the (virtual) conceptualizer, stems from the fact that the latter’s experience of a change need not fully match a process occurring in the perceived object. This ambivalence characterizes the predicate complements which involve sensory experience and, by the same token, give leeway to some subjectively tinged evaluation. A case such as (57), however, is still in keeping with the “stage model”, since the change is conceived as observed from an external vantage point by a viewer (cf. Langacker 1991a: 284-286). Insofar as a subject entity is source of energy, the change event is attributable to it, at least partially.

59A higher degree of subjectivity comes in when the construal can only be understood by including the conceptualizer in the very conceptualization of the scene (cf. Traugott 1989, 1995, 1999, 2003; Traugott & Dasher 2002). Generally speaking, perceptibility depends on the relation between the conceptualizer and the object of conceptualization. On the side of the conceptualizer, attention focusing and time of exposure are, of course, crucial. In physical space, however, the perception of a change can additionally correlate with a modification of the relative distance between perceiver and perceived object. In other words, it can follow from an increase or decrease in perceptibility due to a change of location of the perceiver and/or of the perceived object. Examples such as (58) and (59) illustrate the point.


[…] bien se aprecia que el mar que nos envuelve crece y arrecia, se hace más sordo según vamos cruzando la calle principal, según retumban en ella los cascos de las mulas y las voces.

‘[…] it can well be noticed that the sea which surrounds us grows and gets stronger, (yet) [lit.: refl makes deaf] becomes more muffled as we are crossing the main street, as the hoofs of mules and the voices resound there.’

60In the context of (58), the metonymic construal of the sea becoming less noisy (se hace más sordo) contrasts with the intrinsic change mentioned just before, viz. that it gets stronger. Yet, the interplay between the dynamicity of the conceptualized object and that of the conceptualizer makes for an interpretive glide which yields a globally coherent view. Attention moves from the gradual and cumulative progression of a change-of-state in the subject entity (el mar ‘the sea’) to a concurrent, in this case divergent one in the subjective perspective of the conceptualizer. Since the sensory experience (más sordo ‘more muffled’) explicitly links up with the conceptualizer’s change-of-location, (según vamos cruzando… ‘as we are crossing…’), the perceived change may (partially or completely) result from the observer’s own locomotion. Consequently, abstraction can be made of a possible modification of the source of the noise; while it is still imaginable, though less probable, that the sea is concurrently becoming less noisy, this gets relegated at the background as irrelevant, insofar as the subjective perspective is foregrounded, at the expense of the objective one.

  • 42 Langacker (1987: 126; 1990: 9) defines the ‘ground’ as the ensemble of the communicative event, its (...)

61In (59), the change in the perceptual relation between the conceptualizer and the object of conceptualization follows from the mobility of the latter. This is reflected in the predicate complement cercana ‘close’, which activates the change in relation with the ground (hacia mí ‘towards me).42 In addition, the predicate complement más perceptible ‘more perceptible’ profiles the subjective viewpoint in the construal configuration, signaling how the access to the object of conceptualization is perceived by the very conceptualizer as evolving in his own mind. Using se iba haciendorefl went making’, however, instead of (the progressive of) e.g. aparecer ‘appear’ or parecer ‘seem’, suggests that some ‘responsibility’ for the perceived change is still projected on the subject entity.


Y de pronto divisé una figura que venía hacia mí desde el extremo opuesto y se iba haciendo progresivamente más perceptible y cercana.

‘And suddenly I spotted a figure that came towards me from the opposite side and who [lit.: refl went making] was becoming progressively more perceptible and closer.’

62Via analogical reasoning, it is sufficient that there be an image of change from the conceptualizer’s perspective, for the change to be conceived of as if it were occurring in the object of conceptualization. In (60), e.g., it is not the face itself which changes under the effect of the light, but only its appearance to the eyes of the conceptualizer. The same can be observed in the expression of subjective motion. While the object of conceptualization is stationary, e.g. el camino ‘the path’ in (61), the mental mobility of the conceptualizer allows for a sequential scanning with progressive segmentation of the path components (Langacker 1987: 263; 1991a:114-116; 1991b: 22, 78-82).


A la luz del fuego se hacen más estrictas las asperezas y rugosidades de su rostro.

‘At the light of the fire the asperities and roughness of his face [lit.: refl make] become more pronounced.’


El camino se hace más ancho, ya una verdadera carretera de tierra.

‘The path [lit: refl makes] becomes wider, a real dirt road.’

  • 43 While persons, animals and discrete physical objects are “first order entities”, Lyons (1991: 170) (...)

63A whole array of predicate complements automatically evoke perspectival phenomena. Various types can be distinguished, viz., those assessing manageability, tempo-aspectual measurement, epistemic modality and deontic modality. They generally combine with second and third order subjects.43 However, whether the entity presented as affected by a change of state is actually undergoing one, or only appears to do so to the eyes of the conceptualizer, is not always easy to determine.

64The notion of manageability applies to adjectives such as complicado ‘complicated’, fácil ‘easy’, difícil ‘difficult’, (in)confortable ‘(un)comfortable’, factible ‘feasible’, manejable ‘manageable’, etc. A priori, these properties can result from a change in the very object of conceptualization as well as from an evolution in the appreciation by the conceptualizer. This is illustrated in (62)-(64).

65In the scene evoked in (62), the object of conceptualization, el silencio del capitán ‘the captain’s silence’, can be considered to become uncomfortable for infringing the habitual expectation that in a conversation one is not supposed to remain silent for all too long. On the other hand, the construal also puts into play a ‘subjective’ change of state, suggesting affectedness in the communication participants, who feel more and more embarrassed. Analogously, in (63), the situation may itself get more complex, while concurrently the persons involved may experience a growing sense of complication. Likewise, in (64), the use of hacerse indicates that at least one facet of change is present; out of context, however, it is undecidable whether the objective and subjective change converge or whether one prevails.


El silencio del capitán Castro se hizo incómodo.

‘The silence of captain Castro [lit.: refl made] became uncomfortable.’


La situación se hace complicada.

‘The situation [lit.: refl makes] becomes complex.’


El procedimiento se hace más largo.

‘The procedure [lit.: refl makes] becomes longer.’

66 Adjectives such as duradero ‘durable’, escaso ‘scarce’, frecuente ‘frequent’, largo ‘lengthy’, raro ‘rare’, usual ‘usual’ establish a tempo-aspectual measurement. Depending on the nature of the subject entity, the interpretation can be objective (64), subjective (65) or mixed (66). In (64), the change applies to el procedimiento ‘the procedure’ since this object of conceptualization is easily conceived of as extensible. By contrast, in (65), the lengthening does not affect el trayecto ‘the trajectory’, which remains the same, but reflects the subjective experience of the carriers of the buckets. In (66), el regateo ‘the bargaining’ admits either interpretation, as well as the combination of objective and subjective change: the activity itself can effectively become longer (and harsher) and at the same time appear to do so in the mind of the bystanders and/or of the implied participants; further context is required to verify which reading is actually the intended one.


El trayecto con los cubos se hacía muy largo, porque pesaban de lo lindo.

‘The trajectory with the buckets [lit.: refl made] became very long, because they weighed an awful lot.’


El regateo se hace largoy un tanto violento.

‘The bargaining [lit.: refl makes] becomes lengthy and somewhat violent.’

  • 44 This would not be the case with static copular verbs, e.g. ser ‘be’ or parecer ‘seem’, or with prop (...)

67Modal predicate complements, finally, always comprise a construal with respect to the ground as part of their semantics. Epistemic adjectives such as evidente ‘evident’, (im)posible ‘(im)possible’, (im)probable ‘(un)likely’, manifiesto ‘manifest’, obvio ‘obvious’, and deontic ones such as esencial’essential’, imprescindible ‘indispensable’, necesario ‘necessary’, obligatorio ‘obligatory’, urgente ‘urgent’, are interpreted as stance expressions when the subject has the form of a finite or infinitival clause. The change profiled in (67) and (68), e.g., results from the conceptualizer’s growing awareness. Using hacerserefl-make’ nevertheless suggests that there is an objective basis which cumulatively offers indices allowing this type of inferencing.44 In (67) the belief state relies on evidence gathered in a study (este estudio), in (68) the prólogos ‘prologues’ appear as ultimate resource to counteract the disappointment produced by others. In other words, the bottom line remains that hacerserefl make’ marks the end of a natural progression along a mental path.


Al leer este estudio, se hace más evidente que es un país campesino.

‘While reading this study, [lit.: refl makes] it becomes evident that it is a rural country.’


Para entender a este autor, se hace imprescindible recurrir a sus prólogos.

‘To understand this autor, [lit. refl makes] it becomes indispensable to turn to his prologues.’

68In our view, the modal meanings associated with this kind of predicate complements do not warrant the claim, put forward in Lauwers & Duée (2011: 1057), that hacerse as such has developed an “evidential meaning”. According to our analysis, the evidential meaning is given by the predicate complement, and the pseudo-copula keeps its own meaning import, next to that of the predicate complement and of the subject entity. Whether the predicative relation is more or less subjectively construed depends on the left and right collocates the pseudo-copula is associated with. The pseudo-copula’s ability to combine with non-controlling subjects and with predicate complements which introduce a subjective perspective corroborates its high degree of grammaticalization and, consequently, its highly schematic meaning. The capacity of hacerse to accommodate to a variety of perspectives, however, does not mean that it takes on the meaning of its predicate complement, nor that it would, in particular, assimilate an evidential meaning.

69In addition, modal predicate complements also combine with nominal subjects with an event structure reading. Insofar as the process reading attached to, e.g., la ruptura ‘the break up’ (69) and esta potenciación ‘this promotion’ (70) implies sequential mental scanning, these entities can be attributed an internal change of state. In these cases, it is clear that the perception of a gradual and cumulative progression of a change of state in the subject entity may be only partially due to the subjective perspective of the conceptualizers.


La ruptura entre centristas y autonomistas se hizo más evidente en la última reunión preparatoria de la Conferencia.

‘The break up between centrists and autonomists [lit. refl made] became more evident in the last preparatory meeting of the Conference.’


Esta potenciación se hace más urgente ante la crisis que está sufriendo la región.

‘This promotion [lit. refl makes] becomes more urgent in the face of the crisis the region is enduring.’

70Finally, the impersonal construal (71) testifies to a further schematization process: it activates the metaphor time passing is motion. As corroborated by the awkwardness of temprano ‘early’, only the progression on the time line can be profiled.


Se hizo tarde.

‘[lit. refl makes] It became late.’

71In sum, the data reviewed in this section support our contention that, metaphorically, even the most subjectified construals with the pseudo-copula hacerse ‘make-refl’ trace back to the path schema associated with hacer ‘make’.

 4.2 Volverse: from regressive movement to inversion of expectations

72The meaning structure of volver can be characterized in terms of the source-path-goal schema, including the structural, topological component direction. Even more straightforwardly than hacer, volver allows for the conceptualization via metaphor of the notion of change at the level of the event structure (cf. supra). In order to grasp the conceptual image volverse imposes on the subject-predicate complement relation (4.2.2), it is necessary to go back to the meaning(s) the verb has outside the pseudo-copular construction (4.2.1).

4.2.1 The lexical meaning of volver

73The basic meanings associated with volver minimally imply a change of orientation. In its intransitive use, volver indicates a displacement the directionality of which is primarily determined by the point of arrival, the latter being interpreted by default as the starting point of a previous change-of-place of the same entity. Volver translates as ‘return, go/come back’. The verb thus profiles a backwards movement. However, the change of direction in space expressed by volver does not always go in the opposite direction to the previous one (by default directed forward), but can also be described in terms of diversion, i.e., of abandonment of the straight path (torcer ‘turn off/away’). In its transitive use, volver denotes a movement which does not necessarily involve a displacement and whose orientation is not specific but depends upon the type of entity and its initial state or position (meaning ‘(make) turn back’ or ‘rotate’). According to ADESSE, the primary meaning of the verb volver is that of displacement (‘return’), followed by that of orientation (‘turn back, rotate’). This ordering is justified, according to García-Miguel (2012: 370), “because of its higher frequency, the greater variety of constructions and also its centrality in the derivation of the other senses or meaning extensions” (our translation).

4.2.2 The conceptual image corresponding to the pseudo-copular use of volver

74Relying on the notion of conceptual persistence, we argue that the metaphorical mapping from translocation to change-of-state verb volverse maintains the directionality profiled by volver, viz., of inversion or diversion. This means that the state denoted by the adjective loco ‘crazy’, for example, will be conceived of as an inverted or deviated state of mind, as opposed to sanity or common sense which is considered the normal and expected state. As also observed by García-Miguel (2012: 380), “in the expression of a change of state, volverse loses the sense of repetition (‘to be located again’) present in [volver as a displacement verb]: one can become crazy without having been it before” (my translation). In sum, by metaphorical projection, the change profiled by the pseudo-copular verb (PCV) volverse, conceived as a movement in time, basically represents a transformation in terms of diversion, if not inversion; it thus echoes the notions of return and change of direction which characterize the meaning of (lexical) volver. In what follows, we will discuss in more detail the conceptual image associated with volverse and illustrate it with a few examples in context. For the sake of clarity, we distinguish between (a) interruption and diversion, (b) polarity inversion, and (c) disorientation.

a. Interruption and diversion

75As we have just seen, the semantics of volver supposes an inversion in the spatial orientation (regresar ‘return’), the abandonment of a previously followed route (torcer ‘turn off/away’), or diversion without displacement (girar ‘(make) turn back’, dar la vuelta ‘rotate’). We therefore consider that volver profiles a break. The relation with an anteriority permits to see the common denominator in the constructions with volverse: what is profiled is an interruption or a (half) turn not in space but in time and at a symbolic level. A diminished hearing (72), a lost virtue (73), etc. are but some of the many occurrences that go against ICMs which reflect our expectations of progress and continuity. In other words, volverse as PCV evokes a changethat interruptscontinuity in time.


¿Esos pasos, la Andrea?... No, canturrea otra voz; es Renato... ¡Qué cosa!, todos los viejos se vuelven sordos, pero a mí se me afina el oído; valgo ahora más para escucha que cuando me tocaba de avanzadilla en la partida...

‘These steps, Andrea?... No, it’s another voice that is crooning; it's Renato...What a world!, all the old people become deaf, but my hearing improves; I am now worth more for listening than when I had to as scout at the hunting party...’


A un cándido que se vuelve de pronto desconfiado se le ponen las cosas sencillamente pardas.  

‘To a candid person who becomes suddenly distrustful, things become simply brownish-gray.’

76As shown in Figure 2, the conceptual image associated with volverse is one of interruption (vertical broken line) and change of direction (downwards blue arrow), which can be understood more specifically as a diversion from the previously followed path (horizontal black arrow).

Figure 2: Schematic representation (1) of volverse as pseudo-copula

77In addition, due to the discrepancy between the time axis and the direction of the change, the evolution will tend to be perceived as contrary to expectation and will easily give way to a negative assessment of the change, in terms of decline, degradation or deterioration. We can also think of the metaphor undoing progress is backward movement (Lakoff 1993: 221). To sum up, volverse can be defined as the PCV of interruption: the break(ing off) in time is seen as a diversion with respect to the prototypical progress and corresponds to a deviation of some sort (often interpreted as a downhill change). At the light of this conceptualization, the features associated with volverse in the literature (cf. Section 2) can be reanalyzed as prototypicality effects, which can get reinforced or attenuated depending on the context. By way of inference based on experiential knowledge, a change conceived in terms of interruption and regression is easily thought of as an undesired, unintended and negatively valued one, the achievement of which is abrupt and unpredictable. Once again, however, these prototypicality effects reflect ICMs and should not be assimilated to necessary conditions for use. Quite a few contexts do not, or only partially, corroborate this line of reasoning.

78The conceptual image of interruption or diversion with respect to the previous or prototypical state attributed to the subject entity (cf. (72)-(73)) also applies to inanimate entities. In (74), the verb volverse ties in with the alteration (caprichosa y melancólica ‘capricious and melancholy’) which affects the bell of the clock tower. Contextual clues corroborate the idea that a bell is normally supposed to be indifferent to the hours it marks and, thus, not to be hindered by reaching the magic number seven. The diversion expressed by volverse in (75) concerns the color of the sea that surrounds the city. From the context and from our experience we know that the sea is by default blue (el azul de un mar ‘the blue color of a sea’); sometimes (a veces), however, the sea deviates from its normal state and becomes black.


Se acercaba la noche. La campana del reloj de la torre tenía un sonido extraño: se diría que a partir de las siete se volvía caprichosa, melancólica, como si le incomodara marcar más allá del número mágico. […] Sea como fuere, las lentas campanadas de las ocho sonaron a muerte.

‘The night was approaching. The bell of the clock tower had a strange sound: it seems that from seven o’clock on it became capricious, melancholic, as if it felt uncomfortable to mark the hour beyond the magic number. [...] Anyhow, the slow rings of eight o’clock sounded like death.’


Subí al estudio de mi hija. Desde allí, la ciudad era un gran bloque gris, cercado por el azul de un mar que a veces se volvía negro. Recuerdo que hacía mucho viento y los árboles se balanceaban goteando restos de una lluvia reciente.

‘I went to the studio flat of my daughter. From there, the city was a large gray block, surrounded by the blue color of a sea which sometimes turned black. I remember that it was very windy and that the trees moved to and fro while dripping remains of a recent rain.’

79Our data confirm, as suggested by Rodríguez Arrizabalaga (2001: 156), that with volverse it is very common that the initial state in which the entity was situated (before the transformation) is linguistically expressed in the same clause or in its immediate context (cf. número mágico vs. caprichosa, melancólica; azul vs. negro).

80While in (74) and (75) the resultant state tends to be negatively assessed, volverse can also depict regression without entailing negative appraisal. In (76), e.g., the result of a gradual evolution (vanperdiendo el color verde) is formulated in glorifying terms (amarillas… oro, rojizas… cobre).


En otoño, las arboledas van perdiendo el color verde, unas hojas se vuelven amarillas, hasta parecer de oro, y otras rojizas como el cobre.

‘In autumn, the trees lose the green color, some leaves become yellow, up to looking like gold, and others reddish as copper.’

81From the contexts discussed so far it is clear that the contrast introduced by volverse regarding the initial state in which the subject entity was situated does not only evoke the general image of a diverted movement but also appears to be outlined more specifically in terms of polarity inversion. The diversion thus comes to be seen in terms of opposite or inverse orientation.

82In (77), for instance, the induction of a loss of orientation, due to an external factor (persons of the opposite sex), also yields polarity inversion: loss of spontaneity (pierde la espontaneidad). The initial spontaneity is interpreted as the opposite pole of shyness. At the same time, however, the deviated image in terms of decline or degradation with respect to the previous state remains valid.


Odia a las mujeres y a las niñas porque se siente ridículo ante ellas. Pierde la espontaneidad y se vuelve tímido y distraído. Es tierno porque aún no ha desarrollado la malicia y la supuesta listeza de los adolescentes tardíos. Los trece-catorce años marcan el límite atroz, cuando todavía es posible de él todo lo mejor.

‘He detests the women and the girls because he feels ridiculous in front of them. He loses spontaneity and becomes shy and absent-minded. He is tender because he has not yet developed the malice and the supposed smartness of the late adolescents. The thirteen-fourteen years mark the atrocious limit, when all the best can still come out of him.’

83In what follows we will discuss the image understood in terms of polarity inversion.

b. Polarity inversion

84When the reorientation or regression amounts to the loss or, conversely, the acquisition, of a substantial quality, it culminates in the disintegration of the subject entity, or, where appropriate, in its full (re)integration. Such a radical switch surfaces in the paradoxical or antonymic relation between subject and predicate complement: sal/sosa (78), amigos buenos/malos (79), etc. form authentic oxymora, susceptible of acquiring aphoristic value.


 ¿Para qué sirve la sal si se vuelve sosa?

‘What is the salt for if it becomes insipid?’


Los amigos son buenos hasta que se vuelven malos.

‘Friends are good until they become bad.’

85The more specific image of a polarity inversion attributable to the PCV volverse is graphically represented in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Schematic representation (2) of volverse as pseudo-copula

86It is important to notethat the representation given in Figure 3is not opposedto that of Figure 2, but representsa more pronounced application of the diversionexpressed by volverse. Instead of a downwards movement( arrowin Figure 2), the change in directionresults in a totalpolarity inversion.

87In the following paragraph (c) we turn to the most frequently collocation in the corpus, namely, volverse loco.

c. Disorientation: volverse loco

88The most commonly used predicate of volverse’sis loco ‘mad, crazy’. In addition to the image of diversion, the very notion of losing one’s mind or good sense  also suggests total (mental) disorientation. The following examples serve as illustration.


-Otro interés serían los diamantes... -No lo culpo, milord. Las mujeres se vuelven locas por ellos; aquí también, no crea.

‘-Another interest would be the diamonds... -I do not blame you, my lord. The women go crazy for them; here too, believe it or not.’


-Es el levante -[...]-. Acaba de entrar, y ha entrado fuerte. Las gaviotas se vuelven locas, ¿lo ves?, no saben para dónde ir. Al principio dan vueltas como tontas en el aire, van hacia un lado, hacia el otro, pierden altura de repente... Es como si se les olvidara volar.

‘-It’s the easterly wind, [...]. It has just arrived, and it has arrived strongly. The seagulls go mad, you see?, they don't know where to go. First they turn around like fools in the air, they go to one side, to the other, they lose height suddenly... It’s as if they were not thinking of flying anymore.’


Fue una odisea sin posible descripción, a través de la nieve, a una temperatura de treinta y tres grados bajo cero. […] Los hombres se iban congelando, se inutilizaban los aparatos de transmisiones, los trineos se rompían y las brújulas se volvían locas.

‘It was an odyssey without possible description, through the snow, at a temperature of thirty-three degrees below zero. [...] The men were freezing, the transmission devices were rendered useless, sleds broke and compasses went crazy.’

89When the alteration affects animate beings, it is easily attributed to some external force: while the disorientation of animals usually has natural causes (e.g., the easterly wind in (81)), human alienation and insanity rather finds its source in temptations (e.g. the diamonds in (80)). With inanimate subjects, mention is also usually made of causal factors. The disorientation of the compasses in (82), for example, is due to the cold temperature (cf. una temperatura de treinta y tres grados bajo cero ‘a temperature of thirty-three degrees below zero’).

90In the same way as the image of interruption or diversion (72)-(77) can be maximized into polarity inversion (78)-(79), we argue that the image associated with the diversion in (80)-(82) is one of complete disorientation. Graphically, this image can be sketched like in Figure 4; it involves a versatile trajectory, devoid of any specific direction.

Figure 4: Schematic representation (3) of volverse as pseudo-copula

91Once again, it should be noted that the representation given in Figure 4 is not opposed to that of Figure 2, but is a variant of the general notion of diversion profiled by volverse.

92In sum, volver profiles a break, interruption and diversion. When used as PCV, volverse profiles a change that interrupts the continuity in time. It introduces a certain discrepancy with respect to the prototypical image of the subject entity. From the corpus data it appears that the general profile of diversion (Figure 2) presents two more specific variants. It can be conceived more particularly as polarity inversion (Figure 3) or as disorientation (Figure 4). As we have seen, these images are not separated but correspond to strongly interrelated representations.

93 To round off the analysis, we will compare the effect of using one PCV or the other in similar contexts.

5. Hacerse vs. volverse: conceptual accommodation

94The PCVs hacerse and volverse are usually studied together. This can be explained by the fact that both verbs combine with the same type of predicate complements, viz., predicate complements that are compatible with the copula ser or with both ser and estar, but not with those that appear exclusively with the copula estar (Morimoto & Pavón 2007: 38).The two verbs, however, are not synonymous. We found that hacerse conveys a prototypical vision of progression, while volverse marks a diversion with respect to the prototypical image of the subject entity. Stated otherwise, the choice of the PCV reveals the underlying conceptual frame, and gives leeway to opposite inferences and value assessments.

95While the compatibility between the property expressed by the predicate complement and the type of entity denoted by the subject plays an important role in the choice of the PCV, attention should also be paid to the mechanisms of accommodation which modulate the conceptualization of the relationship between the two in function of the PCV selected. In this section, we will show that there are restrictions which are not definable at the level of the subject entity and/or of the predicate complement alone, but follow from the conceptualization of the predicative relationship imposed by the PCV. Thus, cases of alternation between hacerse and volverse can be explained in the light of the different conceptualization they yield of the change.

96We will first focus on some contexts in which hacerse and volverse are used with the same type of subject entity. The choice of the verb, however, has a nontrivial impact on the profiling of the subject entity. This can be seen, for example, with body parts, e.g. (83)-(85). As predicted by our analysis, hacerse enhances the subject’s initiative, while volverse downgrades it. In (83), hacerse profiles the empowerment of the hand; this is corroborated by the subsequent statement that the hand dominates one’s conduct  (vamos detrás de nuestra mano, que nos arrastra). In (84) and (85), on the contrary, a face’s unusual or degraded state is commented upon. This justifies the use of volverse: in (84), the loss of identity (anónima ‘anonymous’) of the face of a dead person reads as a case of polarity inversion; in (85), the alteration under the effect of the tears (intensas ‘intense’) is presented as terrifying (aterradora).


Las manos, en la infancia, fueron como garras que la madre, cada cierto tiempo, tenía que lavar, pulir, recortar, limar, para devolverles su calidad de manos, su humanidad. Hemos tenido épocas de cuidarnos mucho las manos y épocas de olvidarlas casi por completo. La mano se hace ladrona por sí misma, o se afemina, o se cierra con violencia. Realmente, vamos detrás de nuestra mano, que nos arrastra y quiere cumplir su destino.

‘During childhood, hands were like claws that the mother, from time to time, had to wash, polish, cut, shape, in order to restore their quality of hands, their humanity. We have had times that we took much care of our hands and times that we forgot them almost completely. The hand becomes thief by itself, or gets effeminate, or closes with violence. Actually, we go behind our hand, which drags us and wants to fulfill its destiny.’


[…] porque no se puede recordar la cara de un muerto, se vuelve anónima en cuanto la vida ha desaparecido de ella, […].

‘[…] because one cannot remember the face of a dead, it becomes anonymous as soon as the life has disappeared from it, […].’


Me miro en el espejo. La verdad es que no estoy tan mal llorando. Las caras de las mujeres cuando lloran de verdad se vuelven intensas y contienen una belleza aterradora como las esculturas de Gaudí.

‘I look in the mirror. The truth is that I don’t look all that bad when crying. Women’s faces when they really cry become intense and contain a terrifying beauty like the sculptures of Gaudí.’

97The conceptualization of the predicate complement also adjusts to that of the pseudo-copular verb. Regardless of the point of arrival, hacerse evokes a progression in continuity, volverse a diversion or an evolution marked by discontinuity. For instance, in (86) and (87), the difference in construal applies to becoming a monk (monje). In (86), the vocational gestalt rendered by hacerse is in line with the habitual institutional framing of a voluntary, socially valued choice (pugnar ‘strive, eagerly want’). Turning to volverse, as in (87), makes the change appear as unexpected, unnatural, contrary to one’s nature, and lowly valued; this perspective is corroborated by the pseudo-comparison (antes que maricón ‘before gay’).


-¿Por qué crees que tanta gente pugna por hacerse monje? -añadió-. ¿Por qué crees que hay en la cristiandad más monjes que lobos? Porque todo lo que está fuera de las abadías es presa suya.

‘-Why do you think so many people are eager to become a monk? -he added-. Why do you think there are more monks in Christianity than wolves? Because everything that is outside the abbeys is their prey.’


-Por falta de comprensión. -Sí, yo creo que la homosexualidad se ceba en parte de esa circunstancia. -Pero Ramón antes se vuelve monje que marica.

‘-For lack of understanding. -Yes, I believe that homosexuality gets fueled partially because of that circumstance. -But Ramon becomes monk before gay.’

6. Conclusion

98The Cognitive Grammar assumption that a difference in form implies a difference in meaning predicts that each PCV corresponds to a proper conceptual image. This is supported by our data: while the image associated with hacerse is one of auto-generation and progression in continuity, that of interruption and regression profiled by volverse is characterized by its discontinuity. The difference in conceptualization is summarized in Table 1.



basic meaning

action with result: creation, formation, realization

displacement: turn, regressive (or rotated) movement

pcv of change

hacerse> auto-generation

internal force of the participant in the process (active experiencer)

volverse > inversion

diversion from the previous/ prototypical state

projection in time

- incremental process:

  gain of substance over time

- decremental process:

  loss of substance over time

- transition to the opposite state

evolutionary view

“in crescendo”: advance

~ progression ~promotion

“in decrescendo”: decline

~ decrease ~regression

broader scope

law of life, destiny, nature, raison-d'être

reversal, debilitation, fatality, alteration

prototypical expectations

- expected, normal

                / positive assessment

- desired / intentional

- internally ordered / gradual

- unexpected, abnormal

                    / negative assessment

- undesired / unintentional

- fast, sudden

Table 1. Conceptualization of the change expressed by hacerse and volverse

99The key notions of auto-generation and inversion, respectively, as derived from their basic meaning, yield an opposite conceptualization of the schematic projection in time, and lead to a variety of possible inferences, which can best be accounted for as prototypicality effects.

Haut de page


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1 This study is part of the research project G.0308.10 funded by the FWO (Flemish Science Foundation). We thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable suggestions and constructive comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

2 Two other classes of pseudo-copular verbs are usually distinguished, viz. those expressing permanence (e.g. Sigue enfermo ‘He’s still sick’, lit. ‘He continues sick’) and those expressing appearance (e.g. Parece enfermo ‘He seems sick’). See Morimoto & Pavón (2007: 12-16) and Porroche Ballesteros (1990: 30-32) on what distinguishes the pseudo-copulas from the copulas ser ‘to be’ and estar ‘to be (in a state)’ (cf. Delbecque 2000: 248). The import of the non-argumental reflexive pronoun in the pseudo-copular construction will be the object of a future paper.

3 On ponerse ‘put-refl’ and quedarse ‘stay-refl’, see Lise Van Gorp (this volume).

4 The larger objective of our approach is to apply the same kind of analysis to the other verbs which can be used in a pseudo-copular construction expressing change, viz. acabar ‘end’, caer ‘fall’, resultar ‘result’, salir ‘come out’, terminar ‘end’ and the more marginal devenir ‘become’.

5 The abbreviations used are: refl: reflexive, inf ‘infinitive’, sg ‘singular’, pl ‘plural’, and the number indicates the person.

6 César Romero (1907-1994) was a famous Hollywood actor who remained a fashion icon till an advanced age.

7 “When a form undergoes grammaticization from a lexical to a grammatical function, so long as it is grammatically viable some traces of its original lexical meanings tend to adhere to it, and details of its lexical history may be reflected in constraints on its grammatical distribution.” (Hopper 1991: 22)

8 “Various aspects of event structure, including notions like states, changes, processes, actions, causes, purposes, and means, are characterized cognitively via metaphor in terms of space, motion and force” (Lakoff 1993: 220). This is referred to as the Location Event Structure Metaphor (Lakoff 1993: 222 ff.).

9 We understand force dynamics as “the ways that objects are conceived to interrelate with respect to the exertion of force, resistance to force, the overcoming of such resistance, barriers to the exertion of force and the removal of such barriers”, as defined by Talmy (2000: 219). For a detailed presentation, see Talmy (2000: 409-470).  

10 “ICMs are proposed as a way in which we organize knowledge, not as a direct reflection of an objective state of affairs in the world, but according to certain cognitive structuring principles. The models are idealized, in that they involve an abstraction, through perceptual and conceptual processes, from the complexities of the physical world. At the same time, these processes impart organizing structure—for example, in the form of conceptual categories” (Cienki 2007: 176). ICMs are thus complex Gestalts; they incorporate four structuring principles: propositional structure, schematic images, metaphoric and metonymic projections.

11 In a future study we project to compare our results with the predicate complement groupings established by Bybee & Eddington (2006).

12 On prototypical causation, see Lakoff (1987: 54 ff.).

13 Unless stated otherwise, the examples are drawn from the online Corpus de Referencia del Español Actual (CREA) of the Real Academia Española (RAE), which is largely recognized as one of the most representative databases for present-day Spanish. The search was limited to the subset of prose published in Spain.

14 This model characterizes the prototypical transitive clause, which “profiles an action chain involving the transmission of energy from the subject to the object, with the former being agentive and the latter undergoing a change of state” (Langacker 1990: 220).

15 By construal we refer to the way a situation is represented (cf. Verhagen 2007: 48, Langacker 2008: 4).

16 Example from

17 A diachronic study could perhaps shed light on the possible filiation between the complex transitive construction and the pseudo-copular one.

18 Ramón Vinay (1911-1996) was a successful Chilean opera singer, known for having switched from baritone to tenor and internationally admired for perfectly mastering a wide-ranging repertoire.

19 Example from

20 Source:

21 Needless to say, in (19) and (20) adding a sí mismo would be infelicitous.

22 Coordination with a non-coreferential nominal object characterizes the scarce occurrences in Google containing a sí mismo ‘(to) himself’. Example (i), e.g., states that besides manifesting auto-managing abilities, Paul has  modified the living conditions of the whole city. (Paul the Octopus was a common octopus living in a tank at a Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen, Germany, who was used as an animal oracle to predict the results of football matches.): (i) Paul [el Pulpo], que se ha hecho famoso a sí mismo y a la localidad de Oberhausen, cada vez está más cansado por la cantidad de visitantes que recibe cada día. / ’Paul [the Octopus], who has made [literally: refl has made] famous himself and the locality (lit.: to himself and to the locality) of Oberhausen, is more and more tired by the number of visitors he receives every day.’ (

23 Example from

24 Example from

25 By means of a causative main clause introducing the pseudo-copular construction, as shown in (i), it is possible to articulate the external causality relation in addition to the internal one depicted in (22). Compare with the paraphrase of (12), given in (13), with the ser ‘be’ copula in the complement clause.

(i) (La película de) Almodóvar ha hecho que Penélope Cruz se hiciera famosa.
    (The movie of) Almodóvar has made that P. Cruz reflmade-impf.subj.3sgfamous.     ‘(The movie of) Almodóvar has made that P. Cruz has become famous.’

26 Example from:

27 In contrast with the Patient role of the subject in so-called ‘reflexive passives’ (cf. example (11)).

28 The only selection restriction seems to be that the subject cannot denote a first order entity, i.e. a concrete, physical being (cf. Lyons, 1991: 160 ff.) other than a person (cf. Delbecque & Lamiroy 1999: 2002).

29 In (35), e.g., the result is that ‘Ana is late’, like in (22) the result is that P. Cruz is famous, and in (30) and (31) that the Dukan diet and Almodóvar’s movies are.

30 The construction with finite complement clause, for its part, only sporadically occurs in the passive:

(i)  Se ha hecho que llegue a tiempo. / ‘It was made [lit.: refl has made] that she arrived on time.’

31 Introduced by Jespersen (1965: 117), the term ‘light verb’ indicates that a common verb, such as give, go, make, take, contributes to a complex predication in a semantically ‘light’ way in combination with a complement which has predicational status and thus determines the argument selection of the clause.

32 It parallels the non-reflexive construction schema of hacer construed with a definite nominal denoting a character of a play or movie, e.g. (i):

(i) Al Pacino hizo el policía en la película de Scorcese. / ‘Al Pacino played [lit.: he made] the policeman in Scorcese’s movie.’

33 Cf. Tesnière (1959: Ch. 66-67) and Alarcos Llorach (1968: 159).

34 By contrast, some generative accounts (e.g. Suñer 1990) analyze the pseudo-copular construction in terms of ‘small clause’ or ‘minimal clause’ (cf. examples (12) and (14)-(16) in section 4.1.1. above). The structure subjacent to (1’) would be [se hizo] [Juan rico], which shows that Juan receives its thematic role from the predicate complement, and that the pseudo-copula behaves as a ‘raising’ verb, i.e. that it does not select an external argument, so that the subject of the ‘minimal clause’ can ascend to the subject position of the matrix clause and subject-verb ‘flex’ agreement marks it as Nominative.

35 Except in fables and tales, of course.

36 In the words of Lakoff (1993: 223): “One’s expected progress through life is charted in terms of a life schedule, which is conceptualized as a virtual traveler that one is expected to keep up with”.

37 In our corpus no example of this kind appears with an inanimate non-organic subject. This means that with the latter type of subject hacerse automatically conveys a “subjective” change.

38 Source:

39 A direct causation view is proper to the divided-self reading which characterizes the active reflexive construal (cf. examples (10), (14) and (15), commented on in 4.1.1.). Although not totally impossible, the combination of e.g. hacerse viejo / feo/ guapo refl make old / ugly / good-looking’ with a sí mismo ‘(to) oneself’ is highly marked: it would mean that someone applies some artifacts to oneself, e.g., make-up and disguise. The pseudo-copular construal, by contrast, involves an internally driven metamorphosis, e.g. the transformation an actor engages in when playing an older character, by becoming that character as it were.

40 The paraphrase with convertirseen un N 'literally: convert-refl/be converted into/turn into a N' shows the affinity with the middle-passive.

41 For a detailed account of the continuum in subjectivity, including more subtle cases such as e.g. (3) and (7) mentioned in Section 1, see Van Gorp (Fc.).

42 Langacker (1987: 126; 1990: 9) defines the ‘ground’ as the ensemble of the communicative event, its participants, and its immediate circumstances.

43 While persons, animals and discrete physical objects are “first order entities”, Lyons (1991: 170) defines “second order” entities as those which refer to events, situations or states of affairs which occur or exist in the physical world, and as “third order” entities those which are not spatio-temporally located; these “intensional” objects (e.g., propositions, individual concepts) cannot be designated deictically, unlike the first and second order entities.

44 This would not be the case with static copular verbs, e.g. ser ‘be’ or parecer ‘seem’, or with propositional attitude predicates such as considerarse ‘be considered’ or estimarse ‘be estimated’.

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Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 1: Schematic representation of hacerse as pseudo-copula
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Légende Figure 2: Schematic representation (1) of volverse as pseudo-copula
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Légende Figure 3: Schematic representation (2) of volverse as pseudo-copula
Fichier image/png, 65k
Légende Figure 4: Schematic representation (3) of volverse as pseudo-copula
Fichier image/png, 16k
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Nicole Delbecque & Lise Van Gorp, « The pseudo-copular use of the Spanish verbs hacerse and volverse: two types of change », CogniTextes [En ligne], Volume 13 | 2015, mis en ligne le 27 décembre 2015, consulté le 10 août 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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Nicole Delbecque

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium

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Lise Van Gorp

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium

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