How to Use the Verb Ficar

The verb ficar paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio is a very common, and important, Portuguese verb. Ficar is sort of like a Swiss army knife, as it can take on many meanings… but you also have to careful with it!
In most cases, this verb means to be, to stay, to become, or to keep. It implies that something happened or will happen, or that something changed (and that change can be either permanent or temporary). It can also be used to indicate the placement of objects, cities, buildings and so on (especially unmovable objects), or talk about the location where a certain object is usually stored.
You can explore the different verb conjugations here.
We’ll also discuss the difference between ficar vs. ser vs. estar vs. tornar-se, as these are often difficult for non-native speakers to differentiate.

Most Common Meanings of Ficar

Stay

Eu vou ficar em casa Play normal audio I'm going to stay home
Fica comigo Play normal audio Stay with me
When the meaning is “staying/being at”, the verb ficar is referring either to the near future or to something recurrent. We can explain this by giving some context to the first example: Jantem fora vocês que eu fico em casa Play normal audio You dine out and I'll stay home. Ficar helps to portray the idea that I will continue to be at home while you are eating out.

Become

ficar ansioso
O Pedro ficou ansioso Play normal audio Pedro became anxious
Ficámos muito amigos Play normal audio We became very good friends

Be (located)

A Torre de Belém fica em Lisboa Play normal audio The Tower of Belem is located in Lisbon
Onde fica a tua casa? paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Where is your house?

Keep


Ela ficou com o cão Play normal audio She kept the dog
Fica em silêncio Play normal audio Keep quiet

Turn out / End up

Acabou por ficar tudo bem Play normal audio Everything turned out fine
Como é que ficou o pudim? Play normal audio How did the pudding turn out?

Be left with


Ficámos sem nada Play normal audio We were left with nothing
Ficámos sozinhos Play normal audio We were left alone

Fit (clothing)

Estas calças ficam-me apertadas Play normal audio These pants are tight on me – i.e. fit me tightly

Other Meanings Within Expressions

Ficar also makes an appearance in many common expressions. The exact translation may not always be straightforward, but as you see and hear more examples, you’ll start to get a sense of the meaning the word imparts on a phrase:
O jogo ficou empatado Play normal audio The game ended in a draw, The game was tied
Temos de ficar de pé Play normal audio We have to stand, Literal - We have to stay on foot
Vai ficar para a história paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio It will go down in history
Os fãs ficaram loucos paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio The fans went crazy
Vou ficar por aqui Play normal audio I'll stick around, Literal - I'll stay around here

Ficar vs. Ser vs. Estar vs. Tornar-se


As you can see,  ficar is quite versatile! However, you may have also noticed that it sometimes shares a similar meaning to a few other common verbs. So how do you know which one to use? The following section will highlight the similarities and differences between ficar, ser, estar, and tornar-se in order to help you better understand when you can use the verb ficar, and when you can’t.

Ficar vs. Estar

While ficar is generally associated with change, estar is often used with temporary qualities and traits, as well as the location of movable objects.
For the most part, ficar and estar cannot be replaced with one another without, at least, reconstructing the whole sentence. Let’s look at some simple sentences that illustrate these differences in meaning:
O meu filho fica em Lisboa Play normal audio My son stays in Lisbon
O meu filho está em Lisboa Play normal audio My son is in Lisbon
Eu vou ficar com ele Play normal audio I'm going to stay with him, I'm going to keep it
Eu vou estar com ele Play normal audio I'm going to be with him
Estás a dever-me um almoço Play normal audio You owe me a lunch
Ficas a dever-me um almoço Play normal audio You (will) owe me a lunch (after this)
The only situations in which ficar and estar are practically always interchangeable is when talking about the placement of buildings or locations:
Viseu está perto da Serra da Estrela Play normal audio Viseu is near Serra da Estrela
Viseu fica perto da Serra da Estrela Play normal audio Viseu is near Serra da Estrela
O museu está situado na Rua X Play normal audio The museum is located on Street X
O museu fica situado na Rua X Play normal audio The museum is located on Street X
However, with movable objects, the meaning is a little different. Using ficar implies that that is the usual location for an object, while estar just indicates the current location:
A caneta fica na mesa Play normal audio The pen (usually) stays on the table
A caneta está na mesa Play normal audio The pen is on the table
There are, of course, some ‘exceptions’ in which, despite there being a slight technical difference in meaning between the verbs, we treat them the same in casual conversations. For example, it’s common to use estar and ficar interchangeably when referring to how clothes fit:
Essas calças ficam-te apertadas Play normal audio Those pants are tight on you (when you put them on)
Essas calças estão-te apertadas Play normal audio Those pants are tight on you (in this very moment)
Here are a few more examples in which the meanings are technically different, but they are casually used interchangeably:
Fica à vontade Play normal audio Make yourself at home, Be my guest, Feel free to...
Estás à vontade Play normal audio Be my guest, Feel free to..., You're welcome to...
Cada vez fico mais convencido... Play normal audio I become more and more convinced...
Cada vez estou mais convencido... Play normal audio I'm more and more convinced...

Ficar vs. Ser

These two verbs are even more different from one another. As mentioned in a previous Learning Note, ser is often used with inherent or intrinsic qualities and personality traits as well as with professions. Ficar can’t be used with the latter and, when talking about qualities or traits, it means becoming, as opposed to being.
Eu sou bonito Play normal audio I am pretty
Eu fico bonito Play normal audio I become pretty, I'll get pretty
Vais ser arquiteto Play normal audio You'll be an architect
Vais ficar aquitecto Play normal audio
Similarly to what happens with the verb estar, though, ser and ficar can both be used when talking about the unmovable location of a building, store, or room, for example.
A casa de banho é ao fundo do corredor Play normal audio The bathroom is down the hall
A casa de banho fica ao fundo do corredor Play normal audio The bathroom is down the hall
O restaurante é já aqui Play normal audio The restaurant is over here
O restaurante fica já aqui Play normal audio The restaurant is over here

Ficar vs. Tornar-se

While the verb tornar paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio come back, make is not interchangeable with ficar, its reflexive version, tornar-se Play normal audio become, can be. This is because tornar-se also involves a change of state, as something or someone becomes something else.
Vamos ficar amigos Play normal audio We will become friends
Vamos tornar-nos amigos Play normal audio We will become friends
Ficou claro que não queres saber Play normal audio It became clear that you don't care
Tornou-se claro que não queres saber Play normal audio It became clear that you don't care
This only works with more definite or lasting changes. When talking about less permanent things, like moods and feelings, you should not use tornar-se.
Fiquei irritado Play normal audio I became upset, I got upset
Estou irritado Play normal audio I am upset
Tornei-me irritado Play normal audio

To Sum it Up…

We hope these examples gave you a good overview of the verb ficar in Portuguese. Don’t worry if it’s not crystal clear. That’s just the nature of language! Even natives often have a hard time explaining the differences and why one is used over the other. As is usually the case, it takes time and experience to become comfortable with the variety of contexts for using this verb, so it’s important to spend some time exploring the examples.
In an attempt to simplify something not so simple, just remember that while there are a lot of exceptions and technical differences, you can usually use ser, estar, and ficar interchangeably when talking about location, but in other contexts you need to be much more careful. One of the primary differences is that ficar often implies change in state.
Now, let’s move on to the lesson exercises to start practicing in context! (coming soon)

Comments

  • Finally!
    I have been wondering what the deal is with ficar for a long time. All over the place!

    Thank you. Your lessons are the best Portuguese lessons I can find on the Internet.. Extremely helpful, comfortable and well suited for memorizing.

  • Although very complicated your explanations of the verb ficar are clear and concise. I am trying to improve my grasp of the language, the grammar is so complicated ( at least for me). I am retired and my memory is not as good as it was . I live part of the year in Wales U.K. and also VRSA Eastern Algarve. Obviously the current Covid situation prevents me from visiting Portugal.
    I am looking to practice my book and internet learning by practising and improving this with speech.
    Do you offer this via Skype or FaceTime or do you know anybody in Portugal who does?
    Any help or advice would be appreciated
    Kind Regards
    Phill Murray,

    • Thanks Phill, glad to hear this was useful for you! Unfortunately I don’t know of anyone in particular to recommend for Skype/Facetime practice. I know some people use sites such as iTalki, but you just have to make sure you find someone who speaks European Portuguese to practice with (as most of the tutors are Brazilian).

      We don’t offer live speaking practice, but we do have an automated speaking practice component as part of our online lessons, which are available as part of a subscription. If you’re interested, you can read more about what’s included here: Membership Benefits

      Best of luck! Feel free to reach out at [email protected] if you have any other questions. 🙂

  • Thanks guys, I have been awaiting the release of this unit for a long time and the explanation as always does not disappoint.

  • Opens interesting reflection over culture of understanding and insights of meaning with verb fincar!!! Never seen such finesse of meaning with the usage of one verb. I have messed up with other languages like Italian, German, French, Spanish, Romanian, English but never came across with anything similar. Vai ficar para a historia!!!!! DrEl

  • The more I read through this lesson, the more I learn. It would be helpful to add more opportunities to listen to the sentences or words being spoken. In the places where you’ve done that, it adds an important layer of information in how to speak.

  • Esta aula é uma maravilha.
    Sempre custava-me conhecer todos os jeitos do uso do verbo “ficar”.  Esta aula responde às minhas dúvidas que eu tive. Efetivamente fico mais confiante para usar este verbo. 

    Bryan Ung de Macau

  • Rui e Joel; Thanks for this most instructive lesson on what is a somewhat judgemental issue, delivered succinctly.

  • It sounds like one word with many different meanings. I’ve never used it after studying for over 6.5 years so maybe I can keep using the words I’ve been using until I can learn how to use it. Thanks!

  • Vais ficar arquiteto (not correct), but Vamos ficar amigos (correct). Is this so, because arquiteto is a profession, therefore not changeable, and amigo is a state of relationship, which can change?
    Thanks for your answer, Jutta

    • Olá, Jutta. Yes, in a context where we want to say “You’ll be/become an architect”, we don’t use the verb “ficar”. We would understand it literally as “You’ll stay an architect”, which is not quite the same or at least doesn’t sound natural. This applies to professions in general, but not necessarily because of a temporary vs. permanent thing – after all, we can change professions too! It’s just how the language has evolved, I suppose 🙂

  • Thank you very much for this comprehensive and useful explanation. I’ve always thought that when you’re talking about the location of cities/countries/streets/buildings, et cetera, you would have to use “ficar” or “ser” and not “estar” So I still have difficulty in understanding the sentence in one of the examples ‘Viseu está perto da Serra da Estrela (Viseu is near Serra da Estrela). Could you explain this, please?

    • Olá. Thank you too for your comment! Locations (of both fixed and movable objects) are one of those pesky exceptions to the rule, since they generally accept all three verbs, “ficar”, “ser” and “estar”. And honestly, I have no good explanation for that. Just one of those Portuguese things? 🙂

  • Hi
    Good reading! Todays languages are evolving. Nice to grasp the knowledge of the language from different perspectives! Thank you and all the very best!

  • Hi, Thanks for the detailed explanation about the usage of Ficar they are very helpful.

    I just have a question about Ficar in terms of to Turn out / End up. What’s the difference between using Acabou por + Ficar and without Ficar.
    Example.

    Diga-nos como acabou por voltar para cá.
    Ela acabou por ficar com o tipo certo.

    I’m trying to understand when do you have to include the verb ficar and when it’s not needed.

    • Olá! It’s not “ficar” that means “end up”, but actually “acabar por”. So that’s the part of the sentence that you can consider adding or not adding depending on how you want to express yourself. If you want to just be straightforward, you’ll leave “acabar por” out and just use the main verb. For example:
      – Diga-nos como voltou para cá. (Tell us how you came back here)

      If you want to add the “end up” bit, then you’ll add “acabar por”:
      – Diga-nos como acabou por voltar cá. (Tell us how you ended up coming back here)

      “Voltar” is the truly important verb here and you can’t leave it out. Same for “ficar” in your other example 🙂

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