How to Use the Verb Ficar

The verb ficar 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 casaI'm going to stay home
Fica comigoStay 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 casaYou 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 ansiosoPedro became anxious
Ficámos muito amigosWe became very good friends

Be (located)

A Torre de Belém fica em LisboaThe Tower of Belem is located in Lisbon
Onde fica a tua casa?Where is your house?

Keep


Ela ficou com o cãoShe kept the dog, She stayed with the dog
Fica em silêncioKeep quiet, Stay in silence
O carro fica na garagemThe car is kept in the garage, The car stays in the garage

Turn out / End up

Acabou por ficar tudo bemEverything turned out fine
Como é que ficou o pudim?How did the pudding turn out?

Be left with


Ficámos sem nadaWe were left with nothing
Ficámos sozinhosWe were left alone

Fit (clothing)

Estas calças ficam-me apertadasThese 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 empatadoThe game ended in a draw, The game was tied
Temos de ficar de péWe have to stand, Literal - We have to stay on foot
Vai ficar para a históriaIt will go down in history
Os fãs ficaram loucosThe fans went crazy
Vou ficar por aquiI'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 LisboaMy son stays in Lisbon
O meu filho está em LisboaMy son is in Lisbon
Eu vou ficar com eleI'm going to stay with him, I'm going to keep it
Eu vou estar com eleI'm going to be with him
Estás a dever-me um almoçoYou owe me a lunch
Ficas a dever-me um almoçoYou (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 EstrelaViseu is near Serra da Estrela
Viseu fica perto da Serra da EstrelaViseu is near Serra da Estrela
O museu está situado na Rua XThe museum is located on Street X
O museu fica situado na Rua XThe 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 mesaThe pen (usually) stays on the table
A caneta está na mesaThe 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 apertadasThose pants are tight on you (when you put them on)
Essas calças estão-te apertadasThose 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 vontadeMake yourself at home, Be my guest, Feel free to...
Estás à vontadeBe my guest, Feel free to..., You're welcome to...
Cada vez fico mais convencido...I become more and more convinced...
Cada vez estou mais convencido...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 bonitoI am pretty
Eu fico bonitoI become pretty, I'll get pretty
Vais ser arquitetoYou'll be an architect
Vais ficar aquitecto
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 corredorThe bathroom is down the hall
A casa de banho fica ao fundo do corredorThe bathroom is down the hall
O restaurante é já aquiThe restaurant is over here
O restaurante fica já aquiThe restaurant is over here

Ficar vs. Tornar-se

While the verb tornarcome back, make is not interchangeable with ficar, its reflexive version, tornar-sebecome , can be. This is because tornar-se also involves a change of state, as something or someone becomes something else.
Vamos ficar amigosWe will become friends
Vamos tornar-nos amigosWe will become friends
Ficou claro que não queres saberIt became clear that you don't care
Tornou-se claro que não queres saberIt 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 irritadoI became upset, I got upset
Estou irritadoI am upset
Tornei-me irritado

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 🙂

  • An excellent explanation of the different usages of the verb ficar .
    However I am slightly confused as to why you have used the verb saber to mean care. in “Ficou claro que não queres saber”
    Obviously the more common usage of this expression would be “It became clear that you dont want to know”
    Can you please advise why you chose the more colloquial expression “dont want to care ” in the example.

    • Thank you for your comment!
      Using “não querer saber” in the sense of “not caring” is very common for native speakers. So, without the benefit of having additional context, either meaning is quite plausible. In cases like this, we usually just want to make sure learners are aware of all common possibilities, which is why you will find examples of both uses of the verb throughout the website.

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