The verb ficar 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
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.
Turn out / End up
Be left with
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 Play slow audio Play normal audio It will go down in history
Os fãs ficaram loucos 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 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)