Poner vs ponerse? How to use the verb ‘to put’ in Spanish correctly

PONER vs PONERSE? How to use TO PUT in Spanish Correctly

Just like in English, the verb poner (to put) has many meanings:

OFF CAMERA
¡Pon atención!
(Pay attention!)

MAURA
¡Vale!
(Ok!)

OFF CAMERA
¡Pon este al lado!
(Put this aside!)

MAURA
Ok.
(Ok.)

OFF CAMERA
¿Por qué te pones tan nerviosA?
(Why do you get so nervous?)

MAURA
¡No lo sé!
(I don’t know!)

The worst part about poner is knowing when to use poner (to put), and when to use the reflexive version: ponerse.

I’m Maura from Spring Spanish, and in this lesson, you will learn many chunks with both options: poner vs ponerse.

That way, you’ll be able to tell these twins apart! ¡Empecemos!

1. How to use “Poner”

CARLA
¿Qué hago?
(What do I do?)

MAURA
Por fa pon las bolsas en la mesa del comedor.
(Please put the bags on the dining room table.)

CARLA
Vale. ¿Y cómo te ayudo con lo demás?
(Okay. And how can I help you with the rest?)

MAURA
Si pudieras poner la lavadora, me salvas la vida.
(If you could turn on the washing machine, you’d be a lifesaver.)

CARLA
¡Seguro!
(Sure!)

I’ve created a few categories in case that helps you process the uses of poner better. To some degree, they all relate to the idea of “placing something or someone” on “something or someone” somehow.

  • Placing stuff on stuff: Yo siempre pongo mi teléfono sobre la mesita de noche. (I always put my phone on the bedside table.)
  • Writing or coloring: Pon las letras más grandes en el cartel. ¡Y ponle algo de color! (Put bigger letters on the sign. And put some color on it!)
  • Turning on a machine: ¡Vamos a poner algo de música! (Let’s put on some music!)

The following three are very common expressions that do not seem to answer to much logic but do use “poner”:

  • Poner por escrito (Put in writing): Es importante poner todo por escrito y enviarlo a todos los participantes de la charla. (It is important to put all in writing and send it to all the participants of the chat.)
  • Poner la mesa (Set the table): Por favor, pon la mesa mientras cocino. (Please, set the table while I cook.)
  • Poner atención (Pay attention): Eso te pasa por no poner atención. (That’s what you get for not paying attention.)

I’ll give you a chance to prove to yourself and to me, you know, in case you care, how much you got at the end of the lesson. You’ll get 5 sentences where you’ll have to choose between “poner” and “ponerse”.

The correct conjugation of poner

I did make an entire video about the uses of “poner” were we focus on what this verb can do, more than the conjugation. You should check it out right here!

This verb is irregular, yes, but only the conjugation for “yo” (I) will vary from regular verbs. Check it out:

poner vs ponerse example table on how to use poner in conjugation

2. How to use “Ponerse”

The amount of different “ponerse” that you can find in the following dialogue is insane. And it was super easy to use them all together. That should tell you something about how versatile and important this verb is. Pon mucha atención (Pay a lot of attention):

CARLA
No te pongas nerviosa, pero creo que no nos dará tiempo. A menos que nos pongamos a cocinar ya.
(Don’t get nervous, but I don’t think we’ll have time. Unless we start cooking now.)

MAURA
¿Por qué? ¿Es tarde?
(Why? Is it late?)

CARLA
Más o menos, y yo todavía no sé qué ponerme.
(More or less, and I still don’t know what to wear.)

MAURA
A ver, ponte de pie. Yo creo que te puedes poner mi vestido verde. Te lo saco por si acaso.
(Let’s see, stand up. I think you can wear my green dress. I’ll take it out for you.)

CARLA
¡Buenísimo! ¡Mil gracias!
(Great! Thank you very much!)

If the ultimate chunk with “poner” is placing something on something, like the bags on the table, the ultimate chunk with “ponerse” is about stuff you put on your body:

  • Getting dressed: No hace suficiente frío para ponerme una chaqueta. (It’s not cold enough to put on a jacket.)
  • Accessories, creams, perfume, etc: Pero sí hay mucho sol, así que mejor nos ponemos protector solar. (But there is a lot of sun, so we better put on sunscreen.)

Then we also have other very common uses like:

  • Adding ingredients: Es mejor ponerle menos sal a la comida. (It’s better to put less salt in the food.)
  • Temporal changes of mood or state: Apenas me da el sol, me pongo roja. (As soon as the sun hits me, I turn red.) This use has more implications, so check out some extra examples:
    • Esa película me puso súper triste. (That movie made me super sad.)
    • Ponte derecho. Te vas a hacer daño en la columna. (Stand up straight. You’re going to hurt your spine.)
  • To start doing something: En lo que termine de estudiar, me pongo a hacer ejercicio. (As soon as I finish studying, I’ll start exercising.)
    • Ponte a limpiar, que están a punto de llegar los invitados. (Get to cleaning up, the guests are about to arrive.)

Here’s the conjugation table for “ponerse”, just so it’s easier to see it:

poner vs ponerse example on how to use ponerse correctly

3. Poner Vs Ponerse

Here’s a little comparison of both versions for the one use they both share. This way you can get a better sense of how they diverge from each other, even if they seem to be doing the same thing:

To put things on things use “poner”:

  • Pon las llaves en la cesta de la entrada. (Put the keys in the basket at the entrance. )
  • Dile que no ponga la toalla mojada sobre la cama. (Tell him/her not to put the wet towel on the bed.)
  • Voy a poner el televisor en la sala. (I’ll put the TV in the living room.)

To put things on people, animals or add things to things use “ponerse”:

  • Le pusimos botitas al perro para pasearlo en invierno. (We put little boots on the dog to walk him in the winter.)
  • Ellos se ponen demasiado perfume. (They put on too much perfume.)
  • Ponle más agua a la sopa. (Put more water in the soup.)

4. Quiz – Practice poner vs ponerse

Now it’s your turn to practice. Fill in the blank with the right conjugation of poner or ponerse. And let me know how you did in the comments!

  • Cuando quiere relajarse, se echa en el sofá y ___________ música de fondo. (When he/she wants to relax, he/she lies down on the sofa and puts on music in the background.) Answer: pone
  • Necesito un consejo. ¿Qué camisa _________? ¿La naranja o la azul?. (I need some advice. Which shirt should I put on? The orange or the blue.) Answer: me pongo
  • cTampoco fue para tanto. No entiendo por qué ellos _____________ tan triste por eso. (It wasn’t that big of a deal either. I don’t understand why they got so sad about it.) Answer: se ponen.
  • Este es el plan, ustedes ___________ las cosas en el jardín, y así nosotras ____________ a pintar. (Here’s the plan, you put the things in the garden, and we’ll start painting.) Answer: ponen, nos ponemos.
  • Yo siempre _________ la letra demasiado grande en los subtítulos. (I always put the font too large in subtitles.) Answer***: pongo.***

You know another challenging word that changes meaning if you add “se” at the end of it? Sentir! Sentir or Sentirse, which one is the right one to say “to feel”? Find out in the next part of this lesson with Maria Fernanda here.

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