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The Verb Acabar: More Meanings In the End

The short film Con ánimo de lucro starts with a series of commands reminiscent of the John Lennon song "Imagine":


Imagina acabar con el hambre y la pobreza.

Imagine putting an end to hunger and poverty.

Caption 1, Con ánimo de lucro - Cortometraje

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So, what's that word after Imagina (the familiar command form of imaginar, or "to imagine")? It's the Spanish verb acabar, which most commonly means "to end" or "finish." Although we could "end" our discussion right there, we won't because, as we see in this example, the verb acabar can mean different things in combination with different words and in different contexts. But before moving on to those, let's take a look at a couple of "classic" examples of this common Spanish verb: 


Classic Examples of the Verb Acabar


Al final...

In the end...

Nuestro caso no es distinto de otros casos que acabaron mal

Our case is not different from other cases that ended badly

Captions 13-14, Victor & Leo - Recuerdos de amor

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Vale, hemos acabado.

OK, we've finished.

Caption 69, Animales en familia Un día en Bioparc: Cachorro de leopardo - Part 2

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Now, let's move on to some more nuanced uses of the verb acabar. Although all of them entail some kind of "ending," these variations can help us to express a multitude of English idiomatic expressions in Spanish. 


Alternative Uses of the Verb Acabar


1. Acabar: "to end up"


We can use the Spanish verb acabar to talk about the idea of "ending up," or where something or someone ultimately arrives, perhaps unexpectedly:


y seguro que iba a acabar en la basura, ¿no? 

and for sure it was going to end up in the trash, right?

Caption 49, 75 minutos Gangas para ricos - Part 5

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al final el congelador acaba quemando los alimentos.

in the end, the freezer ends up burning the food.

Caption 4, Cómetelo Crema de brócoli - Part 7

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2. Acabar con (algo): "to put an end to" (something)


As we saw in the opening quote, acabar con (literally "to finish with") can have the more specific meaning "to put an end to," perhaps some unpleasant phenomenon: 


Para nosotros, para el santuario de burros en España, es muy importante acabar con el maltrato animal,

For us, for the donkey sanctuary in Spain, it's very important to put an end to animal abuse,

Captions 38-39, Amaya El Refugio del Burrito

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3.  Acabar con (alguien): "to break up with" (someone)


When speaking about a person, however, acabar con can mean "to break up" in the sense of ending a relationship:


Pienso acabar con mi novio. 

I'm planning to break up with my boyfriend. 


4.  Acabar con (alguien): "to finish off/kill" (someone)


Of course, without context, someone could definitely misunderstand our previous example, as acabar con alguien can also mean to kill them!


acaben con él y lo entierran por allí en el llano. 

finish him off and bury him somewhere in the plains.

Caption 19, El Ausente Acto 2 - Part 8

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5. Acabar de + infinitive: "to have just" (done something)


The very important verb acabar de plus the infinitive form of a verb allows us to express the idea of having "just" completed some action:


Isabel Zavala acaba de salir del edificio.

Isabel Zavala just left the building.

Caption 3, Confidencial: El rey de la estafa Capítulo 4 - Part 15

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Acabo de ver a ese chico moreno, alto y de ojos azules,

I just saw that brown-haired, tall guy with blue eyes,

Caption 19, Fundamentos del Español 3 - Le Estructura de las Frases

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6. Acabar por + infinitive: "to finally" (do something)/"end up" (doing something)


Acabé por decirle la verdad. 

I finally told him the truth. 


Depending upon the context, an alternative translation might be "I ended up telling him the truth. "


 7. Acabarse (to run out)


The reflexive verb acabarse can also mean "to run out," of something literal or figurative: 


Cuando llegan cosas como que se acabó la leche, los pañales,

When things come like, that the milk ran out, the diapers,

Caption 8, La Sub30 Familias - Part 6

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In this context, you will frequently encounter the verb acabarse in the form of a "no fault"/involuntary se construction. You will note that although acabarse is conjugated in the third person singular in accordance with the subject (el tiempo/the time), the indirect object pronoun nos lets us know to whom the action of the sentence is occurring (to us). Let's take a look:


Eh... Se nos acabó el tiempo, entonces espero que practiquen en su casa

Um... We ran out of time, so I hope you practice at home

Caption 59, Lecciones de guitarra Con Cristhian - Part 3

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Although this sentence was translated as "We ran out of time," the literal translation would be "Time ran out on us." For more information on the se involuntario, check out this series from El Aula Azul


8.  Acabarse (to sell out)


Acabarse is also a synonym for agotarse, which can mean "to sell out" in Spanish: 


Quería ir al concierto pero las entradas ya se hab​ían acabado

I wanted to go to the concert, but the tickets had already sold out


9. Acabarse (to be over)


The reflexive form of acabar can also mean "to be over." In fact, you will often see this verb in quite dramatic contexts, most often in the preterite tense:


Anda, ¡para! ¡ya! ¡Ya está, se acabó

Come on, stop! Now! That's it, it's over!

Captions 28-29, Carolina - Acentos

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Other colloquial translations for the expression ¡Se acabó! might include "That's it!" or "That's that!"


Se acabó, yo no voy a insistir.

That's it, I'm not going to insist.

Caption 1, Muñeca Brava 48 - Soluciones - Part 5

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Para Acabar (to Conclude)... 

So, speaking of "being over":


Y colorín colorado, este cuento se ha acabado.

And snip, snap, snout, this tale's told out" [Literally: Red, red-colored, this tale has ended"].

Caption 65, Cleer La princesa y el guisante

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This common expression, the equivalent of the English, "And snip, snout, this tale's told out," often appears at the end of children's stories to say something like, "And that's all, folks!" On that note, we hope you've enjoyed this lesson, and don't forget to leave us your suggestions and comments


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