The construction poner(se) a + infinitivo, prevalent in spoken Spanish, is used to mean to begin/start doing [something], to get something/someone to do [something], to set about doing [something] or to get on with [something].
This verb can be used as either a reflexive verb or a transitive verb.
1. Ponerse a + infinitivo
Reflexive verb ponerse conjugated + a + infinitive
Read and listen to these examples:
¿Me pongo a estudiar ahora mismo?Shall I begin to study right now?
Los niños se pusieron a llorar y nos fuimos.The children began to cry and we left.
Nosotros nos vamos a poner a cantar en cinco minutos.We are going to start singing in five minutes.
In the examples above, ponerse a + infinitivo suggests the beginning of an activity at a specific moment, usually as an unexpected action.
It is also commonly used to talk about the weather in an impersonal way, as an unexpected action:
De repente se puso a llover.
It suddenly started to rain.
¡Se ha puesto a nevar!
It has started to snow!
2. Poner + (algo/alguien) + a + infinitivo
¡Pon tu camisa a secar!Put your shirt out to dry!
Mi madre pone la ropa sucia a lavar.My mother puts the laundry on. [lit: puts the dirty laundry to wash]
Los agricultores pondrán los tractores a cosechar.The farmers will have the tractors start harvesting [lit: put the tractors to harvest].
Pon a los niños a ver la televisión.Get the children to watch TV.
In the examples above, poner + (algo/a alguien) + a + infinitivo suggests that the subject of the sentence begins to do something. This time it is not reflexive but rather has a direct object.
Notice how in the last example above, the object refers to people (los niños), in which case the conjugated verb (poner) is followed by "a".
See also Empezar/comenzar + a + [infinitivo] = to begin/start doing something (perífrasis verbal)
Here is a list with colloquial expressions using the verb poner/ponerse.
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