The Spanish verb poner is one of those verbs that can be difficult to translate. It has a wide variety of meanings — just as does the English verb "put," which is perhaps the verb's most common translation into English.
Originally, poner conveyed the idea of placing something somewhere. However, its meaning has expanded over the centuries to include abstract concepts such as the "placement" of ideas or concepts or bringing about various kinds of changes. It is often used in the reflexive form (ponerse).
Following are some of the meanings of poner, along with sample sentences, that can be ascribed to poner. This list is not complete:
To place or put something somewhere: Siempre pone las llaves en el escritorio. He always puts the keys on the desk. Todos los días sale de su casa a las 8:30 de la mañana y pone el teléfono celular en la consola de su auto. Every day she leaves her house at 8:30 a.m. and puts her cell phone on the console of her car.
To put on clothing: Se pondrá la camisa que más le guste en ese momento. He will put on the shirt he likes most at the time. Al llegar a la piscina me puse las gafas. When I arrived at the swimming pool I put on my goggles.
To invest or contribute money: Si ponemos 1000 pesos, en un año recibimos 1030. If we invest 1,000 pesos, in a year we will receive 1,030. Puso tres dólares en el juego de La Rueda de la Fortuna en el casino. She gambled $3 on the Wheel of Fortune game at the casino.
To change the way something happens or operates: Puso el coche en revés. He put the car in reverse. Las elecciones pusieron fin a la revolución. The elections put an end to the revolution.
To change or affect someone's or something's mood, status or attitude: La lesión del hombro me ponía en un aprieto. My shoulder injury put me in a bind. Si hay algo que la ponía de mal humor era el verano, el calor. If there is something that put her in a bad mood, it was the summer, the heat. Pusieron la casa en venta cuando se mudaron a Los Ángeles. They put the house up for sale when they moved to Los Angeles.
To become: Se puso muy triste. He became very sad. Akira se puso azul por momentos y casi devuelve lo que había comido en una semana. Akira turned blue for a short time and almost threw up what she had eaten during the week.
To designate: Sí, es verdad que le pusieron Pablo Pingüino. Yes, it's true they called him Pablo Pingüino. El Departamento de Justicia puso dos millones de dólares como precio por la cabeza de Benjamín. The Justice Department set $2 million as the price for Benjamin's capture.
To show or display: ¿Qué ponen esta noche en la tele? What's on TV tonight? ¿Tienes una gran foto? ¡Ponla en tu sitio web! Do you have a great photo? Show it on your website!
To arrange or set up: Puso la mesa para la mañana siguiente. He set the table for the next morning.
Note that many of the English translations above could have been made using "put"; in practice, you often can do the same. Alternative verbs have been used in this lesson in an effort to convey the idea that poner has many meanings.
Remember that poner is conjugated irregularly.