Difference Between Volver & Regresar


Volver and regresar are Spanish verbs that mean ‘to return’. At first glance, these verbs may seem like synonyms. But even though they share the same translation, there are some specific contexts where they’re not interchangeable and you need to use one or the other. As a result, many Spanish learners wonder what’s the difference between ‘volver’ and ‘regresar’ in Spanish.

Volver is used to talk about returning, coming or going back to a place. This verb can also be used to express that an action is being repeated. Regresar is used to talk about coming or going back to a place as well as returning objects. ‘Regresar’ is slightly more formal than ‘volver’. 

If you don’t know the difference between ‘volver’ and ‘regresar’, it’s easy to confuse these words and affect your fluency. For that reason, in the following sections, we’ll discuss the contexts where you can and cannot use each one of these words. On top of that, we’ll provide you with examples and phrase structures that you can follow when applying these words. 

By the end of it, you will know when and how to use ‘volver’ and ‘regresar’. 

What’s the Difference Between ‘Volver’ and ‘Regresar’

Both ‘volver’ and ‘regresar’ can be translated as ‘to return’, ‘to be back’, ‘come back’ or ‘go back’. Although in some cases, these verbs can be used interchangeably, ‘volver’ and ‘regresar’ refer to different things. 

In Spanish, volver is only used when talking about returning, coming or going back to a place, we never use this verb to talk about returning objects. Additionally, ‘volver’ is also used to express that an action will repeat. In this context, ‘volver’ is translated as ‘again’.

Ayer volví a hablar con Clara
Yesterday I talked to Clara again

¿Cuándo volviste a España? No sabía que estabas aquí
When did you come back to Spain? I didn’t know you were here

Unlike ‘volver’, regresar can be used to talk about returning an object, but also when talking about coming or going back to a place. When referring to objects, ‘regresar’ can be translated as ‘give back’ or ‘back’. 

Ya me voy, regreso el lunes
I’m leaving, I’ll be back on Monday

Necesito que me regreses mi dinero, Jesús
Jesus, I need you to give me my money back

Now, let’s discuss more in-depth when and how to use these verbs as well as the grammatical structures you need to follow. 

How & When to Use ‘Volver’ in Spanish

In Spanish, we use ‘volver’ when talking about returning to a place. In this situation (when referring to places), ‘volver’ and ‘regresar’ are synonyms. On top of this, ‘volver’ can also be used with other structures to talk about repeating actions. This verb can be translated as:

  • Return 
  • Come back 
  • Go back
  • To be back
  • Again (when talking about repeating actions) 

Next, you’ll see the phrase structure that you need to use when talking about returning to a place. Notice that mentioning the place is optional because sometimes this information will be implied by the context. 

[Volver conjugated] + a [place]

Ashley vuelve mañana a la oficina 
Ashley comes back tomorrow to the office

¿Te vas mañana? Y, ¿cuándo vuelves?
You’re leaving tomorrow? And when will you return?

Volví al pueblo donde se me conocieron mis padres
I returned to the town where my parents met

Mis papás se fueron de vacaciones y vuelven mañana en la mañana
My parents went on vacation and they’re coming back tomorrow morning 

Take Note: When talking about returning to a place, ‘volver’ and ‘regresar’ are synonyms. However, in conversational Spanish, ‘regresar’ may be considered a little bit formal. For that reason, Spanish speakers rather use ‘volver’. 

Talking About Repeating Actions

One big difference between ‘volver’ and ‘regresar’ is that ‘volver’ can also be used to talk about repeating actions. In this situation, ‘volver’ implies that someone is doing something again. This use of ‘volver’ is very popular and quite handy in Spanish. Here is the phrase structure that you need to follow: 

[Volver infinitive/conjugated] + a + [infinitive verb]

¿Volviste a comprar pastel?
Did you buy cake again?

Desde mañana voy a volver a estudiar español
As of tomorrow, I’m going to study Spanish again

Tengo que volver a hacer el reporte porque olvidé unos datos
I have to do the report again because I forgot some data

Take note: In this structure, the infinitive verb indicates the repeating activity. Notice that in this situation, ‘volver’ is translated as ‘again’. 

How & When to Use ‘Regresar’ in Spanish

Just like ‘volver’, ‘regresar’ is also a Spanish verb that we use as a synonym of ‘return’. However, ‘regresar’ can be used both to refer to objects and places. These are some of the most common translations of ‘regresar’:

  • Return 
  • Come back 
  • Go back
  • To be back
  • Give back / Back

When talking about returning an object, ‘regresar’ and ‘volver’ are not interchangeable. Here is the phrase structure you need to follow for this situation. 

[Regresar conjugated] + [determiner] + [object]

¡Regrésame la camisa que te presté!
Give me back the shirt that I lent you! 

Ve a la tienda y regresa esta bolsa porque no fue lo que pedí
Go back to store and return this bag because it’s not what I ordered

¡Gracias por ayudarme, loco! Mañana te regreso tu dinero
Thanks for helping me, dude! Tomorrow I’ll give you your money back

Notice that you can also add other verbs to your sentences:

Si no le gusta la blusa, tiene 20 días para regresarla
If you don’t like the blouse, you have 20 days to return it

Regresar: Talking About Places

As mentioned before, ‘regresar’ is also used when referring to places. In this context, ‘volver’ and ‘regresar’ can be used interchangeably. Here is a structure that you can use for this situation:

[Regresar conjugated] + a + [place]

¿Cuándo regresas a México?
When are you coming back to Mexico?

Adriana regresó a la casa de sus papás
Adriana returned to her parent’s house

Quiero regresar al restaurante que te gustó
I want to come back to the restaurant you liked

Emma regresó a la oficina para volver a hacer su reporter
Emma went back to the office to do her report again

Take Note: When using ‘regresar’ mentioning a place is optional. If this information is implicit, there’s no need to include it. 

¡Mamá! Ya regresé, ¿cuál es la emergencia?
Mom! I’m back, what’s the emergency?

What’s the difference Between Volver, Regresar and Devolver?

‘Devolver’ may seem very similar to ‘volver’. However, ‘devolver’ is mainly used when talking about returning an object. As a result, in this context, ‘devolver’ and ‘regresar’ are synonyms.

Por favor, devuélvele el teléfono a tu hermano Please, give your brother his phone back

No me has devuelto el dinero que te presté You haven’t returned the money that I lent you

Wrapping Up

Since they share the same English translation, many Spanish learners assume that ‘volver’ and ‘regresar’ are synonymous. This is true in some instances, but these verbs also work in their own specific contexts. Here are some quick takeaways for you to keep in mind:

Volver

  • As a synonym of ‘to return’, ‘volver’ only refers to places. 
  • When talking about places, it means: ‘to return’, ‘to come back’, ‘ to go back’, ‘to be back’.
  • It can also be used to talk about repeating actions. In this context, it means ‘again’. 
  • It’s more popular in casual and conversational Spanish.

Regresar

  • As a synonym of ‘to return’, it can refer to both places and objects. 
  • Depending on the context, it means: ‘to return’, ‘to come back’, ‘ to go back’, ‘to be back’, ‘give back’. 
  • It’s slightly more formal than ‘volver’. 

Now, you’re ready to start applying these verbs and not confusing them again (no volver a confundirlos) 😉

Daniela Sanchez

¡Hola! Soy Daniela Sanchez, I’ve taught Spanish in Mexico to a wide array of foreigners. From students and tourists to doctors and soldiers who’ve moved and visited here over the years. During the day I’m a freelancer and marketer, while at night I’m here writing for students of the world wide web looking to learn Spanish. I hope you find what you’re looking here during your journey into Español 🙂 Read More About Me

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