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In informal English, we use the phrase "to wind up" to describe the final state of a situation, after all is said and done. For example:

  • How did you wind up moving to Kansas after growing up in Florida?
  • What did you wind up doing for dinner last night?
  • I just wound up working here, I'm not really sure how it happened.

Dictionaries say this could be translated as terminar, acabar, or resultar. What are the possible ways of translating this concept to Spanish, and what are the differences between them? Which is the most common or natural-sounding translation?

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2 Answers

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Of the three translations you mention, I would not use resultar. As @CesarGon mentions, acabar and terminar are common words to express what you want.

¿Cómo acabaste mudándote a Kansas...? / ¿Cómo terminaste mudándote a Kansas...?

¿Qué terminaste haciendo para la cena anoche?

Simplemente terminé trabajando aquí, no estoy seguro cómo sucedió.

I would say both are correct and people will understand you either way. However, it seems to me, as a native speaker of Spanish, that terminar is more common and/or more natural, although, as usual, there might be regional differences I'm not aware of. I cannot really explain why I think it's natural with a strong argument, it's just something intuitive: "it feels better" using terminar. It might be that terminar has a stronger connotation of an ending (of a final state, as you said), while acabar has other meanings as well. I mention three, for completeness:

  • "It just happened" can be translated as "acaba de ocurrir", so acabar can be used in the context of something recent, but terminar cannot be used like that. In your example of "winding up having this job", that's a question that you can explain years after you actually got it, and in that case you would say "terminé trabajando aquí"; if you got the job recently, you can also say "acabé terminando aquí".
  • Acabar means to have an orgasm, but terminar does not.
  • Acabar means give the finishing touches (for example, to a painting or a new building), in the sense of putting attention to details, try for excellence. In contrast, terminar una pintura has a connotation of finish it already, that is, do it soon and don't mind the details/quality. When an object (especially a hand-crafted object) has been perfected, you say that the object "tiene un buen acabado".

So, to summarize: both are correct, but go for terminar if in doubt. It is closer to your intended meaning.

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I disagree that "terminar" is more common and/or natural. It might be so in certain regions, but not throughout the Hispanosphere. When making this kind of statement, I think it's good to qualify it with the region you are applying it to, like I did in my own answer. –  CesarGon Feb 3 '12 at 2:43
    
@CesarGon: "it seems to me..." –  Janoma Feb 3 '12 at 3:15
    
Yes, but where? "It seems to me this is so in Chile" and " It seems to me this is so everywhere" are very different statements. "It seems to me" expresses uncertainty, not geographic scope. –  CesarGon Feb 3 '12 at 14:26
    
It seems to me as a native speaker of Spanish. @jrdioko asked about the most common translation and I answered with what I think is the most common translation. It might not be so in Spain, but that doesn't rule it out as the most common use in general. "It seems to me" expresses generality, not uncertainty, and that's why I did not specify a geographic area. –  Janoma Feb 3 '12 at 15:19
    
Oh well. I think that a bit of context is always good, but anyway. –  CesarGon Feb 3 '12 at 21:07
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I'd say that "acabar" or "terminar" are the most idiomatic translations in Spain:

  • How did you wind up moving to Kansas after growing up in Florida? -> ¿Cómo acabaste mudándote a Kansas después de haberte criado en Florida?
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