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Learning Spanish: TO BE OR NOT TO BE: “ser o no ser” or “estar o no estar”

When talking about the verb TO BE in Spanish, it is important to understand the distinction between “ser” and “estar”. While both of these verbs are used to refer to an intrinsic quality of the subject, there are some key differences that must be noted.

In English, the verb “to be” is used in a variety of situations, such as when referring to physical locations or describing a state or condition. In Spanish, however, “ser” and “estar” are used in different situations.

When referring to physical locations, “estar” is used rather than “ser”. For example, when saying “I am in Florida” in English, the translation in Spanish would be “Estoy en Florida”. This is because “estar” is used in Spanish to describe a non-permanent state or location.

On the other hand, “ser” is used in Spanish to describe a permanent state or characteristic. For example, when saying “I am good” in English, the translation in Spanish would be “Soy bueno(a)”.

The verb “to be” in Spanish

When someone tells you “estás gordo” (estás is the second person conjugation of the verb estar), this really means “you are fat now”. This is because the use of “estar” implies a temporary condition, whereas the use of “ser” implies a permanent condition. To convey the meaning of “estás gordo” in English, one must either add the word “now”, replace the verb form “are” with “look” as in “you look fat” or completely change the sentence into something like “you have gained weight”.

Another example is when someone says “eres guapo” (eres is the second person conjugation of the verb ser). This means that you are permanently handsome; no need to add the time adverb “ahora” (now). To convey the same meaning in English, one would say “you are handsome”.

Knowing the difference between “ser” and “estar” in Spanish is essential for accurately expressing oneself. It is also important to understand the context in which each verb is used in order to correctly convey the intended message. For instance, when asking whether someone is in the US right now, “estás en los Estados Unidos?” (are you in the US?) is the correct question to ask, as “estar” implies a temporary state or location. On the other hand, questions such as “¿eres de los Estados Unidos?” (are you from the US?) which refer to a more permanent condition should be answered with “ser”.

In conclusion, the difference between “ser” and “estar” in Spanish is quite simple to understand. “Ser” is used when referring to something that is permanent or long-term, while “est.

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By Andreina Ojeda, M.A. Modern Languages ​​and M.A. International Studies.
President and Founder of Lingua Language Center at Broward College.