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What are the options for translating the phrase "how is" or "how was," as in:

  • How's the steak?
  • How is your day so far?
  • How is the traffic today?

and

  • How was your vacation?
  • How was the meeting?
  • How was your birthday yesterday?

Which of ¿Cómo es/está? and ¿Cómo fue/era/estuvo/estaba? work here, and what are the differences? What other ways are there of expressing this question?

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I would like to know what is missing from this answer and its comments, in order to make it really useful to the question. The differences between ser and estar aren't the main subject of this question by the way. –  Nicolás Jan 24 '12 at 19:43
    
@Nicolás: I'd be interested in more details on how ¿Cómo fue? (which I've heard very often) and ¿Cómo estaba? would be used. But otherwise great answer, thanks! –  jrdioko Jan 24 '12 at 20:24
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1 Answer 1

up vote 6 down vote accepted
+50

An almost literal translation is indeed a right option:

Present:

  • ¿Cómo está el bistec?
  • ¿Cómo está siendo tu día hasta ahora?  →  (you should use present continuous (gerund) in case the day hasn't finished yet).
  • ¿Cómo está el tráfico hoy?

Preterite:

  • ¿Cómo estuvieron tus vacaciones?
  • ¿Cómo estuvo la reunión?
  • ¿Cómo estuvo la celebración de tu cumpleaños ayer?

Although you can use as well qué tal ... (in this case the verb can be omitted):

  • ¿Qué tal (está / estuvo) el bistec?
  • ¿Qué tal (está siendo / ha sido) tu día hasta ahora?
  • ... and so on ...

The main distinction between ser and estar in this case is the classical one regarding these verbs: (this issue isn't the main subject of the question by the way)

  • Estar: must be used related to things limited in time. That is to say, when you ask about a feature of something limited to the time when the conversation is being made. You sould not use this verb to ask for a permanent feature of something.
  • Ser: must be used when you ask about a permanent or inherent feature of something, or about a feature that repeats in time.

For example:

  • ¿Cómo es el bistec?: You could hear (or ask) such a question when you don't know at all what a bistec is (e.g. you come from a vegan family or town), and you want to know what it's made from, what are its features, etc.
  • ¿Cómo está el bistec?: You will hear (or ask) this question when you want to know how tasty or delicious is the meal being eaten by the person you are talking to.

A succinct resource you could read to grasp the difference between ser and estar:

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So none of the example questions would work with ser? Would this mean that no such questions would ever work with ser? –  hippietrail Dec 6 '11 at 9:16
    
I agree on the present tense suggestions. For the past tense, I think ser could also work. e.g. ¿Cómo fue la reunión? That said, estuvo carries a meaning closer to the English equivalent of the question (and less ambiguous) than fue. However, I think the use of (or should I say, the preference to use) estuvo in that way is somewhat regional. I never ran across it until speaking with Mexican Spanish speakers over a period of time. –  Kevin K. Dec 6 '11 at 10:33
    
As far as I know, ¿cómo fue la reunión? isn't clear enough. Don't forget that fue belongs not only to the verb ser, but also to verb ir. –  Nicolás Jan 18 '12 at 19:16
    
Another verb that is sometimes used here is "andar" "¿Cómo anda el tráfico?" "¿Cómo anduvo la reunión" - though this would rather correspond to "How did the meeting go?" –  leonbloy Jan 18 '12 at 19:56
    
@Kevin: That fue is from the verb ir. Changing the tense, you could say ¿cómo ha ido la reunión? In some contexts, you could also ask ¿cómo ha sido la reunión?, but that would be what has the meeting been like? (asking for details about what happened, who spoke in which order, what was said, etc. rather than a general overview of it) –  MikMik Jan 19 '12 at 7:23
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