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I'm doing a Spanish beginner course on Memrise and one flashcard asks for the translation of "The wine is delicious". The suggested translation uses estar.

I understand that ser expresses a permanent state while estar describes a current situation.

So, it's clear to me that I would say

La comida está buena.

if I want to express that I like this very meal I'm eating. Tomorrow it might not be good, because it's not cooked well enough.

However, I'm not sure why you would ever say

El vino está delicioso.

I am not a wine connoisseur, but I dare say that a particular brand of wine is always delicious (to my taste). So, if I say "This wine is delicious" today, I'll say it tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, too.

So, what's the argument for using estar over ser in such a case (i.e. expressing that the wine tastes good)?

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I think that your rationale about using "ser" and "estar" are perfectly OK for this context. Unfortunately, there are lot of exceptions to the rules and sometimes those can't really be explained by Spanish speakers beyond "We say it like way".

I would actually say

La Coca Cola está riquísima

referring to the brand, even if it is going to taste the same tomorrow and the day after.

I would say

El té es muy bueno para la salud. La Coca Cola es muy dulce.

Referring to its properties. Those properties are going to be the same tomorrow and the day after.

Wine can be tricky in this context. Are we referring to generic wine (all kinds of brands) or a specific one?

Saying

El vino es delicioso

Conveys more a property common to all wines. Doesn't matter if it is Vega Sicilia's best year ever or El Tío de la Bota's cheapo wine. You would be expressing a property of The Wine (like in the example of the tea and its benefits for health. All teas are good for health).

El vino está delicioso

Can convey that the specific brand we chose for the meal is delicious. Even if the brand might state as it is always (permanent condition) I want to differentiate it form the boarder class of its kind. This one is really good, as opposed as "It's delicious because it is wine, and all wines are delicious".

I think that this statement can be greatly discussed, since the difference and implications may be really subtle, but my guess is that the flashcard translation favors "estar" over "ser" to convey that a specific one, in a specific context, is good, as opposed to state that all of its kind are good.

Tenía mis dudas cuando pediste la botella, pero el vino está delicioso. Excelente elección!

Seguramente XXX habría estado mejor, pero este otro está también delicioso

Oye, este vino que me has dado a probar está delicioso. Me gusta.

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  • I understand your reasoning in the last paragraph, but couldn't you simply say "esto vino es delicioso" to have the same differentiation? – Em1 Jan 23 '15 at 15:49
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    Yes, you could say "este vino es delicioso", but then maybe the flashcard should have been "this wine is delicious"... – MikMik Jan 23 '15 at 16:01
  • @em1, To be honest, I don't know how I would have translated the flashcard if I was shown it before reading your post (now I might be too biased), but to clarify and answer your question, there is a situation in which I would say "El vino está delicioso" and is the one described: I want to stress that this particular brand chosen for this meal is delicious and enjoyable: "Tenía mis dudas cuando pediste la botella, pero el vino está delicioso. Excelente elección": "Seguramente XXX habría estado mejor pero este está también delicioso". – Diego Jan 23 '15 at 16:14
  • Diego, in that situation I perfectly understand the use of "está". – @MikMik With "este vino" I referred to Diego's post, not to the flashcard. In my opinion, the flashcard should read "The vine is delicious - El vino es delicioso". And the question that raised: Why is that not the case? – Em1 Jan 23 '15 at 17:31
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According to my intuitions (which follow from the rules of my own 'mental gramar and lexicon' of Spanish), the difference between the two (correct) sentences El vino es delicioso and El vino está delicioso is the following:

I would use está only if I am already familiar, or even very familiar, with that specific brand and vintage of wine but find it especially good-tasting in the situation in which I say so. Otherwise, I would say El/Este vino es delicioso.

And, of course, there are all sorts of reasons why any brand of wine, even from the same vintage, may not taste equally well in different occasions, e.g., the cask and barrel where the content of a particular bottle has fermented and matured, the way the bottle has since been stored and handled, the state of the cork, the time lag between the opening of the bottle and the moment the wine is actually tasted, the temperature at which it is tasted, the kind - and way of preparation - of the food it accompanies in each occasion, .... and, of course, many other factors derived from the mental state of the consumer at speech time. All of them can induce changes of state relative to whatever properties the wine may be said to have 'inherently' possessed at whatever point is arbitrarily chosen to define its 'essence' as being the sum of the properties P1, P2,... Pn, say the bottling point, the point at which the wine is considered in optimal condition for consumption, etc.

As you see, in this case, usage, or at least my own usage, can be said to conform to the traditional rule that ser is used to express inherent and permanent properties of entities or substances, whereas estar is used to express ultimately transitory states in which entities or substances find themselves (although, of course, permanence and transitoriness are estimated modulo the time scale of the processes or situations involved in each case, which differs dramatically for cases such as La cerveza está caliente, La tienda está abierta, Juan está sin trabajo, Juan está deprimido, Juan está soltero, and Juan está muerto, for example).

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Typically, I use es when I am using an adjective, a property as another put it. There are some adjectives though that are both adjectives and past participles

 Mi tío está muerto

To someone struggling with the understanding of ser vs estar, this can seem confusing to them as it would make a learner ask, "But won't he always be dead? Wouldn't you use es muerto?" Why is 'estar muerto' used instead of 'ser muerto'?

So, the reason for estar is to express that he wasn't always dead.

El té es caliente but when it gets cold.... El té está frío The state has changed and regardless of the fact that the tea will continue to be cold (unless heated up), its state/status still changed, and still can change.

Inheritance is the idea to think of with ser.

El pelo del perro es blanco.

El pelo del perro fue coloreado.

El pelo del perro está azul.


To add insult to injury, El pelo del perro estuvo coloreado, expresses that situation more as a surprise rather than something as simple as The dog's hair was colored.

Not only was it colored, it happened to get colored, either by accident, purpose, negligence, etcetera. It wasn't exactly planned.

To compare it to English I would say that the difference is the same as:

The dog's hair was colored  ( fue comparison )

The dog's hair got colored  ( estuvo comparison )

To recap

La comida es buena >> Food is good.

La comida está buena >> The food is good

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  • Well, I really don't struggle with "el té está caliente" or "el pelo es blanco" (or "está" when dyed). They are absolutely comprehensible. I can follow the reasoning regarding "muerto". I didn't know that. Thanks for the link. However, still not sure I get the point regarding the vine-example. Concluding from your recap, would you say "El vino es delicioso -> Vine (in general) is delicious" and "El vino está delicioso -> The(=This) vine is delicious"? – Em1 Jan 23 '15 at 21:56
  • Yes. Exactly... – dockeryZ Jan 24 '15 at 0:05

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