19

This is a canonical question / Esta es una pregunta canónica

This is a canonical question about the differences and usage of ser and estar. Feel free to collaborate both in the question as in the answer. The introduction for the question is mainly extracted from Wikipedia.

Esta es una pregunta canónica acerca de las diferencias en el uso de ser y estar. Siéntete libre de colaborar tanto en la pregunta como en la respuesta. La introducción proviene en su mayor parte de la Wikipedia.

In linguistics, a copula is a word used to link the subject of a sentence with a predicate (a subject complement). The word copula derives from the Latin noun for a "link" or "tie" that connects two different things. Thus, a copula by itself can be pretty much empty in its meaning, being only the mentioned link between parts of the sentence.

A copula is often a verb or a verb-like word, though this is not universally the case. Most languages have one main copula, although some (such as Spanish, Portuguese and Thai) have more than one, and some have none.

Copulas in the Romance languages usually consist of two different verbs that can be translated as "to be", the main one from the Latin esse, and a secondary one from stare. In Spanish, both words came to be ser and estar (the etymology for both words has already been covered in another question).

This site already has a whole lot of questions about particular differences between the two verbs, so let us try to write one big answer covering the main aspects (not the nitpicks) about the current usage and differences between them.

So:

What are the main differences between "ser" and "estar"? When to use each?


En lingüística, una cópula es una palabra que se usa para conectar el sujeto de una oración con el predicado (el complemento del sujeto). La palabra cópula viene del latín y significa "eslabón" o "enlace" que conecta dos cosas diferentes. Una cópula por sí misma puede carecer de significado, sirviendo únicamente para enlazar dos partes de la oración.

Muchas veces, una cópula es un verbo o una palabra cuasi-verbo, aunque no siempre es así. La mayoría de los idiomas tiene una cópula principal; algunos, como el español, el portugués y el tailandés, tienen más de una; otros, en cambio, no tienen cópula alguna.

Las cópulas en las lenguas románicas consisten generalmente en dos verbos diferentes: el principal, del latín esse, y el secundario, del latín stare. En español estos verbos son ser y estar (la etimología se cubrió en otra pregunta).

En este sitio abundan las preguntas sobre diferencias específicas entre los dos verbos, así que vale la pena tener una única gran pregunta que abarque los aspectos principales acerca del uso actual de estos dos verbos, así como sus diferencias principales.

Así pues:

¿Cuáles son las diferencias principales entre "ser" y "estar"? ¿Cuándo se usa cada uno?

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

  • Marco esta gran pregunta / respuesta como canónica, siguiendo lo definido en la publicación en Meta que se enlaza. Iría bien traducirlo al castellano, ¿alguien se anima? :) – fedorqui Apr 12 '17 at 8:04
  • @fedorqui and others - please correct and improve my translation if you see anything funny. – aparente001 May 24 '17 at 5:11
  • 1
    @aparente001 I've done some fixing in your translation (nitpicks only), thank you very much for your effort! – Charlie May 24 '17 at 6:15
  • @CarlosAlejo - Next time I'm doing a translating job, going in the wrong direction for me (that is, from English into Spanish), I hope someone here will be kind enough to check my work. I wish our Chat/Tertulia were more functional. – aparente001 May 24 '17 at 6:24
  • @aparente001 thanks a lot for the good translation! Now one day we can try and translate the answer as well. You are right the chat could be more functional. It is just a matter of getting used to it, I recently unfroze La Tertulia. – fedorqui May 24 '17 at 8:06
15

This is a stub for the answer. Feel free to collaborate, and remember to add links in case you add information coming from already answered questions.

If you want to go deeper into the roots of ser and estar, check out Etymologically, why do "ser" and "estar" exist? / Etimológicamente, ¿por qué existen "ser" y "estar"?

Main differences between ser and estar:

  • As noted by their etymologies, ser comes from Latin esse, and denotes the essence of things. Estar comes from Latin stare and denotes states. So as a general rule, use ser for essences (permanent conditions) and estar for states (that can be transitory or not).

    Pepe es aburrido (he's a boring person, in essence).
    Pepe está aburrido (his state is bored now).
    María es inquieta (María is always restless).
    María está inquieta (María is not always restless, but she is now for some reason).
    Juan es un muerto viviente (he is a zombie, in essence).
    Juan está muerto (he's in a permanent state of being dead, but a state nonetheless).

  • Ser is used when something has a quality it is expected to have, whereas estar is used when something has an unexpected quality:

    La abuela de Juan es joven (she is a young grandmother).
    La abuela de Juan está muy joven para tener 80 años (she looks young for her age).

  • Ser is used in the passive voice when a process is implied, whereas estar is used when a state is implied:

    La puerta fue cerrada por el viento (a process in which the door closes is referenced).
    La puerta está cerrada (the door is closed now).
    Esa puerta estuvo cerrada todo el día de ayer (the door, at some given time, was closed).

  • When talking about food, ser is used to talk about the appearance and estar is used to talk about the taste:

    Las tartas que hace Juan son espectaculares (they look impressive).
    Las tartas que hace Juan están espectaculares (they might not look impressive but the taste is incredibly good).
    Las bayas de enebro son malas (they are bad for your health).
    Las bayas de enebro están malas (they taste horrible).

    Exception: when you want to say that the taste of something is always the same, regardless of how it is prepared:

    La carne de ternera es deliciosa (it always tastes good).
    La carne de ternera está deliciosa (this particular beef tastes good).

  • Both ser and estar can be used to ask about price, but ser will be used with the interrogative form cuánto to be informed about the final or total price just before paying, while estar will be used with the interrogative form a cuánto to be informed about the current price of an individual item before making the decision whether to buy it or not:

    ¿A cuánto está el kilo de naranjas?
    A un euro.
    (After buying three kilos of oranges:) ¿Cuánto es?
    Son tres euros.

When to use ser:

  • To introduce yourself or someone else:

    ¡Hola, soy Carlos! (Hi, I'm Carlos!)
    Ese es Pepe. (That is Pepe.)

  • To talk about relationships:

    Juan es mi hermano. (Juan is my brother)
    Paco era mi jefe. (Paco was my boss)
    María es la novia de Isabel. (María is Isabel's partner)

  • To speak about the location where an event takes place:

    El partido de baloncesto será en el estadio. (The basketball game will be at the stadium)
    La reunión fue en la sala 3. (The meeting was in room 3)

  • To talk about time:

    Son las tres menos cuarto. (It's 2:45)
    Eran las cinco y media cuando salí de casa. (It was 5:30 when I left home)
    Hoy es jueves. (Today is Thursday)
    Ayer fue 30 de mayo. (Yesterday was May 30th)

  • To talk about occupations or background:

    Yo soy pintor. (I'm a painter)
    Mi hermana era ingeniera pero ahora es directora de un hotel. (My sister was an engineer but now she's a hotel manager)
    Estoy estudiando para ser arquitecto. (I'm studding to become architect)
    Yo soy sevillano. (I'm Sevillian [I'm from Sevilla])
    Juan es de Granada. (Juan is from Granada)

  • To talk about characteristics (that don't change so often) of things or persons:

    Yo soy una persona alegre. (I'm a happy person)
    La manzana es roja. (The apple is red)
    El clima acá es terrible. (The weather here is atrocious)

When to use estar:

  • Before gerunds to form continuous tenses:

    Estoy escribiendo una respuesta para esta pregunta.
    Estábamos cruzando el puente cuando nos asaltó un ladrón.

  • To speak about the location of something or someone:

    Los jugadores están en el estadio.
    El pastel estaba sobre la mesa.

  • To talk about a permanent condition as a result of a change:

    Fulano está muerto.
    El vaso está roto.

  • To talk about dates or seasons using the first person plural:

    ¿A qué día estamos hoy?
    Ya estamos en primavera.

  • To talk about the very near future:

    Estaba por llegar cuando supo que la fiesta se había cancelado.
    Estoy a punto de empezar a comer. ¿Puedes llamar más tarde?

  • To express how you (or someone else) feel:

    -¿Cómo estás? -Estoy bien, gracias.
    Juan estaba triste esta mañana, no sé qué le pasaba.

Idiomatic expressions using ser or estar:

One of the most challenging aspects of any language is making sense of idiomatic expressions, which are common knowledge in the community through continuous usage, but which may defy the accepted rules of the language, rendering them nonsensical when attempting a literal translation.

The best hope in this cases is to find an equivalent idiomatic expression in the target language, (probably just as nonsensical) or to explain the reason or situation in which such an expression makes sense.

The verbs ser and estar, being central to the Spanish language, are part of many such expressions; however, in the following examples, the permanency or transitiveness, respectively, are the central theme of the Mexican phrase:

Estar como agua para chocolate

The equivalent English idiom is To be mad as a hornet

Here, a person experiences sudden anger; like the boiling water required on for preparing the traditional hot cocoa beverage. However, the transitive nature of this mood is stressed and reassured through the reference to the beverage: it has to cool down in order to be enjoyed, just as our enraged subject will naturally return to his implied sweet or mild self. We can convey such a concept in few words by using the temporary nature of the verb estar:

¿Eres? ¿O te haces?

The equivalent English idiom is Are you for real? Or are you just playing dumb?

This puzzling but powerful expression is very typical, especially when dealing with distracted kids. It leaves out an implicit adjective, which is universally understood within the context of this phrase: ¿Eres tonto? ¿O solo te haces pasar por tonto? The phrase is a harsh coming to terms with someone who may be playing coy by pretending to not understand. However, paradoxically, leaving out whatever implied negative adjective we may want to attach to the question (it works in a multitude of contexts) renders the phrase that much stronger, implying we know better than that person who is pretending not to understand. Here, the permanent nature of being a fool, rather than playing one, is used as an incentive to motivate compliance.

  • 1
    I'd like to add a couple of things. I don' t know if this is a local usage but here we use "¿Cuánto es?" to ask for the final or total price, and ¿A cuánto está? (and, more colloquially, "¿Cuánto está?"), to ask for an individual price. This "¿A/Cuánto está?" may suggest something like "How much is this charged?", as if the price might not reflect the actual value. – Gustavson Feb 23 '17 at 17:55
  • Also, "estar por" + infinitive may be used to express near future (from a present or past perspective: Está por llegar (He/She is about to arrive) / Estaba por llegar cuando supo que la fiesta se había cancelado (He/She was arriving/about to arrive when (s)he heard the party had been called off). ("ser" is not used to express this meaning.) – Gustavson Feb 23 '17 at 17:58
  • @Gustavson the idea of community wiki answers is that everyone can edit them, so feel free to add whatever you want to the answer if you think it is going to improve it. Just do it. :) – Charlie Feb 23 '17 at 18:07
  • I add another example when I edit your question, in that way you can see the example in the past tense, like the example above. @CarlosAlejo, the is not the answer what you spect? Why you do not mark like answered? – Mary May 24 '17 at 12:20
  • 1
    @aparente001 because my original example used that word until someone decided that wasn't a good example and changed it for "friend". – Charlie Mar 1 '18 at 4:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.