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This is a question I'm asking just to answer it myself, but of course other answers are welcome.

Answering this question about the curious property of aburrido as an active adjective (instead of the passive meaning one would expect from a passive participle), I gave some examples of morphologically passive adjectives behaving not quite the part. A comment made me realize that Spanish students are being taught the simple rule of thumb «estar aburrido means "to be bored" and ser aburrido means "to be boring"». Searching further it appears that aburrido is not that rare: callado, cansado, considerado, divertido and others (like molesto, which is not a participle but is close to one) share this behavior. Yet it is possible to say (against the rule):

  • El partido está aburrido. "The match is boring."
  • La fiesta está divertida. "The party is fun/entertaining."
  • Este trabajo está muy cansado. "This work is very tiring."
  • El calor está realmente molesto. "The heat is really bothersome."

That is, estar + passive participle yields a clearly active meaning. So how do we know which meaning to ascribe to an adjective like aburrido, divertido, cansado, molesto, when coupled with estar? And why does this happen?

  • How about this: Este partido es muy aburrido can be translated This game is dull – enxaneta Nov 21 '18 at 11:21
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    @pablodf76 Never heard Este trabajo está muy cansado. The active adjective is "cansador", as far as I know. – Gustavson Nov 21 '18 at 17:54
  • @Gustavson For me it's cansador as well, but cansado in this sense does exist. – pablodf76 Nov 21 '18 at 20:36
  • Your examples doesn't have any sense for me (Native from Spain) unless you put a verb that indicates being : Este partido está (siendo) muy aburrido – Ra_ Nov 26 '18 at 12:49
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There's at least one study¹ about the use of the copulas ser and estar (in Puerto Rican Spanish) that, among other things, finds that more than a few adjectives that are normally predicated with ser can also occur with estar and that this is associated with the speaker having a personal, immediate experience with the referent. That is, if you have

  1. Este partido es aburrido.
  2. Este partido está aburrido.

then (1) is the most common; it's a general statement about the subject and it takes ser as usual, while (2) connotes some personal immediate involvement: "the match is boring me now"; "the match right now is being boring for me". This is even more clear in pairs like

  1. El calor es realmente molesto.
  2. El calor está realmente molesto.

(1) means the heat is bothersome, which is perfectly general (even though it's subjective, of course); (2) on the other hand is clearly based on personal current experience: it means the heat, now, is bothering the speaker.

Why does this happen? After categorizing many utterances from speakers combining estar and ser with different adjectives in different contexts, the researchers theorize that

Since estar is the strongly preferred copula in a probabilistic sense for cases of immediacy and individual, this meaning becomes attached to the construction. The generalized implication of immediacy, often accompanied by individual, in other words, is correlated with this construction and stems from multiple instances of use with this meaning.

What they refer to as "immediacy" and "individual" are features of the discourse: immediate (rather than ongoing or indirect) experience with the referent, and individual (rather than class) frame of reference. That is, since estar is cannonically used for these cases, it gets sometimes carried over to these other ones, where for the most part cannonical usage mandates ser.

All of this comes from the study of Puerto Rican Spanish I began with, but it appears to match my own experience with these constructions, which are common in Rioplatense and, I'm sure, in other dialects.


¹ Esther L. Brown and Mayra Cortés-Torres, Syntactic and Pragmatic Usage of the [ estar + Adjective] Construction in Puerto Rican Spanish: ¡Está brutal!

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As a native Spanish speaker, I always understand "ser aburrido" as that something or someone is boring, as in "Baseball is boring" (I generally find baseball boring), or "John is boring" (he is a boring person). But "estar aburrido" is always used as "to be bored", as in "Estoy aburrido": "i'm bored". Except for the regional/cultural idioms in which sometimes "estar" replaces "ser" as in "esta fiesta está aburrida", obviously means "esta fiesta es aburrida" (this party is boring) and the second form is the correct, educated form.

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In Spain we always say "ser aburrido", but in the rest of the countries they say "estar aburrido". If you want to learn Spanish, you have to focus on a specific Spanish, for example the Spanish of Spain, because learning Spanish of all the countries will confuse you. Anyway, here is the answer for your question:

Spain --> ser aburrido (if something makes you bored), estar aburrido (if someone is getting bored)

The rest of the Hispanic countries --> estar aburrido (mostly it's like that, but in specific zones of Latinoamerica you will hear both ser aburrido and estar aburrido as we do in Spain.

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  • by the way, nobody will understand you in Spain if you say "el partido está aburrido", here we'd say "el partido es aburrido". – Ryuzaki Nov 26 '18 at 4:18
  • Bienvenido Ryuzaki. Un consejo que te doy es que revises el perfil de las personas antes. Pablo es nacido y criado en Argentina por lo tanto el no está aprendiendo español. Como puedes ver el hace la pregunta y el mismo la responde. Creo que deberías tener esto en cuenta y editar tu respuesta. Incluso puedes responder en español si deseas. Bienvenido nuevamente. – DGaleano Nov 26 '18 at 14:17

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