The English verb to be typically translates to either ser or estar in both Spanish and Portuguese.

Is there any instance in which the ser /estar distinction is different between Spanish and Portuguese? To clarify, could to be be translated as ser on one language and estar on the other?

  • 1
    Ser in both languages (and Catalan) comes from Latin sum, esse, fui, futurus and estar comes from sto, stare, steti, status. (That status is good for memorizing the difference, if you already speak Latin.) They can diverge any time speakers choose, of course, but they're coming from the same roots.
    – Brian
    Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 3:03
  • French and Italian also have words derived from both Latin words but in their cases one has come to dominate at the expense of the other. So I think just the Latin origins alone is not enough to guarantee both will stay in place through a language's evolution. Commented Nov 22, 2011 at 9:52

3 Answers 3


Here's what I've noticed about the differences between "ser" and "estar." They're used in the same way in Portuguese and Spanish, but there are some exceptions, such as:

1) when the verb refers to something which is (or is not) morally correct, socially acceptable or correct according to some criteria, if used with mal/bien (sp) or errado/certo (pt). Examples:

  • Mentir está mal. (sp)
  • Mentir é errado. (pt)

  • Usar el signo de interrogación invertido al comienzo de la oración está bien. (sp)

  • É/está certo usar o ponto de interrogação invertido no inicio da frase. (pt)

2) when the verb refers to the material the object is made of or the constituents of a group, if used together with the past participle of a verb. Examples:

  • La silla está hecha de madera. (sp)
  • A cadeira é feita de madeira. (pt)

  • El equipo está formado por los mejores profesionales del sector. (sp)

  • A equipe é/está formada pelos melhores profissionais da área. (pt)

When used without the past participle of a verb, both languages use "ser". Ex:

  • La silla es de madera (sp)
  • A cadeira é de madeira (pt).

3) marital status. Although both "ser" and "estar" can be used in both languages depending on whether the speaker wants to highlight that the current marital status is temporary or not, it is more usual to use "ser" in Portuguese and "estar" in Spanish. Examples:

  • Estoy soltero/casado. (sp)
  • Sou solteiro/casado. (pt)

4) to be for or against something. Spanish uses "estar", Portuguese uses "ser". Example:

  • Estoy a favor de la nueva ley. (sp)
  • Sou a favor da nova lei. (pt)
  • This looks so complete, wow. // Do you have a source (sources) to cite? Or did you sit down and think about it and come up with this detailed comparison yourself? Commented Jan 19, 2020 at 4:40
  • @aparente001 Thanks! I sat down and came with it myself. If anyone provides a reference, I'll be glad to add it to the answer. Commented Jan 19, 2020 at 13:16
  • Thanks. I think you're in an ideal position to catalog and exemplify differences for this language pair, as a native Portuguese speaker and an active learner of Spanish. // The Stack Exchange model generally requires outside references for assertions in answers, whenever possible. This site is not super exacting (exigente) compared to average, in this regard (and in other regards as well), especially for new users. But as one gains experience, people's expectations of one's posts will also grow. So from time to time it can be helpful to review the tour and the help center pages. Commented Jan 19, 2020 at 16:41

In Spanish (as in Portuguese), estar is used for things that are transient in nature or potentially changeable; ser is used for things that are consistent or stable.

The only difference I can find is that in Spanish, estar is used for location, among many other things, but ser virtually never is. In Portuguese, both estar and ser are used, based on whether the location has a potential to be transient in nature.

For example, estar would be used for both the location of a house and a car, in Spanish. In Portuguese, estar would be used for a car and ser would be used for a house, since the location of the house cannot change.


  • In Brazilian Portuguese, we don't use "ser" for locations. The examples given in the referenced Wikipedia page which use "ser" in this context ("O hotel é na praia", "A casa é mais adiante" and "O castelo é em Portugal") are not usual. We'd use either the verb "estar" or the verb "ficar" instead. Commented Jan 18, 2020 at 17:12

Just to add to Richard's answer, https://spanish.stackexchange.com/a/430/3051 (can't comment, i'm new):

In Spanish, there are times when both ser and estar can be used to refer to locations (preference might depend on local variations), and some times ser will be used always/most of the time.

For example, when talking about an address, you'll often see "¿Dónde es [esta dirección]?" or "¿Donde queda?".

When referring to something that will happen, like a party, using ser (in present or future tense) is the usual. For example:

"La fiesta es en mi casa." / "La fiesta será en mi casa." = "The party will be at my place."

"¿Dónde es el evento?" = ¿Where is the event (taking place)?

About the difference between the two verbs, is as stated in the other answers, but like a comment (by hipietrail) implies, evolution of the languages render this a very arbitrary distinction.

For some detailed information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance_copula

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