Su salud era delicada porque su corazón no latía.

Why use ser instead of estar? Isn't health a not so permanent state? Isn't health described with estar?

  • 1
    The question is some different, but the answer fit your question.spanish.stackexchange.com/questions/5617/… Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 1:23
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    Also, this is imperfect usage. Preterite usage (Su salud fue/estuvo delicada...) would be a whole different ballgame. Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 1:51
  • @guifa right, the question in my worksheet wants me to use a form of ser to fill out the verb in the sentence. why isn't fue used in place of era? Given that the sentence discusses a person who died and just for curiosity, is a form of estar not used in place of "era" because estar is for a state that will change or has changed and the person is dead so his state can't change?
    – user5482
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 2:47
  • I think part of the confusion is that many people are taught of ser as permanent and estar as temporary, but that's simply not the case. Soy alto but I wasn't always. ser is really attributive/essential, and estar is better described as conditional/stative. I don't have time tonight to go into detail, but if no one else has answered I'll probably go into more detail. In the meantime, I'd recommend looking over some of the other questions on here on ser/estar. Basically, which you'd use in the present tense holds in the past tenses. Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 3:19
  • @guifa thanks to you, I understand the difference between ser and estar. Now my problem is imperfect vs past tense. I don't understand what you mean by a single time action vs something that happens multiple times.
    – user5482
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 13:51

3 Answers 3


I think this answer won't remove confusion completely but it may enclose most of it. I'm focusing on the implications of the two tense forms with the use of "ser", but I'm probably missing some important doubts about this subject.

Pretérito imperfecto (from www.rae.es):

Tiempo que indica una acción o un estado de cosas simultáneos a un instante anterior al momento en que se habla. En indicativo, amaba, temía, vivía; en subjuntivo, amara o amase, temiera o temiese, viviera o viviese.

When we use it, something was (in the past) happening during a (short) period, and we are probably interested on saying when was it happening or what else happened at the same time, and also why was it happening.


Yo corría por la playa... cada manaña.
Yo corría por la playa... cuando vi un náufrago en la orilla.
Yo corría por la playa... para hacer deporte.
Su salud era delicada... en aquellas fechas.
Su salud era delicada... cuando llegó el invierno.
Su salud era delicada... porque una neumonía le dejó secuelas.

Pretérito perfecto simple (from www.rae.es):

Tiempo que denota una acción o un estado de cosas anteriores al momento en que se habla, sin vinculación con el presente.

So we talk about something that happened (in the past), no enphasis on the duration of it but in that it happened.

Yo corrí por la playa... para socorrer al náufrago.

With "ser", that usually refers to essence and more or less permanent or sustained during a long time, and the preterito perfecto simple, that is not reffering to things happening over time, we get a sort of mix that gets confused with the use of pretérito imperfecto:

Su salud fue delicada durante toda su vida.
Su salud fue delicada desde que pasó la neumonía.

In both cases we may be talking about a deceased person (because his/her health was and it is no more) or just talking about an state ("ser") in the past that is no more, as in the following two examples:

Su salud fue delicada durante toda su vida, pero a partir del accidente todo se complicó.
Su salud fue delicada desde que pasó la neumonía, pero las secuelas ya han desaparecido.

In this last two example we can say more or less the same with imperfecto (but I prefer "fue"):

Su salud era delicada desde que nació, pero a partir del accidente todo se complicó.
Su salud era delicada desde que pasó la neumonía, pero las secuelas ya han desapareciendo.

But if that state we are talking about (the weakness of the health) is not going to be linked with another one in the past we should not use imperfecto, although it is not clear to me if it would be incorrect (at least it sounds weird to me). For example:

Su salud era delicada desde que pasó la neumonía y hasta que murió.

It seems that you were going to say something else about the health, if you use "fue" it sound absolutly fine.


The imperfect was used because the sentence does not represent a termination of time.

Su salud fue delicada por dos días

This sentence, in preterite, gives a definite amount of time; two days... because of this we can use the preterite tense. Since your example presented no aspect of time and space, the imperfect is appropriate.

The tense requries a start, a time duration, and a definite end point.

Comí pescado ayer


Comía pescado ayer.

While the first sentence implies that I indeed ate yesterday, the tense of the sentence inherits the time from ayer. On the other hand, the second sentence is in the imperfect and does not need a time. By using the imperfect, we have no idea how long I ate for, how many times I ate, and mainly, when I finished eating. The sentence can also accept another clause describing what went on while you were eating.

Yo comía pescado mientas ella cocinaba más.
Yo comí pescado por tres horas, ... y ella cocinaba más.

The question to ask for preterite vs imperfect in this case is did the action cease? Did the person's health stop being delicate? Because it didn't stop, era is correct.

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