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Se compró una figura que estaba hecha de madera.

Why can't "era" be used in place of "estar"?

  • You can see estar hecho de (some material) as an exception where you use estar instead of ser in spite of the logic of permanent/temporal states. – Lucas Sep 28 '14 at 9:01
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You could use ser/era,

Se compró una figura que era de madera.

implying a (permanent) quality of the object. You use estar + past participle to indicate the result of an action (in this case, the making process of the wood figurine). For more,you can check this other question about "Estar hecho de".

  • I looked at the other question and it tells me that "Está hecho de..." refers to the object being "manufactured with" so the verb refers to the fact that the object was manufactured". How do you know that estar hecho de means that the object is being manufactured? – user5482 Sep 28 '14 at 2:13
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    Because Estar + past participle indicates the result of an action. Estar + hecho (past participle of HACER) indicates the result of the action of making (hacer). – Diego Sep 28 '14 at 2:35
  • Also, when saying de + noun, you're basically turning the noun into an adjective. You would say "La figura es metálica", as I think we can agree "está metálica" sounds odd in most cases. Instead of the adjective metálicá, you can also use the periphrastic version de metal. Sometimes that can help reassure you when using ser. But there's a big difference in being some material, and being made of the metal (grammatically, at least, if not semantically) – user0721090601 Sep 28 '14 at 4:28
  • @Diego For the sentence "Se compró una figura que estaba hecho de madera", one can't use estuvo because the figure didn't stop being made of wood? – user5482 Sep 28 '14 at 17:22
  • @Drew no, it's because the description of the results of actions are described with estar. Las figuras son hechas de madera means they are (actively being, in the process of being) made of wood. Once they are (ser, true passive) made, we describe them as being (estar, description) made of wood. Permanence isn't a factor. – user0721090601 Sep 28 '14 at 18:02
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It is almost foolproof to use forms of estar (instead of ser) with a past participle (agreeing in number and gender) to describe how something appears/temporary condition. Most past participles are flexible adjectives and use forms of estar instead of ser. I tell my students that these are "fluid", "changing" or "have the ability to be changed with a force or someone's effort being applied.
The door is closed - La puerta esta cerrrada (temporary because it's not always closed. Anyone could go open it). It's a temporary condition.

I have seen and understand, however, that you can and will use forms of ser with cononocido (known) and prohibido (prohibited - though you'd likely see "se prohibe" in a se construction to say "it is prohibited") because these past participles imply descriptions that aren't fluid. They are ongoing, day to day states of being.

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