After a while without writing, here is one more post! Hello, folks! How have you been? Today I am going to focus on the difference between ser vs estar conjugation, as it seems to confuse a lot of students, which I can totally understand.
If you are one of the ones that get mixed signals from these verbs, then you are probably the speaker of a language that does not use two different verbs to express “to be”.
Well, romance languages in general do this, and it can become quite tricky to get a grasp on how to conjugate these verbs and when to use them.
But first things first.
Let us look at the conjugation of them in the Simple Present (or, in Portuguese, Presente do Indicativo).
They are highly irregular, so you really need to learn them by heart, and this can be achieved by starting to pay even more attention to regular conversations in which they are used and trying to take some meaning out of it (if you are more of a “learn on the go” kind of student). If, on the other hand, you like to learn your stuff at home, sitting down and repeating them many times and then trying to do some exercises with them can be a really good thing. Flashcards could help too! Mix these two methods and I am sure you will learn them in no time!
So, with no further ado, here are the conjugations in the PRESENTE DO INDICATIVO:
Ele / Ela / Você é
Eles / Elas são
Ele / Ela / Você está
Eles / Elas estão
I would advise that you learn them early in your study process because we really like and use these verbs a lot.
Use of the verbs
But now, when to use one or the other if both mean the same?
In English, we say both:
- I am tall
- I am confused
However, the translation for these two sentences into Portuguese is:
- Eu sou alta (if you are a female, whereas if you are a male, it would be “Eu sou alto”…but more on that later in another post…let us concentrate on the verb)
- Eu estou confusa (again, if you are female, “confuso” if you are a male).
Well, this can be puzzling right? (ser “puzzling” ou estar “puzzling”!?)
Do you think you can figure out why in the first example we use the verb “ser” and in the second we use “estar”?
(Think about it for some seconds and write it on a paper…later you can see if you were right or not!…I am about to reveal it).
So, if you thought and wrote down that it has something to do with the fact that one seems more permanent than the other, you were quite right.
When we want to say something about ourselves, others or other things that have a more permanent status, like body characteristics that won’t likely change (either because you being tall and then becoming short is highly improbable because you won’t likely cut an inch off your legs to get smaller…I hope!..or because it has been a permanent state for a long time and no one thinks it is likely to change…like if I would say “She is skinny” and she has been skinny for most of her life, although it could theoretically change, it is highly improbable by statistics (if you want to call it that..=)), we use the verb “ser”.
Let me summarise it for you then.
We use the verb “ser”, when we want to:
- Introduce ourselves or others.
Example: “Eu sou a Mia” (“I am Mia”…very unlikely to change);
- Tell our nationality.
Example: “Eu sou Portuguesa”. (“I am Portuguese”…I know, it could change…but it is also unlikely).
- Tell our profession.
Example: “Eu sou professora.” (“I am a teacher”. Theoretically also could change, but we used to believe that a profession is forever….times change but grammars not so much, what can I say?)
- Indicate our place of origin, be it the country, the city, the village, etc.
Example: “Eu sou do Porto”/ “Eu sou de Portugal” (“I am from Porto.”, “I am from Portugal.”)
- Talk about a personal or physical characteristic
Example: “Ela é bonita”/ “Ela é simpática” (“She is pretty”/ “She is nice”)
- Tell our civil state.
Example: “Eu sou casada”/ “Eu sou solteira” (“I am married” / “I am single”)
- Tell the time.
Example: “São oito horas” / “É uma hora” (“It´s eight o´clock” / It´s one o´clock”…many combinations possible).
- Describe geographical localisation
Example: “O Porto é em Portugal” (“Porto is in Portugal”).
So, if I wanted to introduce myself and speak a little about time and places, with all these examples above, I would say something like:
Olá! Eu sou a Mia, eu sou Portuguesa. Eu sou professora e sou do Porto. Eu sou alta e magra. Eu sou solteira. Agora são 5 horas.
Can you do the same exercise about yourself?
We use verb “estar” when we want to describe or talk about things which are more temporary. For example, when we say “Eu estou confusa” it means that for some reason you feel confused now (probably because of the verbs, I get ya!). However, later on, if you get a better explanation for the subject that is making you confused, you will probably get clearance and you will cease to be in the state of confusion.
Didn’t get it yet? Don’t worry, that state will change if you continue reading the examples. I hope!
We use the verb “estar”, when we want to:
- Talk about a temporary state or condition.
Example: ” Eu estou cansada” (“I am tired”. I wish that would be more temporary than it actually is, in my case 😛 . But you get the picture, right? You are tired now, but it is just a temporary state. Later, if you sleep and rest, you will probably not be tired anymore and that will change into something else).
- Move localization.
Example: “O caderno está em cima da mesa” (“The notebook is on top of the table”. Since a notebook is something portable, it is likely gonna be moved from the top of the table, therefore this localization is something temporary).
- Talk about the weather
Example: “Hoje está sol” (“Today is sunny”. Weather is something really changeable, so I guess this one goes without much explanation.=))
- Greet others.
Example: “Como estás?” (“How are you?”. This is also because normally a person can be good or not so well, but these states will also likely change).
And…that´s it! Uffff…You got through it!
I hope you enjoyed my post about ser vs estar conjugation and that you feel confident to apply the rules in order to choose the correct verb. In some following posts I will be going more into detail about the usage of the Present Continuous in Portuguese with the form “estar + a + infinitive of the main verb” and some other constructions with the verb “estar”.
Let me know what you thought about this post and if you have any questions. Have you experienced any difficulties with these two verbs? Does your language also have two equivalents for the verb “to be”?
Looking forward to hearing from you.