Learn Spanish

To Be or To Be, that is the Question

Spanish Pinpointed

Ni son todos los que están, ni están todos los que son” is a compact expression which contains a number of Spanish grammatical features as well as philosophical connotations, particularly in the matter of separating sheep from goats.

Translated literally – “Neither are all those that are, nor are all those that are” – it’s nonsensical. But among the grammatical complications of Spanish are its two verbs to be.

Ser is used for permanence or existence, while estar refers to a temporary state, such as in a place, condition, or situation.

One correct translation of the phrase this article began with would be: “Neither are all those that are here the ones, nor are all those that are the ones here.”

Spanish also allows for implicit subjects, which are usually clear from the context and the verb conjugation.

So “no está” can mean “he’s not here,” while “no es” would be “it’s not him,” or “he’s not the one.” Since things can’t be permanent and temporary at once (?), rarely are the two verbs interchangeable without changing the meaning.

One exception could be marriage. Está casada means “she’s married,” so does es casada. But rather than a reflection on the likely duration of the marriage, the former could be left as “she’s married” and the latter—applying the implicit noun or pronoun—”she’s a married woman.”

Both verbs are irregular, although ser is a bit more irregular that estar.

Mexico in your inbox

Our free newsletter about Mexico brings you a monthly round-up mix of recently published material, as well as gems from our extensive content archives.