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Ser y Estar: To Be or To Be, that is the Question

Among the grammatical complications of Spanish are its two verbs that describe how to be. This articles describes the uses of Ser and Estar.

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.

Two verbs to ‘be’ in Spanish

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; whereas
  • 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.”

Implicit subjects in verb conjugations

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.

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