So by no means should you consider this blog post as a definitive lesson on the verbs ser (to be) and estar (to be). Rather, you should view it as all the trouble and confusion Rose usually found herself in while learning Spanish 🙂 So let’s begin at the very beginning.! Before I left for my study abroad trip to Chiapas, one of my classmates and I took a Spanish language course to prep us. We wanted to be able to speak the basics – hello, how are you, I’m hungry, where’s the bathroom.!? I was doing well in my first few weeks of class, if I don’t say so myself, possibly due to being bilingual to begin with or all those French classes in high school. Either way, I was pleased.
Then one class, my friend and I had a school function to attend. We received permission to be absent from the teacher. She told us not to worry that the makeup work upon our return the following week would bring us on par with the rest of the class. Yay.! Or so I initially thought. But in reality, I wish I had missed any other class than the one on ser and estar.!! I could have done without counting, days of the week, telling time. Heck, I could even have missed the class on the entire alphabet and still been good to go. But missing the class on ser and estar threw me into a black hole which even today I am still inside. Granted, I am no longer free falling, but I am still hanging on to the edge by my bloodied fingernails. What was I thinking missing that class..??!!
My confusion was initally about when to use which verb. For example, in English, the verb ‘to be’ conjugates as I am, you are, he/she is, we are, they are. It’s pretty straightforward. If someone asks you where you are currently located, your reply would be, “I am in Chicago.” If they asked you where you are originally from, you would say, “I am from Chicago”. Notice, it’s always “I am”. However, in Spanish, for your current location, you would answer, “Estoy en Chicago”. And your reply regarding where you come from would be, “Soy de Chicago”. Huh? Exactly. That’s what I said.
But the difference is extremely important because one is a temporary state or location and the other is a permanent state or origin. You (or really me) will always be from Chicago, but you (really me) may not always be in Chicago. I might be in Mexico, or on the moon, or at the movies, or shopping. Therefore, one of the biggest points to remember is the temporary (estar) and permanent (ser) states you find yourself and others occupying. Got that.?
Another point of difference is when describing physical and emotional attributes about yourself or others. If I tell you that I am happy, in Spanish, I would say, “Estoy contenta“. If I tell you that I am tall, I would say, “Soy alta“. Huh again.? Once again, it’s all about temporary and permanent states of being. I will always be tall unless something horrible happens, but generally your height is a permanent state. However, I may not always be happy. Sometimes, I might be sad, excited, or tired. Also, I will always be Rose; therefore, you introduce yourself with “Soy Rose” not “Estoy Rose“. Unless of course, you have more than one personality, but that’s for another blog.!
My confusion is not only compounded on when to use which verb, but also which conjugation falls under which verb. The conjugations for I, we and they were easier for me to remember because they began with the letter of the infinitive. For example, ser conjugates as soy, somos and son. While, estar conjugates as estoy, estamos and estan. However, the same does not apply to the you and he/she conjugations. They all began with ‘e’.!! Eeek..!! Finally, I figured out that tu estás and el/ella está had an ‘est’ in them like estar.! While, tu eres and el/ella es did not, so they must belong to ser.!
Though seriously, I did walk around with a cheat sheet for a year.!! I’m not kidding.! I did eventually improve. It helped to repeat the same sentences over and over to everybody I came in contact with while living in Mexico. It also helped that I had a job where I had to speak the language.! That taught me pretty quickly. Thirdly, it helped having Mexican friends who did not speak English. And finally, having a Mexican boyfriend was also conducive to learning because I learned to ask him if he was tired – estás cansando – which is a temporary state. And I learned to accuse him of being unbearable – eres insoportable – which I learned was a permanent state.! jajaja….
But I really can’t help but think that if I had not missed that class, it would have been so much easier. I don’t know, maybe it would have been just as hard. But really, it was a tinderbox in my existence for so long. Luckily for me, I had great teachers along the way. And the people I came in contact with at the store, the taxis, and other facilities were very nice to me and my broken Spanish. So even when I repeatedly told them I was “Estoy Rose” rather than “Soy Rose“, they didn’t laugh at me, correct me, or worry I would take on an alter ego. Though that is actually what happened.! After a year of living in Mexico, I morphed from “Estoy Rose” to “Soy Rosa” 🙂