What’s in store for you today: Ser and Subject Pronouns
Today’s goals are:
● To learn about ser and estar (an introduction)
● To learn the subject pronouns
Listen to track 2.3.1
Juan: Hola, me llamo Juan. Soy de Madrid. ¿De dónde eres tú? (Hello, my name is Juan. I am from Madrid. Where are you from?)
María: Hola, Juan. Soy María y soy de Buenos Aires. (Hello, Juan. I am María and I am from Buenos Aires.)
Juan: ¿Por qué estás aquí en España, María? (Why are you (here) in Spain, María?)
María: Estoy aquí para visitar a unos amigos. (I am here to visit some friends.)
Juan: ¿Son tus amigos españoles? (Are you friends Spanish?)
María: Sí. Son de Ávila. (Yes. They are from Ávila.)
Today, we’re going to start looking at how to use two very important verbs in Spanish: ser and estar. These are probably two of the most frequently used verbs in the Spanish language. They both mean “to be.” This means that they can be a little tricky at times. But don’t fret! We’re going to take our time and work through these together.
Before we start discussing the whole “ser vs. estar” conundrum, we need to discuss one other little aspect of language: subject pronouns.
These are little words that take the place of the subject. Easy as that. “María is tall.” “She is tall.” “My friends and I are bored.” “We are bored.”
Here are the subject pronouns in Spanish:
Listen to Track 2.3.2
English Subject Pronoun
Spanish Subject Pronoun
*The plural, informal “you” form (“vosotros”) is used only in Spain. In Latin America, the “ustedes” is used for all plural “you”s.
I know what you’re thinking: “Whoa, what’s with all the ‘you’s?”
Well, if you remember all the way back to Week 1 Day 1, we discussed the difference between formal and informal speech in Spanish. Formal you use with your boss, someone you don’t know, etc. (anyone you want to show respect to). Informal you use with your family and friends and people you are comfortable with.
In English, we only use one “you” for all of the above situations. Not only for formal and informal, but for plural as well. We do have some fun variations we can use, though (“y’all”, “you guys”, or even “youins”). Think of your plural “you”s in Spanish as these.
I’m sure you have another question forming in your mind, and it’s probably, “What about the different forms of ‘we’ and ‘they’?”
You’ll notice that there is a masculine “we” (nosotros) and a masculine “they” (ellos) as well as a feminine “we” (nosotras) and a feminine “they” (ellas). We use the feminine if we are referring to a group that is made up entirely of females. But if just one male comes along, things change and the masculine form is used.
- All women = feminine ending (-as)
- Mixed group = masculine ending (-os)
Ser vs. Estar
Remember: today’s lesson is an introduction to these verbs. This means that you don’t have to worry about memorizing all the rules right away. Just make sure that you understand the concepts and basic differences between them! Over the next few days, we’ll go into more detail, don’t worry.
Listen to Track 2.3.3
The first way to say “to be” that we’ll look at is ser, and it’s used for permanent qualities.
- Soy de Madrid.
- Ella es Ana.
- Somos amigos.
We conjugate* ser like this:
*Conjugating basically means “changing the verb to make it match the subject.” In English, we do this, just not as much as in Spanish. For example, “I run” vs. “he runs,” or even “I am” vs. “you are” vs. “he is.”
In Spanish, each “person” (1st person, 2nd person, etc.) will have its own conjugation.
Notice how the verbs have been put into a handy little chart. From today onwards, when we learn a new verb, you’ll find it conjugated to match its subject, and put into this chart. Here’s how it works:
The only exceptions to these placements are the “Usted” and “Ustedes” forms, which, although they are technically the 2nd person, will follow the same conjugations as the 3rd persons.
If you were hoping for an easy way to remember when to use ser, we have one for you! Think of the acronym “DOCTOR.”
- Occupation (a job title, like “doctor,” for example)
- Characteristic (Is he tall? Are they nice people? Is she funny?)
- Origin (Where are you from?)
- Relation (How do you know this person? Friend? Family?)
You’ll notice that most of these (with the exception of the date and time) are things that usually don’t change about someone or something. They’re all situations in which you need to describe something that is generally pretty consistent. (My mother will always be my mother. I am a teacher. My sister is short. I am, and always will be, from the United States.)
The second way to say “to be” is with the verb estar. This is used for temporary things.
- Estoy en la tienda. (I am in the store.)
- Él está triste. (He is sad.)
- Ellos están felices. (They are happy.)
The conjugations for Estar look like this:
Again, we have a fun little acronym you can use for remembering when you should use estar. Just remember the word “PLACE.”
- Position (The dog is next to the couch.)
- Location (I am in the store.)
- Action (Present progressive – we’ll get to this later.)
- Condition (I am tired.)
- Emotion (I am happy.)
Again, take a moment to notice the type of things that are being talked about with estar. They are things that will most likely change frequently. (I’m not always going to be sitting at the table. My friend won’t be at work forever. I’m tired now but after I take a nap, I won’t be. And just because I’m happy at the moment doesn’t mean I’ll be happy in an hour.)
Something to Note
Listen to Track 2.3.5
Sometimes, both ser and estar are viable options to use with an adjective. In order to decide which one to use, you need to ask yourself one important question:
- Am I describing an intrinsic quality of something?
If you are, then use ser. If not, use estar.
- La sopa está fría (The soup is cold, i.e. it’s supposed to be a hot soup, but now it is cold. “Cold” is not an intrinsic quality of the soup.)
- Mi madre es feliz (My mother is a happy person. I can use the word “happy” to describe her.)
- Mi hermano es perezoso (My brother is lazy – he’s a lazy person.)
- Hoy, estoy perezosa (Today, I’m feeling lazy – it’s a condition I’m feeling today, but it isn’t a permanent quality of who I am.)
Some adjectives will change meaning depending on if they’re being used with ser or estar. Here are four very common examples:
Meaning with Ser
Meaning with Estar
Tasty (for food)
*This is a new vocabulary word for you, and one worth taking note of.
Today, we talked about ser and estar. We discussed that:
- We use ser for permanent qualities.
- We use estar for temporary states.
We also talked about how adjectives are used with ser and estar:
- If we are describing something intrinsic, we will use ser.
Mi madre es feliz. (My mother is happy.)
I.e. She is a happy person.
- If we are describing a condition, we use estar.
Mi madre está feliz. (My mother is happy.)
I.e. We are talking about her emotions. She is happy right now.
- We also looked at four adjectives specifically that change meaning with ser and estar:
Meaning with Ser
Meaning with Estar
Tasty (for food)