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2. “Ser” or “Estar”? To be or to be that is the question!

Jessica Sintra
Jessica SintraPublished on June 24, 2021

Unlike English, European Portuguese has two forms of the verb “To be”

(“To be” is the verb that let us say “he is Portuguese”,or “he is in the tram”,or “he is a fan of Benfica”.)

In European Portuguese the verbs “Ser”, “Estar” and sometimes the verb “Fica” mean “To be”. But let us focus on the most common use of the English verb “To be” in Portuguese “Ser” and “Estar”.


The main difference between “Ser” and “Estar” is their condition status. “Ser” refers to permanent conditions and “Estar” to temporary.

When to use “Estar”

You’ll use “Estar” to speak about temporary, short-lived, momentary, or transitory status. “Estar” is used to talk about HOW something is, momentary status, emotions, location, position, actions, and clothing.

1º Momentary status:

Hoje está calor — Today is hot 🥵

2º Emotions:

Eu estou feliz — I am happy 😁

3º Transitory location:

Eu estou na loja — I am at the store 🏬

4º Position:

Eu estou sentada — I am sitting 🧘🏻‍♀️

5º Clothing:

Eu estou de camisa verde — I am with a green shirt 👚

When to use “Ser”

You’ll use “Ser” to speak about permanent, long-lasting, durable, stable and perpetual status. “Ser” is used to talk about WHAT something is, to describe a long-term life characteristic.

1º The hour, day, and date:


São nove da manhã. 
Hoje é domingo. 
Hoje é dia quatorze de Junho ⏰

2º Name:


O meu nome é Jessica 🙍‍♀️

3º Profession: 


Eu sou professora
 👩‍🏫

4º Origin and nationality:


Eu sou de Portugal 🇵🇹

Eu sou portuguesa

5º Phone number
:

O número é 961 027 140
 📲

6º Address:


A morada é Rua da Sé 🚋

7º Political or religious position
:

Tu és socialista ✍️

Tu és cristã 
⛪️

8º Relationship (marriage status):


Tu és solteiro 🙋‍♂️

9º Directions:

O café é à direita ☕️

10º Possession:


A mala é minha 👜

11º Permanent location: 


Lisboa é a capital de Portugal 
🇵🇹

12º Impersonal expressions
:

É importante falar Português
 🗣

13º Physical and Psychological traits:

Ela é uma rapariga
 👧

Ela é gentil


14º Flavour:

O bolo é de laranja 
🍊

15º The material something is made of
:

O bolo é de farinha 
🍰

16º Purpose:


O bolo é para comer 🍽

How to conjugate the“Ser” in the Present Tense

How to conjugate the“Estar” in the Present Tense

“Ser” vs “Estar”: A 360º View

The most practical manner to understand is to apply it! In this case, you will check a some examples scenes.

1️⃣ Scene: Talk about a person

SER

João is kind — O João é gentil

Being kind is part of João’s personality traits, so it’s constant, is part of WHAT João is, so we use ser.

ESTAR

João is kind — O João está gentil

Being kind at this specific moment doesn’t mean that overall people identify you as kind, so it’s HOW you would tell that someone is in a temporary situation.

2️⃣ Scene: Describe a person

SER

Maria is pretty — A Maria é bonita

Being pretty is a part of Maria’s physical traits, so it’s a constant, is part of WHAT Maria is, so we use ser.


ESTAR

Maria is pretty — A Maria está bonita

Looking pretty at this specific moment is a momentary state, so it’s a brief charactization, is part of HOW Maria is now.

3️⃣ Scene: Describe people using temperature words:

SER

She is cold — Ela é fria

Being cold can be seen as a personality trait, so we use “Ser”.

ESTAR

She is cold — Ela está fria

Feeling cold is HOW the person is at the moment, using “Estar” announces that we are mostly speaking about temperature or weather.

4️⃣ Scene: Talk about an event and it’s location

SER

The festival is in Lisbon — O festival é em Lisboa

Here you receive the information of WHERE the festival is occurring.

ESTAR

The festival is in Lisbon downtown — O festival está na baixa de Lisboa

Here we are referring to the physical location of the festival, which might sound permeant, but because we are talking about a specific location we should use “Estar”.

5️⃣ Scene: Talk about Portugal

SER


Portugal is a European country 
 — Portugal é um país europeu

The question WHAT is Portugal could be answered in brief way with an answer that says that Portugal is a European country.

ESTAR

Portugal is in Europe — Portugal está na Europa

Nevertheless, the question WHERE is Portugal could be answered succinctly as a country located in Europe.

6️⃣ Scene: Talk about food

SER

The eggs are boiled for ten minutes — Os ovos são cozidos por dez minutos

This sentence would be used if we are describing a recipe to a friend. In this case, we are sharing that to boil eggs it should take ten minutes.

ESTAR

The eggs are boiled for ten minutes — Os ovos estão cozidos à dez minutos

On the other hand, if the boiling eggs action is still taking place then we use the verb “Estar” because we know that soon this situation will end.

7️⃣ Scene: Talk about an action

SER

It is orange cake what they eat — É bolo de laranja o que eles comem

Here it’s an explanation of WHAT kind of food is it.

ESTAR

It is orange cake what they are eating — É bolo de laranja o que eles estão a comer

And we’re explaining what they are doing. We always use Estar for “-ing” situations.

8️⃣ Scene: Talking using attributes or adjectives and status

SER

The lettuce is green. (color of the vegetable)
 — A alface é verde.

Here we are characterizing the lettuce which is identified as being green.

ESTAR

The lettuce is green. (It’s not ripe) 
— A alface está verde.



In this case, the lettuce is only temporarily green, because it’s not ripe. This sentence could be easily the answer to “How is the lettuce?”

Practice Quiz

1. O senhor _____ a pintar.

2. A flor _____ branca e amarela.

3. A cama _____ por fazer.

4. O pavão ________ a olhar para a câmara.

5. A mesa da passagem de ano ______ posta.

6. O manjericão ___ uma erva aromática.

7. Eu ____ a beber vinho tinto.

8. O céu ____ limpo.

1. Está / 2. É / 3. Está / 4. Está / 5. Está / 6. É / 7. Estou / 8. Está

Keep on flowing! ☀️🇵🇹

- Jessica Sintra

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