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Episode #2

Ser & Estar

I. Intro: To be

“¡Ser, o no ser, es la cuestión!” - HamletBe is a verb. I am, you are, she is… Be means to exist, live, happen, occupy a place, and to belong. It’s one of the most common words in the English language. We might say that the two most important uses of be are answering the question “What is it?” and “How is it?”
  • What are you? - I’m a teacher, I’m American, I’m tall. (essential characteristic)
  • How are you? - I’m well, I’m excited, I’m worried. (status or condition)
Spanish also has a verb to be . Actually, it has two. One for the essential characteristic, and one for status or condition.

In this lesson, we’re going to talk about the two verbs to be, the subject pronouns, and how you will see them used.

II. Grammar: Subject Pronouns

What’s a pronoun? Pronouns make our lives easier by taking the place of a noun, saving us time and energy. Both Spanish and English have lots of different kinds of pronouns. For now, the only ones you need to know are the subject pronouns: the words for I, you, he/she/it, we , and they.

Subject Pronouns (Pronombres personales)

Singular

Plural

1st person

I we

2nd person

you you

3rd person

he/she/it they


Subject Pronouns (Pronombres personales)

Singular

Plural

1st person

yo nosotros

2nd person (informal)

vosotros* (or ustedes)

2nd person (formal)

usted ustedes

3rd person

él, ella ellos, ellas

*primarily used in Spain, other varieties of Spanish use ustedes

A few important things to note here:

  1. The three “persons”
    • 1st person - talking about yourself or a group that you are a part of
    • 2nd person - talking directly to someone or a group of people
    • 3rd person - talking about someone or a group of people
  2. Formality. In English we use “you” with any person or group of people we are talking to - with the Queen of England and to our own children. Spanish has an informal and a formal variant - use “tú” when addressing your friends or subordinates, and use “usted” to address someone with more respect, someone older than you, or people you don’t know very well.
  3. Spain vs. Latin America. In Spain, when addressing 2 or more people on an informal level, use “vosotros”, and in a formal setting, use “ustedes”. Over time, however, people stopped using “vosotros” in Latin America, and now we just use “ustedes” with everyone. Which is correct? Both! It truly doesn’t make a difference which one you use - you’ll always be understood, no matter what country you’re in.

III. Grammar: Ser

Ser refers to the essential characteristics of a person or a thing - what it is, what it’s made of, what defines it.

SER

yo soy nosotros somos
eres
él, ella, usted es ellos, ellas, ustedes son


  • ¿Qué es? = What is it?
  • ¿Quién es? = Who is it?
  • ¿Cuándo es? = When is it?
  • ¿Cuánto es? = How much is it?
  • ¿Cuál es? = Which is it?


IV. Grammar: Estar

Estar refers to the condition, status, mood, or location of a person or a thing.

ESTAR

yo estoy nosotros estamos
estás
él, ella, usted está ellos, ellas, ustedes están


  • ¿Cómo estás? = How are you?
  • ¿Dónde estás? = Where are you?


The takeaway: Use ser to talk about the essential characteristics of something, and use estar to talk about something’s condition or location. Yo soy latino. Yo estoy en Latinoamérica.