Brazilian Portuguese Verbs: Ser & Estar
If you have read my article on Brazilian Portuguese verbs then by this point, you should have an idea of how verbs work in the language. The verb meanings themselves are not really any different than English verbs, in that they all have word to word translations. It’s just that in English, we typically add an, “s,” to the end of any verb to conjugate it for particular nouns and pronouns, as long as we are using the present tense, that is.
In Portuguese though, we have all these suffixes (endings of the word) that change depending on which noun the verb is in reference to.
We have previously established that the rules for changing these, “regular,” verb-endings follow similar patterns. For the majority of verbs you see, you will conjugate them following these patterns that you have learned in the previous article on verb conjugation. However, as I mentioned before, there are a number of verbs that we call irregular, “os verbos irregulares.”
These verbs have different suffixes than we have seen so far, or sometimes different spelling altogether depending on the subject-perspective being used.
As always, the best way to describe this is with examples.
We are going to be using the two verbs, “ser,” and, “estar,” to further discuss irregular verbs. These two verbs play very important rules in the Portuguese language, and this is a great opportunity to get you familiar with them.
I started the conversation about verbs by explaining that the, “ar, er, ir, and, or,” endings correspond to the word, “to,” in English. This is still true for irregular verbs.
The verb, “ser,” for example, literally means, “to be.”
This is a little different than the verb, “to exist,” which is, “existir.”
When we use, “ser,” it is more like saying, “to be,” in the sense that something simply, “is.”
For example, if you were to say, “I am,” with no further context, you are basically claiming that you simply, “are.”
In order to say this in Portuguese, we conjugate the verb, “ser,” in an interesting way. We drop the, “er,” and replace it with the letters, “ou,” and thus it becomes, “sou.”
And so, to simply state, “I am,” in Portuguese, you would say, “Eu sou.”
Right away, I hope that you can see that the first person conjugation for the verb, “ser,” did not become, “Eu so,” as you may have expected, but rather became, “Eu sou,” with an, “ou,” instead of just an, “o.” This is what it means to conjugate an irregular verb; it does not follow the patterns that you learned earlier.
Let’s take a look now at all the present tense conjugations for the verb ser:
|O verbo: Ser (To be)||Conjugação||Tradução do inglês|
|Eu + ser||Eu sou.||I am.|
|Você + ser||Você é.||You are.|
|Ele + ser||Ele é.||He is.|
|Ela + ser||Ela é.||She is.|
|Nós + ser||Nós somos.||We are.|
|Vocês + ser||Vocês são.||You all are.|
|Eles + ser||Eles são.||They are.|
|Elas + ser||Elas são.||They are.|
|Any noun by name, i.e. James, etc. + ser||O James é.||James is.|
|Any other third person pronoun (singular) + ser||Isto é.||It is.|
|Any other third person pronoun (plural) + ser||Aqueles são.||Those are.|
As you can see, these conjugations are a bit different than what you are used to.
For, “Eu,” we get the, “ou,” ending.
For, “Você,” we just get, “é,” all by itself and so on.
The hard truth that I had to learn with irregular verbs is that there is really no great trick for remembering which suffix to use for which subject, and it comes down to more or less just memorizing them as you learn them.
However, as we look at some more examples, I will teach you what has helped me get a good handle on this issue.
The next irregular verb we are going to look at is the verb, “estar.”
Similar to the verb, “ser,” “estar,” also means, “to be.”
But rather than corresponding to the rather abstract translation to simply, “be,” it is more like saying, “is in a state of.”
For example, when we use, “ser,” it is like saying that something is… permanently.
However, when we use, “estar,” it is like saying that something is… temporarily, or at least, is subject to change.
As always, examples help. So, let’s jump right into it.
To say, “I am a man,” in Portuguese, for example, I would use the verb, “ser,” and say, “eu sou um homem.”
If I wanted to say something more like, “I am in Washington.”
I would use the verb, “estar,” and say, “eu estou em Washington.”
Let’s go ahead and conjugate the verb, “estar,” now to see all its forms for the present tense:
|O verbo: Estar (To be)||Conjugação||Tradução do inglês|
|Eu + estar||Eu estou.||I am.|
|Você + estar||Você está.||You are.|
|Ele + estar||Ele está.||He is.|
|Ela + estar||Ela está.||She is.|
|Nós + estar||Nós estamos.||We are.|
|Vocês + estar||Vocês estão.||You all are.|
|Eles + estar||Eles estão.||They are.|
|Elas + estar||Elas estão.||They are.|
|A noun by name, i.e. James, etc. + estar||O James está.||James is.|
|Any other third person pronoun (singular) + estar||Isto está.||It is.|
|Any other third person pronoun (plural) + estar||Aqueles estão.||Those are.|
If you compare the conjugations of the verb, “estar,” to the conjugations you saw for the verb, “ser,” side by side, which we will do now, you will undoubtedly note some pretty glaring similarities:
|Subject (Sujeito)||O verbo: Ser||O Verbo: Estar|
|Eu||Eu sou.||Eu estou.|
|Você||Você é.||Você está.|
|Ele||Ele é.||Ele está.|
|Ela||Ela é.||Ela está.|
|Nós||Nós somos.||Nós estamos.|
|Vocês||Vocês são.||Vocês estão.|
|Eles||Eles são.||Eles estão.|
|Elas||Elas são.||Elas estão.|
|James, etc.||O James é.||O James está.|
|Isto||Isto é.||Isto está.|
|Aqueles||Aqueles são.||Aqueles estão.|
I believe by this point, you do not need me to explicitly point these similarities out to you.
So, once you have compared the tables, let’s continue on with the uses of both, “ser,” and, “estar,” to see how these words are similar, and how they are different.
To illustrate this point as vividly as possible, we are going to look at example sentences for each subject of each verb.
Afterwards, you should have a firm grasp on how these verbs both mean, “to be,” and yet differ from each other at the same time.
Let’s have a look:
|O verbo: Ser||Como usar numa frase|
|Iwant to be a superhero.||Eu quero ser um super-herói.|
|I am a happy person.||Eu sou uma pessoa feliz.|
|You are a brave child.||Você é uma criança corajosa.|
|He is a good choice.||Ele é uma boa escolha.|
|She is a strong leader.||Ela é uma líder forte.|
|We are great friends.||Nós somos grandes amigos.|
|You all are the best in the class.||Vocês são os melhores da classe.|
|The boys, they are young.||Os meninos, eles são jovens.|
|The girls, they are short.||As meninas, elas são baixas.|
|James is a nice guy.||O James é um cara legal.|
|It is a flat surface.||É uma superfície plana.|
|Those are fat ducks.||Aqueles são patos gordos.|
|O verbo: Estar||Como usar numa frase|
|Iwant to be in London.||Eu quero estar em Londres.|
|I am tired.||Eu estou cansado.|
|You are acting crazy.||Você está agindo como um louco.|
|He is having a good day.||Ele está tendo um bom dia.|
|She is ready to go.||Ela está pronta para ir.|
|We are waiting for the end.||Nós estamos esperando o fim.|
|You all are in the right place.||Vocês estão no lugar certo.|
|The boys, they are telling jokes.||Os meninos, eles estão contando piadas.|
|The girls, they are sleeping.||As meninas, elas estão dormindo.|
|James is early for church.||O James está cedo para a igreja.|
|It is not ready yet.||Isto não está pronto ainda.|
|Those are looking delicious.||Aqueles estão aparecendo delicioso.|
As you can see, these two verbs are extremely versatile.
They are used in any sentence that strives to explain the existence of anything or the conditional state of anything.
Obviously, that has far reaching importance throughout the entire language.
I said at first that, “ser,” describes things that can be thought of as permanent and, “estar,” describes things that can be thought of as temporary. In general, these are good rules of thumb, but there are certain uses of, “ser,” that sort of seem incorrect.
For example, when telling time in Portuguese, we use the verb, “ser,” to say what time it is, even though the time is an ever-changing concept, and it would make more sense to use, “estar,” in my opinion.
Also, in the example you saw above, “os meninos, eles são jovens,” it seems that we should use, “estão,” since nobody is young forever.
But alas, we use, “ser,” here as age, though it is ever changing, is technically a permanent attribute of a person, much like a person’s eye color, blood type and etc.
And so, with that said, I am going to list the major uses for each verb so you know when to use which:
|Use Ser for…||Use Estar for…|
|Names of people and places.||Physical state of a person or thing.|
|Job titles.||Emotional state of a person or thing.|
|Telling time.||Describing the weather.|
|Physical attributes.||Discussing temperature.|
|Where someone/something is from.||Wearing clothing/ accessories.|
|Speaking about Nationality.||Discussing actions.|
|The permanent state of any given thing.||The temporary state of any given thing.|
This article on, “Ser & Estar,” hopefully should have you feeling pretty confident in how and when to use each of these verbs, but let me tell you something from years of experience:
“You will get this wrong sometimes.”
The fact is that there are just so many situations in life that require these two verbs and once in a while you will use the wrong one in the wrong way. Please do not let this bother you too much.
I have heard many a Brazilian use these verbs wrong in many situations.
It is just one of those things.
If, for example, you were to say, “eu estou um humano,” then sure, you are technically saying that you are a human. But it is slightly incorrect because you are saying that this is subject to change.
However, there is no Portuguese speaking person who would not understand what you meant. So, just do your best and you will become more familiar with these two verbs the more you use and hear them.
Now that you have learned these two verbs and seen how the conjugations are different than the regular verbs we have seen so far, we are going to go further with the subject of, ‘verbos irregulares,’ in the next post and get you comfortable with encountering these little troublemakers.
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Good luck my friend, e até a próxima!