To Be in Portuguese: Ser / Estar

Aloha, Honolulu! Muito obrigada for reading my lessons!
Similarly to what happens to verb tenses, almost all of my students have real, deep questions concerning the verb To Be, due to its two meanings in Portuguese: ser and estar.
To illustrate our beginning, I’ve chosen two pieces of poetry, in fact two pieces of Brazilian masterpieces in poetry.
Let’s read them and try to comprehend the subtle semantics between ser and estar.


Activity 1
Read these excerpts, the first is Vou-me embora pra Pasrgada”, by Manuel Bandeira.


“E quando estiver mais triste
Mas triste de não ter jeito
Quando de noite me der
Vontade de me matar
– L sou amigo do rei –
Terei a mulher que eu quero
Na cama que escolherei
Vou-me embora pra Pasrgada.”

(And when I’m so sad
But way past sad
When at night I feel
As if killing myself
– There I’m friends with the king –
I’ll have the woman I want
On the bed I’ll choose
I’m leaving to Pasrgada.)

Now read the second, “Guardar”, by Antonio Ccero.

“Guardar uma coisa não escond-la ou tranc-la.
Em cofre não se guarda coisa alguma.
(…)
Guardar uma coisa vigi-la, isto , (…) estar acordado por ela, isto , estar por ela ou ser por ela.
(…)
Por isso melhor se guarda o vo de um pssaro
Do que um pssaro sem vos.”

(Keeping something is not to hide it or lock it.
For in a safe nothing is kept.
Keeping something is to watch it, that is, be awake by it, that is, to be or exist for it.
That’s why a bird’s flight is better kept
Than a flightless bird.)


Activity 2
Take a sec to think about the sentences.

“L sou amigo do rei” means something more permanent, we could call it a stronger state.
“Guardar uma coisa não escond-la…” and “Guardar uma coisa vigi-la.” have the same meaning, as they reflect thoughts or beliefs.
“.ser por ela” is perhaps the easiest example to find, as “ser” can be translated as the condition of existence; the poet exists because of his love.
“Estar” couldn’t be its synonym, as it means something temporary, as in “.estar acordado por ela”.


Activity 3
Understand a little more.
Fortunately, there are other cases (space, time and situations) when the differences between ser and estar are more evident.

Space
a. buildings, parks, streets, rooms or anything that can’t be moved:
A empresa no dcimo primeiro andar.
Onde o aougue que vende cordeiro?

b. people or things that can be carried (or moved):
Onde est o aluno?
Vocs estão com os cadernos?

Time
a. identifying a moment:
hora do lanche.
hoje o jogo?

b. indicating a moment:
J est na hora do lanche?
O jogo est marcado para hoje.

People and things
a. identifying something or someone:
Essa a proposta do curso de imersão.
Ele foi meu aluno por seis meses.

b. indicating a state of something or someone:
Como est o seu ombro?
O apartamento est venda.


Activity 4
Summarize it.

Ser is more absolute and estar is more relative.


Activity 5
Contextualize it.

Pay more attention to what you hear in Portuguese.
Try to spot the differences, as subtle as the might be.


See you next class!
Teacher Cludia



To read previous articles by Prof. Claudia click below:

Portuguese Tip: Interjections and Expressions
Portuguese Tips: Plurals – Part 2
A Brazilian custom: Kissing the Cheek
Portuguese Tips: Regular Verbs – Simple Past
Portuguese Tips: Plurals – Part 1
Portuguese Tips: Regular Verbs – Simple Present
Portuguese Tips
Portuguese Tips: Adverbs in Portuguese
Portuguese Tips: Comparative and Superlative
Foreigners Through Brazilian Eyes

Prof. Claudia is available for private classes in São Paulo. She can be contacted at claudiafmla@uol.com.br

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