Spanish has two equivalents for the English verb to be, causing students many headaches. There are rules, yes, but so many indyoncicracies. One student returning from Ecuador, the world’s number one banana supplier, a coutry with as many words for bananas as Eskimos have for snow, said he was totally confused by the use of ser an estar when it came to bananas (banana, by the way, is used for the fruit, and banano for the industry). When did he use es una banana verde (green) and está la banana verde?
Es verde, from ser, the equivalent of to be for permanent conditions, refers to a green plantain. Esta verde, from estar, the equivalent of to be for temporary conditions, refers to a banana that is unripe. My student pressed on: What if the green plantain has already rippen? Do you say es verde pero ya no está verde? Ecuadorians are logical, I said. When a green plantain is ripe they call it ripe, maduro.
10 Confusing Ser and Estar Cases
Es correcto means he is a proper person.
Está correto means he is right.
Es loco means he is crazy.
Está loco indicates he is acting crazy.
Es un viejo verde means he is a dirty old man.
Esta verde el viejo means he needs more training, he is not prepared, or he is so sick he’s turned green.
Está buena, you say of a good-looking woman walking down the street.
Es buena, you say of a good-natured aunt.
Es delicada means she is very refined, or delicate.
Está delicada means she is seriously ill.
Es nervioso connotes chronic nervousness.
Está nervioso denotes a temporary state, as when about to meet a tax auditor (el fiscalizador de impuestos).
Es un muerto de hambre is an insult, or an honest description, for a looser.
Está muerto de hambre is a description of a person who starved to death, or is starving.
Es rico means he is rich.
Está rico means he is deliciously appealing.
Es bonita, you say describing a woman you have always found to be beautiful.
Estás bonita, you say to a woman who appears uncharacteristically beautiful (wearing lots of make up, maquillaje, or under dim lights, luz baja.)
Es un borracho, he is a drunk.
Está borracho, he got drunk.