Geared toward Absolute Beginners, this course gives you a solid start and foundation to build upon.
This is an introductory course to the Portuguese language as spoken in Portugal. Throughout the course, we will focus on the Portuguese sound system and basic Portuguese grammar.
You will also learn how to introduce yourself and day-to-day, useful phrases. Finally, we will discuss learning resources and strategies to support your learning journey.
After the course, you will have a basic understanding of European Portuguese pronunciation and grammar. You will also be capable of engaging in simple, short oral interactions. Last but not least, you will be aware of a variety of learning resources and strategies to help you succeed at learning the language.
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This intensive course is for language learners striving toward the A2 level.
Here’s what the conjugation of Ser and Estar looks like (Present tense);
Permanent vs. temporary states
As mentioned in the introduction, whether you use the verb estar or ser often depends on the context, that is, on if it is something circumstantial/temporary or long-lasting/permanent.
Think about the concepts of climate and weather. The former describes the meteorological conditions that prevail in a given region over long periods. The latter concerns the meteorological conditions that are subject to daily changes.
So the concept of climate suggests a permanent state, whereas the weather implies a temporary one:
[Climate → Permanent state] A Suécia é um país frio. Sweden is a cold country.
[Weather → Temporary state] Hoje está frio na Suécia. Today it is cold in Sweden.
The same goes when you say, The Atlantic waters are cold, in Portuguese, As águas do Atlântico são frias. Again, the verb ser is marking the permanent state inherent in that sentence.
If you instead say, The milk is cold (right after having taken it out of the fridge), then you’re asserting a temporary state (guess what happens if you leave the milk outside the fridge a couple of hours). And so, that sentence in Portuguese is, O leite está frio..
Let’s now dive into either verb in more detail.
The Portuguese verb Ser
In this section, I will walk you through several examples implying permanent states and the use of ser. I will also point out contextual shifts to temporary states that call to estar.
Who am I? Who are you?
It is about time to introduce myself: Olá! eu sou o Pedro e sou Português. You probably know that I just said, Hi! I am Pedro and I am Portuguese.
It is hardly surprising that I am using ser to introduce myself. After all, chances are that I will still be both Pedro and Portuguese tomorrow and well after that.
In other words, my name and nationality conform to a permanent state.
The same applies when we talk about our professions and trades. Again, ser implies permanent states:
Eu sou canalizador e ela é carpinteira. I am a plumber and she is a carpenter.
So, you will be using ser whenever you introduce yourself, that is saying your name, nationality, profession, and so on.
You’d do the same, of course, if you were introducing a friend to another person:
João, esta é a Gabriela. John, this is Gabriela.
How’s she as a person?
You’d also use the verb ser to talk about someone’s personality traits or your own:
A Sara é uma pessoa sensata. Sara is a sensible person.
O Paulo e o José são teimosos. Paulo and José are stubborn.
However, you might swap to estar as soon as the permanent time-quality shifts into a temporary state:
Hoje estás teimoso. You’re being stubborn today!
How do you look?
I am curious about you:
És alto ou baixo? Magro ou rechonchudo? Loiro ou moreno? De que cor são os teus olhos? Are you tall or short? Thin or chubby? Blond or brunette? What color are your eyes?
Unsurprisingly, I’ve used the verb ser to ask you about your physical traits. Again, if you’ve got blue eyes, they will stay blue for years to come, hopefully.
In other words, physical appearance has a permanent time quality to it. Well, kind of!
Say that it had been a while since the last time I saw my friend Sara and that I got surprised when I saw her:
Sara, tu estás magra! Sara, you look thinner!
So, even though I am referring to Saras’s physical appearance, I am now using the verb estar instead.
That’s because I am commenting on a physical trait that has changed over time, and so ser’s permanency no longer applies.
What’s her house like?
You’d also use the verb ser to describe things’ physical attributes:
A casa da Mariana é moderna e espaçosa. Mariana’s house is modern and spacious.
Again, one might revisit Mariana’s house after 2 decades and cry:
A casa da Mariana está num mau estado! Mariana’s house is in a bad shape!
Here too, we shifted to estar to reinforce the idea that something has changed over time.
Where is Stockholm?
And the answer is:
Estocolmo é na Suécia. Stockholm is in Sweden.
We continue to use the ser under the same permanency logic – Stockholm is located in Sweden for good.
While the use of ser is perfectly correct, it is, in this context of geographic location, much more common to use another verb, namely ficar.
Estocolmo fica na Suécia. Stockholm is in Sweden.
Lisboa fica em Portugual. Lisbon is in Portugal.
! Although considered grammatically incorrect, it is not uncommon to hear estar in this same context. So, you might hear that O arquipélago dos Açores está no meio do Atlântico instead of O arquipélago dos Açores fica/é no meio do Atlântico. (The Azores archipelago is located in the middle of the Atlantic).
The Portuguese verb Estar
Let’s now turn our focus to the verbestar and temporary states. Again, I will sometimes point out situations where estar is replaced by ser accordingly to changes in the time context.
How are you?
A very common Portuguese greeting is, Como estás? – How are you? – In this case, the use of estar conveys an implicit circumstantial time quality.
Needless to say that the same thing applies when you answer that question:
It might not be always the case that we feel well though. For instance, we may get sick every now and then:
Hoje estou doente. I am sick today in Portuguese.
So, whether you feel sick or spirited, happy or sad, hungry or thirsty … you use estar to express those physiological and psychological states – they all are, in essence, temporary.
However, those affected by a chronic disease would use ser:
Sou diabético. I am diabetic
This shift from estar to ser is reflecting a lasting condition.
How’s your tea?
Is it too hot? Well, wait one minute or two until you can drink it. You see what I am getting at, right? Estar is the right one in this context:
Como está o teu chá? Está quente demais? How’s your tea? Is it too hot?
Here, we are required to discern permanent from temporary physical states. For instance, while sitting next to you watching you drink your tea I could ask:
É chá verde ou preto? Is it green or black tea?
So, the question above refers to a permanent property of the tea, thus the verb ser. For that same reason, you would say Este chá é forte(This tea is strong) if the tea is strong off of its intrinsic properties.
But what if your tea is strong just because you’ve used too much of it to brew your cup?
Este chá está forte! This tea is strong!
Our estar is back again to denote a circumstantial state, not a permanent one.
Where are you?
Paris? Lisboa? Maybe in Dublin next year? You can always move around and change places (circumstantial):
Onde estás? Where are you?
The same applies to objects in general – we move them around. Stuff such as chairs, pens, carrots, clothes, scissors, and cars are inherently moveable:
Mas onde estão o raio das chaves? * But where are those goddamn keys?
The idea that ser is used in association with permanent states and estarwith temporary permeated the whole article. Keeping that in mind will help you to pick the right verb according to the context.
However, see it as a recurring pattern and no more than so.
While the mentioned principle holds well in general, there will always be exceptions breaking the rule. As a matter of fact, there are several situations where either verb would work just as well.
For instance, I am married in Portuguese can be stated either as Estou casada or Sou casada – there’s no substantial difference between the two.
Possibly, someone learning Portuguese could find estar illogical by holding that marriage, by definition, implies a permanent state. Well, kind of. The reverse argument could also be made. But these discussions are fruitless.
The thing is that logic and languages are not best friends. We may strive to tidy them up and to make sense of them, but languages have a life of their own and are not without idiosyncrasies.
Even advanced learners will, every now and then, use ser when they are supposed to use estar,and vice-versa. That’s totally fine.
See, it takes a solid idiomatic feel for the language to avoid these small mistakes. You’ve got to be patient and let time do the work.
Until then keep the ser vs. estar guiding principles in mind and do your best. Neat!