BACK TO LATIN AMERICA HOME

TO BE (ESTAR) OR NOT TO BE (SER)?

by

DR. WALTER JAHN

BACK TO FRONT PAGE

In Spanish, there are two verbs which express the English sentiment "to be". The verb "estar" implies a temporary condition (e.g. "I am nervous or happy") while the verb "ser" implies a permanent condition (e.g. "I am a teacher", "I am North American", etc.). The following story illustrates the importance of knowing the difference between these two verbs when trying to speak in Spanish.

While in the Peace Corps in the country of Paraguay, I had a friend whose town was the last stop on a very busy bus route.

bus



Unfortunately, we would often try to catch the bus to his town in the evening at which point the buses were packed as full as they could get without tying people onto the roof. One typical night, my friends and I tried to get onto one of these buses. As usual, we had to spend the first several stops hanging out the back door of the bus with one foot on a step and one hand grabbing onto an armrail for dear life. (At one point, I had one foot on top of the feet of two of my friends while clutching their shoulders.) Every time the bus would stop to let someone off, we would have to get off the bus to allow someone to exit, only to find that the bus would start off again forcing us to run alongside and jump into our positions.


On the night in question, we survived long enough to gradually work our way inside the bus so that we were no longer the ones who were dangling out the back door and sprinting to catch up at each stop. At one point I looked at the gentleman who was in this position and I wasn't sure that his grip would hold. I leaned towards him and meant to ask, "Estas bien? Are you okay? " Unfortunately, I used the wrong verb "to be" and instead asked this man whose life was passing before his eyes, "Eres bueno?/ Are you a good person?" With a frightened look, this man looked up at the weird American who was asking him this question and nervously replied "I think so".

 

 

 

WILDLIFE OF THE BASHA KILL