Before starting with this lesson, it is essential that you know that in Spanish the verb “to be” is divided into two verbs, “ser” and “estar”. The main challenge is learning how to use them properly according to the context.
A quite brief but inexact explanation would be that “ser” is used for describing unchangeable characteristics and “estar” for describing changeable ones. However, there are many exceptions so that we cannot rely on this explanation. However, you do not need to worry about it because in this and the next lesson I will explain to you in detail both verbs and how to use them properly. After some practice, you will find that it is not that complicated as you’re thinking.
The verb “ser”
First, you must get familiar with the verb “ser” and the Spanish personal pronouns. Please, make sure you memorize the following table very well.
After checking the table above, I know some doubts have come out, and their answers have a lot to do with Spanish culture. I will try to answer all your doubts in the “tips culturales” below.
1. Why are there two singular “you are”?
The easy explanation is that “tú eres” is used for informal situations while “usted es” is used for formal ones. However, usages may vary depending on the context, speaker intentions, and geographic location.
Context: besides the formal and informal contexts. Speaker would consider the listener’s age and hierarchy. In those cases where listeners are older or have a higher hierarchy, the speaker would prefer using “usted”, otherwise “tú”.
Speaker intentions: If the speaker wants to sound friendly or a close person, the speaker would prefer using “tú”. In case the speaker wants to sound polite, respectful, or solemn would prefer using "usted". In both cases no matter how old and what the hierarchy of the listener is.
Geographic: Although Latin American culture is very homogenous, we can divide it into two big groups, “Caribbean and Andean”. Caribbean people from tropical and hot areas love the informality and they prefer “tú” instead of “usted” (regardless of age and hierarchy). Meanwhile, Andean people from mountains and cold weather are very conservative people and love formality, that is why, they always prefer to use “usted” (regardless of age and hierarchy).
My recommendation: listen the people and follow what they say. In other words, if in Spain everybody uses “tú”, follow them and also address to them with “tú”.
2. Why are there two plural “you are”?
“Vosotros and ustedes” mean “you guys”. The difference is that “vosotros” is only used in Spain while “ustedes” in Latin America. Therefore, both can be used indistinctly.
The uses of the verb “ser”
As I explained above, the verb “ser" is used to describe or talk about unchangeable characteristics such as nationality, gender, profession, occupation, name, ownership, color, size, material, religion, etc.
Let’s see some examples:
Click on the image to see the translation of table 2.
Also, Yo soy + “de” + country name.
Note: although nowadays it is possible to swift your nationality, in the past modern states and passport did not exist. That is why nationalities used to be unchangeable. Please, keep in mind from now that culture and history are very connected to languages. Understanding our culture is a wonderful way to understand our language.
Note: The United States of America is not “America”. In other words, America is a continent and not a country. Using America to refer to USA is wrong in Spanish and it could lead to a long and awkward discussion.
Note: unlike English, in Spanish, “no” is placed before verbs and not after.
Click on the image to see the translation of table 4.
Note: in the past, the religion used to be a very important matter for Catholics. Changing religion was impossible, but it was also considered treason and in many cases it was punishable by death. The Catholic religion has been the predominant religion of Spanish speakers. In the past, there was a very popular saying among Europeans, "if you want to talk to God, you must speak Spanish."
3. Profesión y Ocupación
Click on the image to see the translation of table 5.
Note: the difference between profession and occupation is that the first one is an activity or job that requires certification or university or college degree, such as a doctor, engineer, lawyer, etc.; the second is an activity or job that does not require any degree, such as taxi driver, waiter, cleaner, etc.
Note: professions are considered unchangeable because in the past people did the same job for generations. That is why many Spanish family names refer to jobs, such as Zapatero (shoemaker), Tejada (roof tile maker), Molinero (miller), Herrera (blacksmith), etc.
Important: we use indefinite articles “un” and “una” only when the subject goes with an adjective.
“Él es doctor”. (without an adjective)
“Él es un doctor famoso”. (with an adjective)
As you see English and Spanish differ grammatically at this point.
Here are more examples,
“Ella es francesa”. (without an adjective)
“Ella es una francesa hermosa”. (with an adjective)
Next, there are four professions whose nouns have the same form in masculine and feminine and are considered as exceptions,
Here is a list of useful professions and occupation.
4. Nombres y Apellidos
Most Spanish native speakers have 2 names and 2 family names, the first name is the given name, the second one is the catholic one. In the case of family names, the first one is from father and the second one is from mother.
For example, my name is “Miguel Ángel Tejera Zambrano”.
Given name: Miguel
Catholic name: Ángel
My father family name: Tejera
My mother family name: Zambrano
We use our full names only for official documents, such as driver license, passport, id, etc. When we introduce ourselves, we only use our given name and father family name.
A: Hola, mucho gusto. Mi nombre es Miguel Tejera.
B: Hola, ¿Qué tal? Mi nombre es Ariana Uzcátegui.
A: Mucho gusto Ariana.
B: Mucho gusto Miguel.
Note: “nombre” is a masculine noun. That is why we say “el” nombre de….
5. Propiedad (ownership)
We already talked about this in the previous chapter. Let’s have a very short review.
We use “ser” to indicate the relationship between 2 or more people.
She is your Spanish teacher. -> Ella es tu maestra de español.
He is my dad. -> Él es mi papá.
The verb “ser” is used to describe the inherent characteristics of people, animals, things, places, food, ideas, and situations.
Before starting, let’s review two important conjunctions, “y” -> “and” & “pero” -> “but”. Both conjunctions work as well as English.
Click on the image to see the translation of table 11.
Note: as you have seen, in the last example we have [(+) and (-)]. Although conventionally being fat is not positive, in the last sentence the speaker does not want to give a negative connotation to the adjective. Probably the speaker wants to sound polite or being fat does not have any negative connotation for the speaker.
Note: “y” change for “e” when the next word begins with “i” sound.
Note: “muy” -> “very”.
When we describe things or objects, it is very common that we talk about colors and sizes. In Spanish, we use the verb “ser” to describe them. Although we can change the colors of many things, this rule might be coming from the fact that in nature many colors are invariable, for example, the sea and sky are always blue, the sun is always yellow, and so on.
Click on the image to see the translation of table 12.
Here is a list of colors and sizes,
Click on the image to see the translation of table 16.
Here is a list of places that would be helpful.
When it comes to describing popular flavors, there are some key words you must memorize.
Here are some examples,
Click on the image to see the translation of table 19.
Note: “sueve” could be “mild or soft” depending on the context.
Also, it would be good to memorize some vocabulary about food.
8. Materiales e ingredientes
There are many ways to talk or describe the material with which things are made of. However, in this lesson, we will learn the easiest and common one.
Let’s see an example,
As you see above, we use verb “ser” to talk about materials. Moreover, we use the preposition “de” which means “made of”.
Also, it important to remind you that in Spanish we do not say “chicken burger”, in Spanish the right way would be “the burger of chicken” as you will see below.
9. Otros usos
Moreover, the verb “ser” is used to identify, talk or describe:
At this point, it would be important that you start to get familiar with the uses of the articles in Spanish. Although Spanish and English are very similar, there are some important differences that you should keep in mind. Find the use of articles here.
Note: as you saw early in this lesson, in Spanish, we do not have the personal pronoun “it”. So, we do not have it, we do not use it. In this kind of situation, we can only use the verb “ser” as we did in the examples above.
Regarding prices and how to ask about them, we will study later in a better way.