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Portuguese has two verbs for ‘to be’: ser and estar. Ser is used for properties, conditions and characteristics which do not change including profession, permanent locations, and nationalities.
Estar, on the other hand, is used for temporary states as well as transitory conditions and locations. Let’s have a look at the present indicative of ser and estar and then elaborate on the two different forms of ‘to be’ in Portuguese.
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1st person, singular: Eu sou [I am]
2nd person, singular: Tu és [You are] *
3rd person, singular: Ele , Ela , Você é [He/she is; You are]
1st person, plural: Nós somos [We are]
2nd person, plural: Vós sois [You are] *
3rd person, plural: Eles, Elas, Você são [They (m)/They(f), You are]
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1st person, singular: Eu estou [I am]
2nd person, singular: Tu estás [You are] *
3rd person, singular: Ele, Ela,Você está [He/she is; You are]
1st person, plural: Nós estamos [We are]
2nd person, plural: Vós estais [You are] *
3rd person, plural: Eles , Elas, Vocês estão [They (m) / They (f); You are]
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Examples of Ser and Estar
João está em Nova York [João (temporarily) is in New York].
A casa de João é grande [The house of João is big].
Ele é do Rio de Janeiro [He is from Rio de Janeiro].
Roberto está ali? [Is Roberto there]?
Eu sou brasileiro [I am Brazilian].
Eu estou feliz [I am happy].
Eles são professores [They are teachers]
Vocês são engenheiros [You are engineers] *
* The second person is hardly used in Brazil. Instead você and vocês replace tu and vós, not only for ser and estar.
Como está voce [How are you]?
Que horas são [What's the time]?
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In a nutshell: for ‘to be’ in Portuguese ser is used for permanent properties and estar is used for non-permanent properties. Perhaps the following example is helpful to learn when to use estar and ser. If you tell a woman that she is beautiful making use of ser, then she is a beauty. The same phrase with estar on the other hand means that she (only) momentarily looks nice, so you had better not use it.
- Author's own experience