Introduction to ¿Cómo estás?

As we have already seen, Spanish has two verbs that translate to the English “to be”: ser and estar. In this section, we’ll look at one of the most common uses of estar: to describe conditions and emotions.

a tree showing how various romance languages are related. Latin is at the top. Branching from Latin are Classical Latin and Vulgar Latin. Branching from Vulgar Latin are Continental Romance and Sardinian dialects. Branching from Continental Romance are Eastern Romance and Italo-Western Romance. Branching from Eastern Romance are Balkan Romance and Dalmation. Balkan Romance branches into Albanian words and Proto-Romanian, from which branches Romanian and Aromanian. Returning to the level of Eastern Romance and Italo-Western Romance, Italo-Western Romance branches into Proto-Italian, from which come Italian dialects, and Western Romance. Western Romance branches into Gallo Romance and Ibero Romance. Gallo Romance branches into French and Occitano Romance, which has two final branches: Occitan and Catalan. Ibero Romance branches into Spanish and Portuguese.Why are there two verbs? Romance languages (Spanish, Catalan, Galician, Portuguese, French, Italian, and Romanian) derive from Latin, and Latin had three main verbs that could function like “to be”: sedēre “to sit”, esse “to be”, and stāre “to stand” or “to stay”. The first two, sedēre and esse, combined eventually into *essere, which came to mean “to be (permanently or essentially)”, in contrast to stāre, which meant “to be (temporarily or incidentally).” Do you see where we’re going here? *Essere = serstāre = estar.

Note: although English has only one form of “to be,” we still get to join in the fun with words that take on qualities from their etymological roots. Esse gives us essence, essential, presence, and absence (among others), while stāre gives us instance, instant, state, status, station, and substitute. See the pattern?

So does that help you understand the difference between ser and estar?

No? OK, how about this: “For how you feel or where you are, always use the verb estar.”