Ser ou Estar ... quando usar?

I am repeating the use of ser and estar. In my textbook that I use there are some sentences where I am in doubt if I should use ser ou estar:

  1. O Francisco é muito simpático. A Inês e o Márcio são muito amigos e são/estão sempre bem dispostos.
  2. A sala de aula é grande. Tem muitas janelas que são/estão sempre fechadas. As janelas são grandes e nunca são/estão sujas. Em frente há um pequeno jardim que é muito agradável. Os bancos são de cimento, a relva é verde e está tudo cheio de flores. A nossa sala de aula é perto do bar que está/é sempre cheio de estudantes de todas as nacionalidades.

My question is if the word sempre and nunca in a sentence can signalize the use of ser instead of estar.

I hope someone can help me here.

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You are not alone in asking that. I confuse it all the time.

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Ser is for permanence. Estar is used for things that change

Yes I know but this does not really help in cases when something that could possibly change is described as permanent with the words sempre and nunca.

I appreciate this discussion. In spite of that distinction, it is horribly confusing. I think it will be a long time til I actually “get” the difference from a practical point of view.

Sempre/nunca don’t automatically indicate that you should use the verb ser, which is inconvenient, because it means there is no easy way of always getting this right!

Note that the whole temporary vs. permanent condition is just a general rule of thumb, not a hard line between the two verbs. For example, in sentence #1, the verb ser is used to say that Inês and Márcio are friends, and yet, we don’t know if they’ll be friends forever. Also, we preferably use the verb estar to talk about moods, which is why I wrote “estão sempre bem dispostos”. However, I could phrase it differently and write “são pessoas sempre bem dispostas”, because with the noun pessoas (people), the verb ser almost always fits better.

In sentence #2, the temporary vs. permanent thing can be followed more or less closely. The classroom was built with a fixed (permanent) size, hence “a sala de aula é grande”. But windows are usually made to be opened and closed. So, even if they are always in the same state, the expected potential for change makes us prefer to say “janelas… estão sempre fechadas”. Same for their cleanliness (“nunca estão sujas”) or for how busy the bar usually is.

One additional way of distinguishing between ser and estar is to think about intrinsic/non-intrinsic and standard/non-standard qualities of something. For example, we say “a relva é verde” (grass is green) because color is generally seen as an intrinsic attribute of something and the green color is seen as the standard for grass. When green leaves turn yellow and brown, we often use estar to describe those new colors, because those are not the standard tones. I hope I was able to explain this in a way that made sense :smile:


Thank you Joseph, this was really helpful for me. I think now it is easier for me to distinguish these verbs. Abraços Matthias

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Thanks for these explanations @Joseph. It’s an area I tend to overthink every time I have to make a decision between ser and estar. I liked your phrasing “the potential for change”… That will prove very useful!

Today I’ve been working on exactly the chapter in Aprender Português, that @matthias.wintzer referred to in the first post.

One sentence that confused me was: "Os carros são novos."

Hmmm, I wouldn’t consider being new as a permanent characteristic, and indeed there is potential there for ageing. The only way I can make sense of it is to think that newness isn’t a characteristic that can change on a daily or momentary basis; not like being happy one day, sad the next, or a window being open now but closed later.

Could any of our lovely PP people explain why it’s ser and not estar in this case, please?
Muito obrigado!

PS. My experience of grass in Portugal is that it’s more often brown rather than green! :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:

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l think this type of thing happens in many languages. We are not sure what to say, so we end up using one or the other. For language learners, we tend to just use what we think we understand and let the chips fall! But I would like to hear the possible explanation here!

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These learning notes could be helpful because they include a lot of examples of contexts in which you would use each verb:

Ser vs. Estar
Using Ser 1
Using Ser 2
Using Estar

I think this is one of those situations where we can’t fully rely on the rules. If you think hard enough about any sentence, you could probably argue that it is both temporary and permanent. We just have to be exposed to enough examples where it starts to feel natural to use one or the other.

What Joseph said here about the expected potential for change was really useful for me though. That may be a better way to think about it rather than just simplifying the decision to temporary vs permanent.


Indeed, rules can only take us so far. For every one of them, you’ll find many exceptions :slight_smile: Just think of the fact that we say “…está morto” (…is dead), even though I can’t imagine anything more permanent than death.

Thanks for linking to these Learning Notes, @Molly, I second the recommendations!

You can justify it like that if it helps you - sounds logical enough for me and I honestly have no better explanation to offer! We always use the verb ser when something is, in fact, brand new. On the other hand, we use the verb estar for something that isn’t new anymore, but still seems to be in great condition. Here’s an example of each:

  • Este livro é novo. (This book is new) - Truly new
  • Este livro está como novo. (This book looks new) - Not new, but well preserved. Note how we establish a comparison here, with the word como. I could translate it as “This book is as new”. The word como is often omitted, anyway.

It sounds to me like we have a choice. If it is not accepted by the listener, chances are he will correct it. Then again he may not. Language is a judgment exercise sometimes.

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Haha, that is one possible approach. However, the choice between ser or estar in one context or another is quite clear and consistent among native speakers. The tough part is explaining it to language learners.

Languages develop and evolve organically over centuries, thousands of years, so we’re bound to deal with lots of nonsensical things. It can be frustrating, sure, but it’s also part of what makes it fun for me to explore languages.

I think you are right. The challenge can be nice for someone who understands the language, but as you say, explaining it to a beginner is tough. Memrise makes a big deal of ser/estar. I decided to try them for 30 days because they gave me the impression they teach beginners. I thought it might help. It won’t be. For me it will be a disaster! They use ten words to describe “es,” for example. By the time I read it, figure out what they mean, my time is up and I have learned nothing. It is just not a good "fit. If I thought speakers at Practice Portuguese are poor, I was in for a shock. I was seriously mistaken. Memrise thinks that giggling girls make good teachers. They are impossible to understand. One male student pronounced “Obrigada” as something like “dada.” There were two serious boys who spoke well and they were a good fit for me. Whatever happened to professional speakers who can be understood? I have a friend in Lisboa who is a man who teaches specialty subjects. He is soft spoken, has a well modulated voice and sounds like a pro. As long as he teaches, I can follow him, but when he speaks to his peers, I am lost! He says English is an easy course. It is. It is a relatively simple language. But as he says, Portuguese often use ten words to say the same things And that get difficult for newbies.