Imagine you are with a relative, a friends or a colleague. You are sitting at a table in a public place, perhaps a library where you have been studying Spanish together. There are several books on the table and its unclear who they belong to. The other person points to one of those books and says to you something like: "tell me, is that book yours?".
In Spanish, he/ she could choose to be less formal and say to you:
Dime, ¿ese libro es tuyo?
On the other hand, he/ she could choose to be more formal and say to you:
Dígame, ¿ese libro es suyo?
The question is an invitation for you to state whether or not the book in question is yours. When you state whether or not something belongs to you, you DO NOT need to be concerned about the level of formality in the other person's question. Your main concern should be about communicating whether the book in question is yours or not.
- Here are some examples of how you could reply:
- Sí, ese libro es* mío (yes, that book is mine);
- No, ese libro no es* mío (no, that book is not mine);
- No, ese libro no es* mío, no sé de quién es* (no, that book is not mine, I don't know whose it is?);
Now you should practise replying to someone who says to you:
Dime, ¿ese libro es tuyo?
*Please see grammar below
The English verb to be has two corresponding verbs in Spanish, “ser” and “estar”. When to use “ser” and when to use “estar” often causes some confusion amongst learners of Spanish. This post deals with the uses of “ser”. A separate series of blog posts is dedicated to the uses of “estar”.
In this post we look at a number of situations in which “ser” is commonly used. “ser” is commonly used in the following cases:
1. Generic Characteristics
We commonly use “ser” with generic describing words/ adjectives. That is, “ser” is used to refer to characteristics which are considered an inseparable part of the nature of a person or thing. It is perhaps for this reason why it is often said that “ser” should be used to describe permanent* features of a person or thing.
- Some of the features or characteristics in this category are:
- Gender ;
- Race/ ethnicity;
- Other general characteristics, such as large, small, tall, short, ugly, beautiful, heavy, light, easy, difficult, etc;
- Some examples of the use of “ser” with characteristics like these are:
- Soy español (I am Spanish);
- ¿La palabra casa es de género femenino? (is the word 'casa' is feminine?);
- María es guapa (Maria is pretty);
- La montaña es alta (the mountain is tall);
- El español es fácil (Spanish is easy);
- El coche es rojo (the car is red);
- La casa es grande (the house is big);
- Somos todos indígenas (we are all natives);
- Sois todos muy altos (you are all very tall);
- John y Ann son escoceses (John and Ann are Scottish);
*NB It should be noted that permanent does not mean unchangeable. A good example of this is a person's nationality. A person's nationality may change with time. In some cases you may even end up with more than one nationality. What permanent means is that a nationality is something that you will always have. Something similar can be said about other generic characteristics such as: gender, colour, religion, race/ ethnicity, and other general characteristics such as the ones referred to by adjectives such as large, small, tall, short, etc.
We commonly use “ser” to indicate the origin of someone or something. That is, “ser” is used to refer to the place someone or something originates/ comes from.
- Origin may be indicated by using expressions of form “ser de”, with:
- Proper nouns (names of countries/ regions/ cities/ etc.);
- Common nouns, such as: mar (sea), río (river), etc. ;
- Adverbs of place, such as: aquí (here), ahí (there), allí (there), etc.;
- Some examples of the use of “ser de” to indicate origin are:
- Soy de aquí (I am/ come from here);
- ¿Eres de Barcelona? (are you from Barcelona?);
- El pescado es de río (the fish is a river fish);
- El pollo es de granja (the chicken is farmed);
- Somos de Andalucía (we are/ come from Andalucía);
- ¿Sois todos de Cádiz? (are you all from Cadiz?);
- John y Ann son de Glasgow (John and Ann are/ come from Glasgow);
3. Professions/ Occupations
We commonly use “ser” with describing words/ adjectives which indicate the profession/ occupation of someone. That is, “ser” is used to describe what someone does by way of occupation/ profession/ other activities.
- Some examples of the use of “ser” in expressions of this type are:
- Soy enfermero (I am a* nurse- male);
- ¿Eres enfermera? (are you a* nurse- female?);
- Pedro es abogado (Pedro is a* lawyer/ solicitor/ attorney);
- María es abogada (María is a* lawyer/ solicitor/ attorney);
- Somos estudiantes (we are students);
- ¿Sois todos gerentes? (are you all managers?);
- John y Ann son arquitectos (John and Ann are architects);
*NB Please note that the English preposition “a” is omitted in Spanish.
4. Ownership/ Possession
We commonly use “ser” to indicate ownership/ possession. That is, “ser” is used to link owners to their possessions.
- Ownership may typically be indicated by using expressions of form “ser”, with either:
- A possessive, such as: mío (my/ mine), tuyo (your/ yours), suyo (his/ her/ it's), etc.;
- Preposition “de” with a noun;
- Some examples of the use of “ser” to indicate ownership/ possession are:
- Esta casa es mía (this house is mine);
- Ese coche es de Pedro (that car is Pedro's);
- Los libros son de George? (the books belong to George);
5. Support/ Following
We commonly use “ser” to indicate following/ support. That is, “ser” is commonly used to indicate the team someone supports.
- Support/ following may be indicated using expressions of form “ser del”, with:
- The name of a team/ club/ or similar;
- Some examples of the use of “ser del” to indicate support/ following are:
- Soy del Barcelona (I support Barcelona FC);
- ¿Eres del Liverpool? (do you support Liverpool FC?);
- Pedro es del Madrid (Pedro supports Real Madrid FC);
- No todos somos del mismo equipo (we don't all support the same team);
- Vosotros sois del Chelsea, ¿no? (you support Chelsea, don't you?);
- John y Ann son del Arsenal (John and Ann support Arsenal);
We commonly use “ser” to indicate the material something is made of. That is, “ser” is commonly used to describe things in terms of the material they are made of.
- What things are made of may be indicated by using expressions of form “ser de”, with a noun:
- Typically, the name of a material, such as plástico (plastic), cuero (leather), oro (gold), etc.;
- Some examples of the use of “ser de” to indicate what things are made of are:
- No soy de piedra (I am not made of stone/ I also have feelings);
- Este reloj es de oro (this is a gold watch);
- El vestido es de algodón (the dress is cotton );
- La chaqueta es de piel (the jacket is leather);
- Somos de carne y hueso (we are flesh and bone/ like everybody else/ we have feelings);
- Los cubiertos son de plástico (the cutlery is plastic);
7. The Time
We commonly use “ser” to ask and give the time.
- A common expression used to ask the time is:
- ¿Qué hora es?
- Common expressions used to give the time begin with:
- Es la...
- Son las...
- Some examples of the use of “ser” to give the time are:
- Es la una y veinte (it is twenty past one);
- Es la una menos cinco (it is five to one);
- Son las tres y media (it is half past three);
- Son las siete menos diez (it is ten to seven);
8. Passive Voice Constructions
Passive voice constructions, although perhaps less common in Spanish than they are in English, are nonetheless very similar in both languages. In Spanish, “ser” is used as an auxiliary verb in some passive voice constructions.
- Some examples of the use of “ser” in passive voice constructions are:
- Fui multado por la policía de tráfico (I was fined by the traffic police);
- ¿Fuiste despachado por esa dependienta? (were you attended by that sales assistant?);
- El Quijote fue escrito por Miguel de Cervantes (Don Quixote was written by Miguel de Cervantes);
- ¿Fuisteis llamados por la empresa? (were you called by your employer?);
- Esos libros fueron comprados por mi padre (those books were bought by my father);
We commonly use “ser” to indicate the whereabouts of an event. That is, “ser” is commonly used to indicate where something takes place.
- The whereabouts of an event may typically be indicated using expressions involving “ser”, with:
- Preposition “en” and the names of places;
- Adverbs of place, such as: aquí (here), ahí (there), allí (there), etc.;
- Some examples of the use of “ser” to indicate what things are made of are:
- La reunión es en mi despacho (the meeting is in my office);
- La fiesta era en tu casa (the party was in your house);
- El estreno será en Nueva York (the premiere will be in New York);
- El baile será aquí (the dance will be here);
We commonly use “ser” to indicate the time of an event. That is, “ser” is commonly used to indicate when something takes place.
- The time of an event may typically be indicated using expressions involving “ser”, with:
- Preposition “en” and a month/ year/ season/ etc;
- Definite article “el” and a day of the week/ day of the month/ a date;
- Expressions such as “la semana que viene”/ “la semana pasada”/ etc.;
- “a la... ” and an hour (one);
- “a las...” and any hour, other than one;
- “por la mañana/ tarde/ noche”
- Adverbs of time, such as: ahora (now), mañana (tomorrow), después (later), etc.;
- Some examples of the use of “ser” to indicate the time of an event:
- Mi cumpleaños es en febrero (my birthday is in February);
- La fiesta fue el domingo (the party was on Sunday);
- La fiesta es la semana que viene (the party is next week);
- Viernes Santo fue el seis de abril (Good Friday was on April the sixth);
- La salida es a la una menos diez (the departure is at ten to one);
- La llegada es a la una y media (the arrival is at half past one);
- La reunión es a las tres (the meeting is at three o'clock);
- El baile es por la noche (the dance is in the evening);
- El cumpleaños de Pedro es hoy (Pedro's birthday is today);
Now you should practise the uses of “ser” with some examples of your own.
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