Saturday, 12 January 2013

Tell Me, What Are You Writing?

Imagine you are on the phone to a relative, a friend or a colleague. You are catching up with each other. In the course of your conversation it transpires that you are writing something. The other person wants to know a bit more and says to you something like: "tell me, what are you writing?".

In Spanish, he/ she could choose to be less formal and say to you:
Dime, ¿qué estás escribiendo?

On the other hand, he/ she could choose to be more formal and say to you:
Dígame, ¿qué está escribiendo (usted)?

The question is an invitation for you to say what you are writing. When saying what you are doing, you do not need to be concerned about the level of formality in the other person's question. Your main concern should be about saying what you are actually doing.

Here are some examples of how you could reply, whilst practising the use of the verb “estar”:
  • Estoy escribiendo un libro (I am writing a book).
  • Estoy escribiendo un panfleto (I am writing a pamphlet).
  • Estoy escribiendo un folleto (I am writing a brochure).
  • Estoy escribiendo un artículo (I am writing an article).
  • Estoy escribiendo un ensayo (I am writing an essay).
  • Estoy escribiendo un informe (I am writing a report).
  • Estoy escribiendo un resumen (I am writing a resumé).
  • Estoy escribiendo una carta (I am writing a letter)
  • Estoy escribiendo un correo electrónico (I am writing an e-mail).
  • Estoy tomando notas (I am writing/ taking some notes).

Now you should practise replying to someone who says to you:
Dime, ¿qué estás escribiendo?

*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 “estar”. A separate series of blog posts is dedicated to the uses of “ser”.

In this post we look at a number of situations in which “estar” is commonly used. “Estar” is commonly used in the following cases:

    1. Continuous Form- Verbs
In Spanish, we commonly use “estar” followed by a gerund to form continuous verb tenses. Continuous verb tenses are used to indicate ongoing actions, which often take place at the time of speaking, but may also take place at other times also.

Although the most common use of the continuous form of verb tenses is found in the present and imperfect tenses, its use is not restricted to those tenses. In fact, the continuous form may be used with all verb tenses. Some examples of the use of “estar” in continuous forms of verbs with a variety of tenses are:
  • Estoy escribiendo una carta (I am writing a letter);
  • Estabas mirando la tele, ¿verdad? (you were watching TV, weren't you?);
  • Pedro estara llegando por la mañana temprano (Pedro will be arriving early in the morning);
  • Hemos estado cenando en un restaurate muy típico (we have been dining in a very traditional restaurant);
  • Estuvisteis viajando por los Estados Unidos (you people have been travelling in the USA);
  • Espero que John y Ann lo estén pasando muy bien (I hope that John and Ann are having a good time);

    2. States
In Spanish, we commonly use “estar”to indicate 'temporary' states* for someone or something. Some examples of the use of “estar” in expressions of this type are:
  • Estoy muy contento (I am very happy- male speaking);
  • Estás triste, ¿verdad? (you are feeling sad, aren't you?);
  • Pedro está muy cansado (Pedro is very tired);
  • María está muy cansada (María is very tired);
  • Estamos muy relajados (we are very relaxed);
  • Estáis todos bien, ¿no? (you are all well, aren't you?);
  • John y Ann están sanos y salvos (John and Ann are safe and sound);

*NB Please note that in this case, 'temporary' does not necessarily mean 'short'. In here, 'temporary' refers to states which have a beginning, an end or both. An example of the 'longer term' meaning of 'temporary' are expressions such as, “está muerto” (he is dead)- which is a pretty long-lasting state to be in!

3. Appearances
In Spanish, we commonly use “estar” to indicate a 'temporary' appearance of someone or something. When used in this way, “estar” may be used to indicate a change in the normal appearance of someone or something. Some examples of the use of “estar” in expressions of this type are:
  • Estás muy guapo (you are looking really handsome);
  • ¡Qué viejo estaba Pedro! (how old was Pedro looking);
  • ¡Estáis jovencísimos! (you are looking very young!);
  • John y Ann están muy altos (John and Ann are very tall);

4. Locations
In Spanish, we commonly use “estar” to indicate the whereabouts of someone or something. That is, “estar” is commonly used to indicate where someone or something is.

  • The whereabouts of someone or something may typically be indicated using expressions involving “estar”, with:
    • Preposition “en” and the names of places;
    • Adverbs of place, such as: “aquí” (here), “ahí” (there), “allí” (there), etc.;
    • Expressions such as: “cerca de” (near to), “lejos de” (far from), “al lado de” (beside) , “enfrente de” (facing), and similar, followed by the names of places;

  • The following are some examples of the use of “estar” to indicate where people or things are:
    • Estoy en mi despacho (I am in my office);
    • Estás en casa, ¿verdad, John? (you are at home, aren't you, John?);
    • Pedro está aquí (Pedro is here);
    • Estábamos cerca de Nueva York (we were near New York);
    • Estáis al lado del cine, ¿no? (you people are next door to the cinema, aren't you?);
    • Las tiendas están en el centro (the shops are downtown/ in the centre of town);

Now you should practise the uses of “estar” with some examples of your own.

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