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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

¿Cómo es? vs. ¿Cómo está?

One of the first questions that I get in my Spanish 101 class is,
“What is the difference between '¿cómo es? and ¿cómo está?' because both sound the same to me."

The confusion between these two questions comes from the fact that “to be” means both ser and estar in Spanish--there other verbs that may also mean "to be," but ser and estar are the most common. Cómo has its problems too. According to the dictionary and the glossaries of any text book, “¿cómo?” means “how?” but sometimes its best translation is “what?” The translations are as follows:

¿Cómo es? What is it like? / What is she or he like? / What are you(uested = formal)?

¿Cómo está? How is it (animal) doing? / How are you (usted = formal) doing? / How is she or he doing? / /she right now? How is he/she/etc. Doing?]

¿Cómo + ser? =
¿Cómo soy yo / eres tú / sos vos (Argentina and Uruguay) / es usted / es ella / es él / somos nosotros or nosotras / sois vosotras or vosotros / son ustedes / son ellos or ellas?

The answer must be a description of inherent characteristics, in other words, description of physical characteristics, the way the person or animal behaves, etc. You may refer to generalizations about the subject, or something that will not change easily. Here are a few answers that fit this question.

Soy inteligente. [Note that a complete sentence should include the subject, “Yo soy inteligente”.]
Ella es bonita y elegante.
Él es guapo y bien vestido. (very well dressed)
Usted es millonaria, trabajadora y cómica.
Nosotras somos religiosas, rebeldes, románticas.
Vosotros sois tranquilos y dormilones (sleep a lot).
Ustedes son famosas y ridículas.
Ellos son locos e interesantes. [Note: “e” is used instead of “y” because we cannot repeat the “i” (y) sound]

¿Cómo está? Needs an answer about well-being and emotional state, even first impressions about the subject--for example: está horrible, está muy bonito, está muy gorda. Here are a few examples:

Estoy feliz.
Está muy bien.
Mi madre está alegre.
Mi gato está dormido.
Mi hermano y yo estamos muy cansados.
¿Estáis listas?
Ellas están nerviosas.

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