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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.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Is it "el internet" or "la internet"? Internet with or without capital "i"?

I recently had a long Facebook wall-to-wall dialogue about this issue. A friend wrote on their status that it is “la internet,” not “el internet.” My argument was that the gender of “internet” (or Internet) depends on the region you live.

This is one of those words similar to computer--el ordenador in Spain, la computadora in Mexico, and el computador in Colombia. According to the Real Academia Española de la Lengua (, “internet” is an ambiguous noun, which means that it can be either feminine or masculine. It can also be written with capital "I" because it is a place or space, just like a country or a city.

Why the confusion?
There not that many words in Spanish that end with "t." Cassette passed into Spanish as "casete" but a very common pronunciation is "caset." Casete is also a noun that can be either feminine or masculine, but in most countries is masculine. By association, “internet” is masculine. Or feminine if “casete” is feminine for you. By the way, “la casete” refers to the cassette player more than the cassette itself.

Speakers who grew up using "la red" (the net) because it is the translation of the English "net," then "internet" logically became "la internet."
Also, "internet" sounds a lot like "carné" (“carnet”) and "bidé" (bidet) which are originally French words and function as masculine nouns in Spanish. This may be another reason why "internet" is masculine for so many native speakers.

New words, specially the ones related to technology, have traveled very fast from English to other languages in the last two decades. Each region adopts the version or translation that it feels more comfortable with. Do not feel bad if somebody tells you, “se dice el internet” instead of la internet and vice versa. You can always point to the RAE. Of course, the RAE doesn't dictate exactly how a region should use a new word, on the contrary, the RAE can include in its official dictionary all the different ways a word is used.

Go ahead, have fun in la or el internet, or Internet.