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Using estar (and not ser) to express relationship statuses

When you are talking about relationship statuses in Spanish, you need to use the verb estar and not ser.

Read and listen to these examples:

Yo estoy casada con un chico millonario.I am married to a millionaire guy.

Joaquín va a estar soltero toda la vida.Joaquín is going to be single all his life long.

Mis padres están divorciados desde 2007.My parents are divorced since 2007.

Nosotros estábamos separados antes.We were separated before.

Tu novia y tú habéis estado comprometidos hasta este año.Your girlfriend and you have been engaged until this year.

Mi abuela Sagrario está viuda.My grandmother Sagrario is a widow.

See also Using ser (not estar) to describe relationships

Learn more about these related Spanish grammar topics

Examples and resources

Mis padres están divorciados desde 2007.My parents are divorced since 2007.
Joaquín va a estar soltero toda la vida.Joaquín is going to be single all his life long.
Mi abuela Sagrario está viuda.My grandmother Sagrario is a widow.
Yo estoy casada con un chico millonario.I am married to a millionaire guy.
Tu novia y tú habéis estado comprometidos hasta este año.Your girlfriend and you have been engaged until this year.
Nosotros estábamos separados antes.We were separated before.

Q&A Forum 4 questions, 4 answers

Karen A2Kwiziq community member

Example very unclear

Tu novia y tú habéis estado comprometidos hasta este año.Your girlfriend and you have been engaged until this year.

The meaning is unclear to me — are they no longer engaged?  

Then, in my opinion,  the English should be:

..Your girlfriend and you.were engaged until this year, not have been. But maybe I do not understand what is being expressed in Spanish. In any case, the English sentence is not clear. 

Asked 1 week ago

Example very unclear

Tu novia y tú habéis estado comprometidos hasta este año.Your girlfriend and you have been engaged until this year.

The meaning is unclear to me — are they no longer engaged?  

Then, in my opinion,  the English should be:

..Your girlfriend and you.were engaged until this year, not have been. But maybe I do not understand what is being expressed in Spanish. In any case, the English sentence is not clear. 

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MelissaA2Kwiziq community member

Why estaban and not estuvieron?

This was the question in the test that led me to this lesson,  but the lesson doesn't address the issue of choosing the correct past tense.

Ustedes ________ separados el año pasado.You were separated last year.
The hint tells you to use the tense for estaban, but I don't understand why since this seems to be talking about a definitive time that something happened.  Either the action of separating happened last year or the circumstance of being separated happened last year. Can someone explain why we should choose estaban over estuvieron (ustedes) besides the fact that the "hint" tells us to?
Thanks in advance for  any help!

Asked 1 month ago
JohnB2Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Hi Melissa,

This one caught me too because in English I think of separation as something that happens and is then over! But the actual words used are deliberately relevant in Spanish. I think it is because the phrase "you were separated last year" is describing a process that evolved over a period of time, albeit short perhaps, rather than something that took place at a specific starting point in time and / or ended at another specific point in time. If the sentence was for example "you separated on the 4th February," then you could use the indefinido "estuvieron."

There is a study page in Library/Spanish Glossary/El Pretérito Imperfecto which is great at giving you the feel of why the imperfecto is used. It talks about using the imperfecto when there is a sense of the prolongation of time. I think that is the case here.

I'm sure the teachers can add more to this.

Saludos

John

Why estaban and not estuvieron?

This was the question in the test that led me to this lesson,  but the lesson doesn't address the issue of choosing the correct past tense.

Ustedes ________ separados el año pasado.You were separated last year.
The hint tells you to use the tense for estaban, but I don't understand why since this seems to be talking about a definitive time that something happened.  Either the action of separating happened last year or the circumstance of being separated happened last year. Can someone explain why we should choose estaban over estuvieron (ustedes) besides the fact that the "hint" tells us to?
Thanks in advance for  any help!

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CeliaA2Kwiziq community member

Relationships Ser or Estar?

One of the links above (Ser or Estar?) talks about DOCTOR CLIF. DOCTOR for "ser" includes description, origin, character, time, occupation, and RELATIONSHIP. Is that wrong or am I missing something?

Asked 11 months ago
InmaKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hola Celia

Both ser and estar are used to talk about relationships but in a different way. 

With Ser you "identify" a person saying who that person is in relation to another one. 

Esa chica es la hermana de Juan. 
That girl is Juan's sister.

Yo soy su marido. 
I am her husband.

With Estar you talk about statuses (married, single, widow...)

Ella está casada.
She is married.

Doña Elvira está viuda.
Doña Elvira is a widow.

Hope this clarified it.

Saludos

Inma

 

 

CeliaA2Kwiziq community member

Yes, that’s very helpful. ¡Gracias!

Relationships Ser or Estar?

One of the links above (Ser or Estar?) talks about DOCTOR CLIF. DOCTOR for "ser" includes description, origin, character, time, occupation, and RELATIONSHIP. Is that wrong or am I missing something?

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GregB1Kwiziq community member

I think it should normally be “ser”, not “estar” viudo/a"

First, my dictionary has ser/estar(Spain) viudo, but I think it's even more complicated than a dialect issue. Here's a relevant discussion: https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/to-be-a-widow.596749/

Note that the discussion extends to several other relationship-like words such as soltero (but like viudo, these words are to my mind not relationship words, but rather civil/personal status words, which is why I think ser is often correct with them).

Asked 1 year ago
InmaKwiziq team member

Hola Greg,

With "viudo" and other words that express civil status, "estar" is the most common verb used in Peninsular Spanish. You are right by saying that "ser" is valid, however, when we use "ser" it will generally be in a more formal context, for example when someone is requiring information from you to fill in a document or in a formal interview. For example: "- ¿Es usted soltero, casado o viudo? - Soy viudo."

In Latin America the use of "ser" may be more common than in Spain, though.

Because it is a basic lesson, we chose, as I mentioned before, the most common use in Peninsular Spanish. 

Gracias y un saludo

I think it should normally be “ser”, not “estar” viudo/a"

First, my dictionary has ser/estar(Spain) viudo, but I think it's even more complicated than a dialect issue. Here's a relevant discussion: https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/to-be-a-widow.596749/

Note that the discussion extends to several other relationship-like words such as soltero (but like viudo, these words are to my mind not relationship words, but rather civil/personal status words, which is why I think ser is often correct with them).

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