HomeQ&ADoes this sound right? - ser vs estar

Does this sound right? - ser vs estar


My professor gave us an exercise to test our skills on when to use ser or estar. I was doing reasonable well until this. It is a multiple choice question and reads as:

Las mochilas están____

a. azules b. de piel c. de plástico d. baratas

It was clear to me from what she taught us that a,b, and c would not be correct, but I didn’t like d either. To me, “Las mochilas están baratas”, sounds strange. Certainly as a student of Spanish only in his third semester, I should not be asserting that something sounds wrong, but it does. How can backpacks be in the condition of being cheap as though they had a choice? If d is a correct answer then the distinction between ser and estar will be even more difficult,

Does “Las mochilas están baratas” sound right?

updated MAR 4, 2010
posted by Steven-Neuberger

2 Answers


Las mochilas están____

a. azules b. de piel c. de plástico d. baratas

You are right, steve, welcome to the forum, we normally use ser here:

Las mochilas son baratas.

However, we can use estar: we are in sales....and the backpacks are normally expensive, but only during the sales they are cheap, well, here the time reference does apply.

Las mochilas están baratas.

continues sounding weirdconfused, jeje, but anyway, it is possible.

good job, Steve, if this sounded bad to you, you are really getting the hang of itwink

updated MAR 4, 2010
posted by 00494d19

There is a reason why SER and ESTAR are confusing. It is hard to explain the differences even when they are obvious.

SER is used with inherent qualities. Try this: look at the picture below. If I change the color the pictures changes. If I change the shape of the backpack the picture changes. If I change the material that is made of, then that changes the picture of the object. So would it's weight, etc. though, not visibly. These are inherent qualities that define the object.

Now change whether it is considered cheap or well-made. Those are judgment values that do not define the object. Neither does the price if "cheap" is referring to that. These things are not inherent qualities. Things like tall, short, fat, skinny are. Change those characteristics and the object changes. I don't want to mislead you, however, that Ser is only used with physical attributes. SER is used in describing abstract qualities such as whether a person is GOOD or EVIL, but these are discussing the nature of the object, not some transitory affectation.

It's not always clear if you are addressing inherent qualities, but that's why SER and ESTAR continue to confound beginners. If there were a clear and fast rule there would not be any ambiguity. A lot of it comes from learning the contexts for when you are dealing with inherent values.

Here's my favorite. Return to the analogy of the backpack. Picture someone sleeping in bed, lying very still and breathing very lightly. If we spoke of whether they are tall, blond, etc. and change those qualities what we see changes. Now consider whether they are alive or dead. Does changing the status alter what we see? Is it an inherent value? Spanish uses ESTAR with dead/alive. There must be some religious significance there. grin

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updated MAR 4, 2010
edited by 0074b507
posted by 0074b507
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