Romance copula

Romance copula

The copula or copulae (the verb or verbs meaning "to be") in all Romance languages largely derive from the Latin verbs esse "to be" (ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *h1es-, as in English is); stāre "to stand" (ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *steh2-, as in English stand and German stehen); and sedēre "to sit" (ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *sed-, as in English sit). The verb esse was an irregular, suppletive verb, with some of its forms (e.g. fuī "I was") taken from the Proto-Indo-European verb *bhuH- (as in English be).

A number of developments occurred in the Romance languages:

  • The irregular infinitive esse was remodeled into *essere.
  • *essere, stāre and sedēre were phonologically similar in Latin, and became even more so in Vulgar Latin, where stāre became *istāre and sedēre was reduced to *seēre. As a result, parts of the conjugations of stāre and sedēre became integrated into the conjugation of *essere.
  • At the same time, stāre remained as a separate verb, originally with the meaning of "to stand" or "to stay". Increasingly, however, in the Western Romance languages stāre evolved into a second copula, with a meaning of "to be (temporarily"); *essere was then narrowed to mean "to be (permanently)".

The development of two copular verbs in this manner occurred most completely in Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan. In other languages, most usages of English "to be" are still translated by *essere:

  • In Italian, stāre has the primary meaning "to stay" and is used as a copula only in a few situations: to express one's state of physical health (sto bene "I am well"); to form progressive tenses (sto parlando "I am speaking"); and (especially in the south of Italy) with the meaning of "to be located".
  • In Old French, the verb ester < stāre still had the original Proto-Romance meaning of "to stand, stay, stop". In modern French, this verb has disappeared entirely, although the compound rester "to remain" still exists, and some parts of the conjugation of ester have become incorporated into être "to be" < *essere.

Portuguese also developed an additional copular verb ficar, with the meaning "to be located" and "to become".



In English, it is possible to say "there stands..." instead of "there is..." in certain contexts. In Latin, too, it became common to eschew SVM in favour of STO and say where things "stood" instead of where they "were". With time, it became common to use this verb to express other states.

Today, Spanish, Galician, Portuguese, Catalan, and (to a lesser extent) Italian commonly use two copulae, one from each of the Latin verbs. The others use just one main copula, from SVM.

There is also a notable tendency for a derivative of the supine of STO (STATVS, STATA, STATVM) to replace the past participle of verbs deriving from SVM (which in Latin had no supine). Examples:

  • Italian has stato as the past participle of not only stare but also essere, instead of the expected essuto (which, along with suto we encounter only in mediaeval texts).
  • Standard Catalan has estat as the past participle of not only estar but also ésser. However, many people use forms such as sigut or sét, which are considered also standard for colloquial speech.
  • French has été as the past participle of être, instead of the expected étu. Été developed as follows: STATVMstatoestatestéété.
  • Following the standard practice, Latin verbs are quoted here in the first person singular of the present indicative. In other words, SVM is literally "I am", rather than "to be". Their infinitives were ESSE and STARE.
  • Although it is normal to use lower case when writing Latin in modern times, this article, dealing as it does with etymology, presents Latin in the capital letters used by the Romans, and modern innovations such as J, U, ligatures, macrons, and breves have been avoided.
  • Only the basic simple tenses are given in the conjugation tables, but all languages below have also numerous compound tenses.
  • The asterisk (*) indicates an incorrect or unattested form.


Page of the Cantar de Mio Cid. The third line reads:
Es pagado, e davos su amor.

Spanish copulae

The Spanish copulae are ser and estar. The latter developed as follows:

STARE → *estareestar

The copula ser developed from two Latin verbs. Thus its inflectional paradigm is a combination: most of it derives from SVM (to be) but the present subjunctive appears to come from SEDEO (to sit) via the Old Spanish verb seer.

E.g. derivation from SEDEO:

SEDEAMsea (1st person singular, present tense, subjunctive mood)

Derivation from SVM:

SVMVSsomos (1st person plural, present tense, indicative mood)

The infinitive (on which the modern future and conditional are based) could have derived from either or both:

ESSEèssere (as in Italian) → ésser (as in Catalan) → ser
SEDERE → *sederseerser

In the early part of the second millennium, in texts such as the Cantar de Mio Cid, ser was still used mostly as in Latin, and there was little place for estar; sentences like Es pagado, e davos su amor, "He is satisfied, and he gives you his favour" are found, where modern Spanish might have Queda contento, or Está satisfecho, y le da su favor.

As the centuries went by, estar spread in use. Today, ser is used to express the fundamental nature, identity or characteristics of something – what it really is, whilst estar expresses the state something happens to be in. Indeed, ser is etymologically related to the English words "essence" and "is", and estar with "state", "status", "standing", "stance" and "stay".

The verb quedar (which also has the specific meanings of "to remain", "to be as a result" and others) is often used in a similar way to estar. It derives from the Latin QVIETO (QVIETARE in the infinitive), "to rest".

Infinitive ser
Past participle sido
Gerund siendo
Person yo él nosotros vosotros ellos
Present soy eres es somos sois son
Preterite fui fuiste fue fuimos fuisteis fueron
Imperfect era eras era éramos erais eran
Future seré serás será seremos seréis serán
  sería serías sería seríamos seríais serían
Present sea seas sea seamos seáis sean
Imperfect fuera / fuese fueras / fueses fuera / fuese fuéramos / fuésemos fuerais / fueseis fueran / fuesen
Future fuere fueres fuere fuéremos fuereis fueren
      seamos sed  
Infinitive estar
Past participle estado
Gerund estando
Person yo él nosotros vosotros ellos
Present estoy estás está estamos estáis están
Preterite estuve estuviste estuvo estuvimos estuvisteis estuvieron
Imperfect estaba estabas estaba estábamos estabais estaban
Future estaré estarás estará estaremos estaréis estarán
  estaría estarías estaría estaríamos estaríais estarían
Present esté estés esté estemos estéis estén
Imperfect estuviera / estuviese estuvieras / estuvieses estuviera / estuviese estuviéramos / estuviésemos estuvierais / estuvieseis estuvieran / estuviesen
Future estuviere estuvieres estuviere estuviéremos estuviereis estuvieren
    está   estemos estad  

† Archaic.

†† Estar is usually made reflexive in the imperative.


Él es sucio = "He is dirty" (i.e. "He is a dirty person" – characteristic)
Él está sucio = "He is dirty" (i.e. "He has some dirt on him" – state)
Ella es abierta = "She is open" (i.e. "She is an open sort of person" – characteristic)
Ella está abierta = "It is open" (probably referring to a door or window – state)
Es triste = "It is sad" (i.e. gloomy – characteristic)
Él está triste = "He is sad" (i.e. feeling down – state)
¿Cómo eres tú? = "What are you like?" (i.e. "describe yourself" – characteristics)
¿Cómo estás tú? = "How are you?" (i.e. "how are you doing?" – state)

With adjectives referring to beauty and the like, ser means "to be", and estar means "to look".

¡Qué bonita es ella! = "Wow, she is so beautiful" (characteristic)
¡Qué bonita está ella! = "Wow, she is looking so beautiful / she is done up so nicely" (state)

Note that the differentiation between "nature" and "state" makes sense when talking about the states of life and death: Él está vivo (He is alive), Él está muerto (He is dead). Estar is used for both alive and dead, since they are both states, although being dead is considered a permanent state.

Ser is used when stating the stage of life at which a person is. The old, the young, etc. are seen as groups that one can belong to. It is a question of identity:

Él es viejo = "He is old"
Él es un viejo = "He is an old man"
Cuando ella era niñita = "When she was a little girl"

However, age can also be presented not as a matter of identity but a state:

Él está viejo = "He is looking old" / "He is getting old"

The use of estar gives a certain special nuance to some verbs. For example, estar guapa, though it has the sense of "to be beautiful", also emphasizes the use of make-up and clothes to create a beautiful look. Ser sucio instead of the more usual estar sucio means to be the sort of person who is likely to be dirty.

The adjective loco ("mad", "crazy", "insane") is always used with estar in Spain, as the implication is that the person "has gone mad" (i.e. a change of state). It is possible to give it a permanent nuance, but only by using it as a noun: Él es un loco, "He is a madman". Ser loco is used in certain regions in Latin America, however.

The expression como una cabra (with the implied loco omitted) is used with estar to mean "mad as a hatter", "crazy as a loon". Ser como una cabra would literally mean, "to be like a goat".

Ser is used with adjectives of fundamental belief, nationality, sex, intelligence, etc. The use of estar with francés ("French") would sound quite odd to native Spanish speakers, as though it meant, "to feel a bit French". Similarly, no estar católico does not mean, "to no longer be Catholic", but is a colloquial expression meaning "to feel under the weather". Note that this is a state.

It is often stated that the difference between the two verbs corresponds to "permanent" versus "temporary", but it is more accurate to describe the distinction as one of "essential nature" versus "state or condition". The "essential nature" of things does sometimes change, and this is reflected in the language. For example, someone who had been depressed for a prolonged period, and then had a life changing experience like a new career or long-term relationship, might say ahora yo soy feliz, meaning, "now I am happy".

Specific constructions requiring ser

A special use of ser, which expresses neither a nature nor a state but an action, is the formation of the passive voice:

Ellos han sido asesinados = "They have been murdered"
Tú serás juzgada = "You will be judged"

Note that the Spanish passive voice is rarer than in English, with other turns of phrase being used instead.

Specific constructions requiring estar

Past participles

Estar is usually used with adjectives that derive from past participles of verbs since the use of ser would sound like a verb in the passive voice. Such adjectives in any case generally refer to states:

La frontera está cerrada = "The border is closed"
Yo estoy casado = "I am married" (Yo soy casado is also possible; note that "I am single", "I am widowed", etc. can use ser or estar as well)

A special example of this tendency is what happens with words indicating prohibition and suchlike. If an adjective not deriving from a verb were used, then the meaning would definitely require ser. To say the same thing with a past participle, estar (or quedar) is required, in order to differentiate it from the use of ser with a past participle implying an action expressed in the passive voice:

Es ilegal fumar en este vuelo = "It is illegal to smoke on this flight" (straightforward case of ser)
Está prohibido fumar en este vuelo = "It is prohibited to smoke on this flight" (estar necessary to distinguish the sentence from the following one)
Ha sido prohibido fumar en este vuelo = "It has been prohibited (i.e. made against the rules) to smoke on this flight" (This is an example of the passive voice. This use of ser in the perfect tense is similar to the use of estar in the present tense; the former expressing an event in the past, the latter expressing its current effect.)

This fine nuance is not encountered in other Romance languages, which do not go to such lengths to distinguish between passives and similar-sounding phrases.


Estar is used to refer to physical location. In Spanish, location is regarded as a state, and therefore is indicated with estar, even in those cases (e.g. Madrid está en España "Madrid is in Spain") when one might think that it is something so permanent and fundamental that it could be logical to use ser. With immobile things, quedar is sometimes used instead of estar, especially when there is a reference to a length of time, or a remaining distance, e.g.:

¿A cuánto queda la playa? / ¿A qué distancia queda la playa? = "How far away is the beach?"
Aún queda lejos = "There is still quite some way" / "It is still far"
El bar queda a cinco minutitos = "The bar is five minutes away"

However, ser can sometimes occur with words such as aquí, which can mislead learners into thinking that physical location can be expressed with ser. In fact, the verb in this case identifies the place rather than expressing where it is. For example, one might say to a taxi driver the following phrases, to indicate that you have arrived:

Está aquí = "It is here"
Es aquí = "It is here"

The difference becomes clear if aquí is changed to esta calle:

Está en esta calle = "It is in this street"
Es esta calle = "It is this street"

Es aquí and es esta calle express the idea that "this is the place", a concept quite different from what is expressed by estar.

The only case in which true location is expressed by ser is when an event rather than a physical thing is referred to:

¿Dónde es la fiesta? = "Where is the party?"
¿Dónde está la discoteca? = "Where is the discothèque?"

Words requiring ser

Ser is always used when the complement is a noun or pronoun, regardless of whether the speaker intended to express a fundamental essence (though in practice speakers do tend to express this):

Él es una persona sucia = "He is a dirty person"
Ella es una persona abierta = "She is an open person"
Yo soy la víctima = "I am the victim"

However, it is not always easy to know what is a noun. For example, pez is a noun meaning "fish", but estar pez is a colloquial expression meaning to be "rubbish" or "useless" at a given activity.

Words requiring estar

Estar must be used when the complement is bien or mal, no matter what meaning is intended.

Este libro está muy bien = Este libro es muy bueno = "This book is very good" (nature)
Yo estoy muy mal = Yo estoy muy malo = "I am feeling terrible, ill" (state)

Total change of meaning with specific adjectives

Many adjectives change in meaning entirely depending on the verb used, sometimes meaning almost the opposite. Note that in each case the meaning which is more of a "nature" goes with ser and the meaning which is more of a "state" goes with estar.

adjective with estar with ser
aburrido bored boring
bueno tasty, sexy good
cachondo aroused sexy, funny person
cansado tired tiring/tiresome
listo ready clever
rico delicious rich
seguro sure/certain safe
vivo alive lively, bright


Although "sadness" is expressed straightforwardly with triste, "happiness" is a little trickier. The quality of being joyous, lively and happy is expressed with ser alegre. This can describe people, music, colours, etc. Estar alegre expresses the state of being merry, which in practice may sometimes mean "drunk", "tipsy".

A person who is fundamentally happy in life is said to ser feliz; indeed la felicidad is that "happiness" for which humans strive. Although in the harsh real world this happiness often turns out to be a transitory state, a person may nevertheless declare yo soy feliz as a statement of optimism that goes beyond the description of today's mood that is expressed by any phrase with estar. As for such moods, they can be expressed with estar feliz.

When not a state but a change of state is referred to, the expression is quedar contento or alegrarse: Ella quedó muy contenta cuando yo le dije que ella había ganado = "she was very glad when I told her that she had won"; Yo me alegro de que vosotros hayáis llegado = "I am glad that ye have come".

In the excerpt from the Cantar de Mio Cid above, one can see that "to be happy" a thousand years ago was ser pagado.


Portuguese copulae

The Portuguese copulae are ser and estar. As in Spanish, estar derived from Latin STO:

STARE → *estareestar

The copula ser developed both from SVM and SEDEO. Thus its inflectional paradigm is a combination of these two Latin verbs: most tenses derive from SVM and a few from SEDEO. E.g. derivation from SEDEO:[1]

SEDEREseerser (infinitive)
SEDEAMseja (1st person singular, present tense, subjunctive mood)

E.g. derivation from SVM:

SVMsomsou (1st pers. sing., present tense, indicative mood)
ERAMera (1st pers. sing., imperfect past tense, indicative mood)
FVIfui (1st pers. sing., preterite tense, indicative mood)
(Impersonal) infinitive ser
Past participle sido
Gerund sendo
Person eu tu ele nós vós eles
Personal infinitive ser seres ser sermos serdes serem
Present sou és é somos sois são
Preterite fui foste foi fomos fostes foram
Imperfect era eras era éramos éreis eram
Pluperfect fora foras fora fôramos fôreis foram
Future serei serás será seremos sereis serão
  seria serias seria seríamos seríeis seriam
Present seja sejas seja sejamos sejais sejam
Imperfect fosse fosses fosse fôssemos fôsseis fossem
Future for fores for formos fordes forem
    seja sejamos sede sejam
(Impersonal) infinitive estar
Past participle estado
Gerund estando
Person eu tu ele nós vós eles
Personal infinitive estar estares estar estarmos estardes estarem
Present estou estás está estamos estais estão
Preterite estive estiveste esteve estivemos estivestes estiveram
Imperfect estava estavas estava estávamos estáveis estavam
Pluperfect estivera estiveras estivera estivéramos estivéreis estiveram
Future estarei estarás estará estaremos estareis estarão
  estaria estarias estaria estaríamos estaríeis estariam
Present esteja estejas esteja estejamos estejais estejam
Imperfect estivesse estivesses estivesse estivéssemos estivésseis estivessem
Future estiver estiveres estiver estivermos estiverdes estiverem
    está esteja estejamos estai estejam

† Mostly literary.

†† Some authors regard the conditional as a tense of the indicative mood.


The distinction between the two verbs is very similar to that of Catalan. Compared to Spanish, estar is a little less used. The main difference between Spanish and Portuguese lies in the interpretation of the concept of state versus essence and in the generalisations in some constructions. There is perhaps a little more of a concept of permanent versus temporary, rather than essence versus state. For example, unlike Spanish, Portuguese does not require estar with past participles; in this case, it follows the general rule regarding state/essence.

A cadeira é [feita] de madeira = "The chair is made up of wood".

The word feita, "made", is usually omitted.

Eu sou casado = "I am married".

The same applies to sentences expressing interdictions:

É proibido fumar neste voo "Smoking is forbidden in this flight".

However, there are some nuances in these verbs in the passive voice. In this case, the use of ser or estar depends on the tense of the verb. E.g.: to say that somebody is not allowed to smoke, only estar can be used in the present tense:

Está proibido de fumar [pelo pai] = "He has been forbidden from smoking [by his father]"; literally "He is forbidden to smoke [by the father]".

In past tenses, both ser and estar can be used, conveying a different meaning:

Foi proibido de fumar = "He was forbidden from smoking" [action].
Estava proibido de fumar = "He was forbidden from smoking" [result].

Portuguese counts location as permanent and fundamental, and accordingly uses ser, or the more specific secondary copula ficar (to stay), from Latin FIGO, "to place/set":

Lisboa fica em Portugal "Lisbon is [located] in Portugual".
Onde é/fica o apartamento dela? "Where is her flat/apartment?"


Como és? = "What are you like?" (i.e. "Describe yourself" – characteristics).
Como estás? = "How are you?" (i.e. "How are you doing?" – state).
Ele é triste = "He is sad" (i.e. gloomy – characteristic).
(Ele) está triste = "He is [feeling] sad" (i.e. feeling down – state).
É aberta = "She is open" (i.e. "She os an open-minded sort of person" – characteristic; this sentence can also have a pejorative meaning).
Está aberta = "It is open" (probably referring to a door or window – state).
É sujo = "It is dirty" (i.e. "It is a dirty place/thing" – characteristic).
Está sujo = "It is dirty" (i.e. "The place is/looks dirty [now]" – state).

With adjectives referring to beauty and the like, ser means "to be", and estar means "to look".

Que linda ela é! = "She is so beautiful!" (characteristic).
Que linda ela está! = "She looks so beautiful!" (state).

As in Spanish, the differentiation between "nature" and "state" makes sense when talking about the states of life and death: Está vivo (He is alive); Está morto (He is dead). Notice the important difference between ser morto (to be killed) and estar morto (to be dead):

Ele foi morto [por um ladrão] = "He was killed [by a burglar]".

Unlike Spanish loco, louco (mad) can be used with ser or estar, giving different connotations:

És louco! = "You are mad!" (characteristic).
Estás louco! = "You have gone mad!"/ "You are acting crazy" (state).

Ser is used with adjectives expressing:

  • fundamental belief: Não sou católico "I am not a Catholic";
  • nationality: És português "You are Portuguese";
  • gender: É um homem "He is a man";
  • intelligence: Somos espertos "We are clever", etc.

Estar católico is used with the same sense as in Spanish:

Eu não estou muito católico = "I am not feeling very well" (perhaps mean-spirited or ill or drunk).
O tempo hoje não está muito católico = "The weather is not very reliable today".

Apart from this exception, due to its different meanings, estar cannot be used for nationality, gender, or intelligence, but one can say Estou abrasileirado (I have acquired Brazilian ways – state) or Estás americanizado (You have been Americanised – state). The same applies for the difference between É um homem "He is a man" and Está um homem, meaning, "He has grown up to be a man".

Ficar, apart from its use as "to stay", and the use mentioned above as a copula translated as "to be located", is extensively used for a change of state (sometimes quite sudden), being translated as "to get" or "to become":

Fiquei rico = "I got rich."
Ficou triste = "He became sad."


Catalan copulae

The Catalan copulae developed as follows:

STARE → *estareestar

The last three forms of the first verb survive in modern Catalan. Ésser is considered the most standard, followed by ser and, distantly, esser.

Infinitive ser / ésser
Past participle estat / sigut / sét
Gerund sent / essent
Person jo tu ell nosaltres vosaltres ells
Present sóc ets és som sou són
Preterite fui fores fou fórem fóreu foren
Imperfect era eres era érem éreu eren
Future seré seràs serà serem sereu seran
  seria / fóra series / fores seria / fóra seríem / fórem seríeu / fóreu serien / foren
Present sigui / siga siguis / sigues sigui / siga siguem sigueu siguin / siguen
Imperfect fos fossis fos fóssim / fóssem fóssiu / fósseu fossin / fossen
    sigues     sigueu / sigau  
Infinitive estar
Past participle estat
Gerund estant
Person jo tu ell nosaltres vosaltres ells
Present estic estàs està estem
/ estam
/ estau
Preterite estiguí estigueres estigué estiguérem estiguéreu estigueren
Imperfect estava estaves estava estàvem estàveu estaven
Future estaré estaràs estarà estarem estareu estaran
  estaria estaries estaria estaríem estaríeu estarien
Present estigui / estiga estiguis / estigues estigui / estiga estiguem estigueu estiguin
/ estiguen
Imperfect estigués estiguessis estigués estiguéssim / estiguéssem estiguéssiu / estiguésseu estiguessin / estiguessen
    estigues     estigueu
/ estigau


In Catalan, ésser and estar work in a way intermediate between those of Italian and Portuguese. A complete description of its rules of usage is as follows:

  • When referring to inanimate objects, ser is used to tell about either permanent conditions inherent to the object (for example és vermell, "it is red"), unfinished qualities, or non-permanent conditions when there is no implication that there has been or there will be a change in state (for example, la sopa és calenta, "the soup is hot.") Ser is used to talk about a quality of an inanimate object in a given moment (without paying attention to other moments) or exactly the opposite: a quality of an inanimate object which is expected to be true in all moments of the existence of said object. Most uses of past participles as adjectives fall into this category when referring to inanimate objects.
  • When referring to inanimate objects, estar is used to tell about non-permanent conditions when there is an implication of a finished change of state, an implication of a state in a known point of an evolution, or a temporal condition which is expected to change. In some way, estar introduces an adverbial sense to adjectives (for example, la sopa està calenta, "the soup is hot", as in "it has come to be hot.") Thus, both using ser and estar is correct in many contexts, but there is a difference in nuance.
  • When referring to animate objects, ser is only used to tell about permanent conditions (for example és boig, "he is insane"; és mort, "he is dead.") Things traditionally thought of as permanent conditions also fall under this category, most notably ser casat/da, "to be married", and related terms. Ser is also used with the past participle of some unaccusative verbs such as néixer, which in medieval and dialectal Catalan made their compound tenses with ser.
  • When referring to animate objects, estar is only used to tell about non-permanent conditions (for example estàs molt guapa, "you look good" as in "better than usual.")
  • With fixed prepositional locutions, estar is most often used (for example, està en perill, "he/she/it is in danger"; està a punt, "he/she/it is ready.")
  • When referring to location, ser is used when no time context is given (for example, els llibres són als prestatges, "the books are on the shelves.")
  • When referring to location, estar is used when there is a sense of permanence (for example estic a Barcelona, "I live in Barcelona") or of a concrete time lapse (for example hi vam estar dues hores, "we were there for two hours.") In this case, pronominal particles might be added to the verb to emphasise the sentence (for example, ens hi vam estar dues hores.)
  • Estar is always used with modal adverbs (for example estic bé, "I am all right").
  • Estar is used to form the present continuous form estar + gerund, although some linguists think this is not a genuinely Catalan form, even though it is found on Medieval literature, for example that of Ausiàs March. Another undoubtedly genuine but perhaps too literary form is ser a + infinitive[citation needed].
  • Estat is used as the past participle of not only estar but also èsser/ser by many speakers, and this is considered the universal form. However, many other speakers use a traditional regular past participle of èsser/ser: sigut, which is also accepted as standard in Central Catalan, although many linguists and speakers see it as colloquial. Another accepted form is sét, unlike the Valencian form segut, which causes confusion with the past participle of the verb seure, "to sit."[2]

This can be summed up in five simple rules:

  1. Ser is always used to apply adjectives to inanimate objects except if there is a cause or a time lapse given for the condition of the adjective.
  2. Estar is always used to apply adjectives to animate objects if it is not a permanent state or characteristic of such animate object. However, some things that nowadays can be changed but before could not (or were not expected to) work like permanent characteristics (for example, nationality, beliefs, sex, looks, being married, degree of intelligence and degree of sanity.) Of course, even those can be expressed with estar if the animate object is acting as if they were his characteristics but they are not, or if the characteristics are more emphasised than usual. For example, és molt socialista, "she/he's a convinced socialist" vs. estàs molt socialista!, "you are being very socialist!"; és molt maca, "she is very beautiful" vs. està molt maca, "she looks very beautiful", as in "better than usual"; és mort, "he is dead" vs. està com mort, "he is acting as if he were dead."
  3. Ser is always used for locations except if there is a time lapse given or if the location actually means that someone works or lives in the indicated place.
  4. Estar is always used with modal adverbs and equivalents like fixed prepositional locutions.
  5. Estar is always used to express a point of an evolution or scale (for example, els termòmetres estan a 20 graus, "thermometers are at 20 degrees.")

"Animate objects" refers mainly to people, animals, and whatever is thought to be sentient (for example, a child playing with a doll will probably treat it as an animate object.)

In Occitan, which is closely related to Catalan, the copula is èsser or èstre.


Italian copulae

The Italian copulae did not undergo the same development as in other languages, having preserved the Vulgar Latin forms essere and stare.

Infinitive essere
Past participle essuto (archaic) / stato (from stare)
Gerund essendo
Person io tu egli noi voi essi
Present sono sei è siamo siete sono
Past historic fui fosti fu fummo foste furono
Imperfect ero eri era eravamo eravate erano
Future sarò sarai sarà saremo sarete saranno
  sarei saresti sarebbe saremmo sareste sarebbero
Present sia sia sia siamo siate siano
Imperfect fossi fossi fosse fossimo foste fossero
    sii     siate  
Infinitive stare
Past participle stato
Gerund stando
Person io tu egli noi voi essi
Present sto stai sta stiamo state stanno
Past historic stetti stesti stetti stemmo steste stettero
Imperfect stavo stavi stava stavamo stavate stavano
Future starò starai starà staremo starete staranno
  starei staresti starebbe staremmo stareste starebbero
Present stia stia stia stiamo stiate stiano
Imperfect stessi stessi stesse stessimo steste stessero
    sta     state  


Essere is the main copula. Stare refers to state rather than essence, but more narrowly than in Spanish. Essere is used for almost all cases in which English uses "to be". It therefore makes sense to concentrate on the few uses of stare.

  • Stare means "to be", "to be feeling", or "to appear" with bene, male, meglio, come?, etc.: Come stai? "How are you?", Sto bene "I am well."
  • Stare is used to form continuous forms of tenses: sto aspettando "I am waiting", Stavo parlando con... "I was speaking with..."
  • Stare's past participle stato has replaced that of essere, and so stato is used for "been" in all senses.
  • Starci (lit. To stay in it) means "to fit"
  • Stare can be an alternative to restare "to stay"
  • Stare is occasionally "to be located". This is very common in the south of Italy.

Like the Spanish quedar, Italian uses rimanere, from Latin REMANEO (both meaning "to remain"), in the sense of "to be as a result"; e.g. È rimasta incinta = "she became pregnant (as a result)".


Sicilian copulae

The Sicilian copulae developed as follows:

Infinitive siri
Past participle statu
Gerund sennu
Person eu tu iddhu nuiàvutri vuiàvutri iddhi
Present sugnu esti simu siti
Preterite fui fusti fu fumu fùstivu furu
Imperfect era eri era èramu èravu èranu
  fora fori fora fòramu fòravu fòranu
Present/Imperfect fussi fussi fussi fùssimu fùssivu fùssiru
Infinitive stari
Past participle statu
Gerund stannu
Person eu tu iddhu nuiàvutri vuiàvutri iddhi
Present staiu stai sta stamu stati stannu
Preterite stesi stasti stesi stèsimu stàsivu stèsiru
Imperfect stava stavi stava stàvamu stàstivu stàvanu
Present/Imperfect stassi stassi stassi stàssimu stàssivu stàssiru
    stai     stati  


  1. The simple future is no longer in use.
  2. The conditional tense of stari has also fallen into disuse.


In Sicilian, the meanings and usages of these two copulae are not as broad as in the other languages. Siri is the dominant copula, even more so than in the other Romance languages and is used for almost all cases in which English uses “to be”. Stari has been relegated to only a few common uses:

  • Stari is used in combination with the gerund to form the progressive aspect: staiu parrannu = "I am speaking".
  • Stari’s past participle, statu, replaced that of siri and thus statu is used for “been” in all senses.
  • Stari has also replaced all other words meaning, "to reside": staiu nnê Stati Uniti = "I live in the United States".
  • Stari, in combination with addritta, is also used to mean, “to stand up”.
  • Stari in combination with the preposition pi can comport two meanings,
    • 1) when followed by a verb it means “about to” or “ready to”: staiu pi jiri = "I am about to go", "I am leaving"; and
    • 2) in reference to an abbreviation, it means, “to stand for”: «USA» sta pi Stati Uniti di Mèrica = "'USA' stands for United States of America."
  • Stari-cci, while most likely an Italianism, it nevertheless is sometimes used to mean, “to fit”: stu vistutu mi sta? = "does this suit fit me [well]?"

Siri is no longer in use as an auxiliary verb. Aviri has completely replaced it in all verbs.


Modern French has only one copula. Old French, however, had estre (ESSEessere → *essreestre) and ester (STARE → *estareestarester). The latter meant to ‘stand’, ‘stay’ or ‘stop’, and might have been used as a copula in a similar way to other Romance languages. With phonetic evolution, the forms of each verb tended to be confused with one another, with the result that estre finally absorbed ester; around the same time, most words beginning with est- changed to ét- or êt-. The modern form of the verb is être.

The only clear trace of ester (or éter if we bear in mind the loss of the s) in the modern copula is the past participle: instead of the *étu one would expect, we find été – just what we would expect from ester/éter. The same tendency to use past participles derived from STATVM (the supine of STO) to replace the past participles of the main copula is also seen in Italian and Catalan.

The present participle and all imperfect forms of être are regular and correspond to what one would expect for a verb with the stem êt-; however, they could also be considered as deriving from éter since the forms coincide.

All other forms of être are from SVM rather than STO.

Ester also survives in the infinitive in the set phrases ester en justice and ester en jugement, which translate the Latin term STARE IN IVDICIO meaning "to appear in court", "to stand before the court". Ester en justice has come to mean, "to file a lawsuit", i.e. to appear in court as the active party.

The English verb "to stay" comes directly from ester.

Infinitive être
Past participle été
Gerund étant
Person je tu il nous vous ils
Present suis es est sommes êtes sont
Past historic fus fus fut fûmes fûtes furent
Imperfect étais étais était étions étiez étaient
Future serai seras sera serons serez seront
  serais serais serait serions seriez seraient
Present sois sois soit soyons soyez soient
Imperfect fusse fusses fût fussions fussiez fussent
    sois   soyons soyez  

† Literary.


Romansh has just one copula, esser. Star means, "to reside".

Infinitive esser
Past participle stà
Gerund essend / siond
Person jau ti el nus vus els
Present sun es è essan essas èn
Imperfect era eras era eran eras eran
  fiss fissas fiss fissan fissas fissan
Present saja sajas saja sajan sajas sajan
    saja     sajas  


A fi, fire is the copula in Romanian. These infinitive forms evolved from the verb FACIO, "to make":

FIERIfierefire → *firfi

FIERI was the passive infinitive of FACIO, and so meant "to be made". In the Vulgar Latin dialects spoken in modern day Romania, its evolved form fiere replaced essere, maybe due to the similarity between the stems fi- of FACIO and fu- of SVM. Other forms of the verb a fi are derived from SVM: sunt, ești, e(ste), suntem, sunteți, sunt in the present tense and eram, erai, era, eram, erați, erau in the imperfect.

A sta (STAREsta) means "to stay" or even "to stand", "to stand still" or "to dwell/reside" e.g. a sta in picioare, as in Italian stare in piedi or unde stai? – "where do you live/reside?"

A fi
Infinitive a fi, fire
Past participle fost
Gerund fiind
Person eu tu el noi voi ei
Present sunt ești e(ste) suntem sunteți sunt
Preterite fusei / fui fuseși / fuși fuse / fu fuserăm / furăm fuserăți / furăți fuseră / fură
Imperfect eram erai era eram erați erau
Pluperfect fusesem fuseseși fusese fuseserăm fuseserăți fuseseră
Present să fiu să fii să fie să fim să fiți să fie
    fii     fiți  

Sources of the Romance copula


Present Infinitive ESSE Perfect Infinitive FVISSE
Future participle FVTVRVS Future Infinitive FORE (FVTVRVM ESSE)
Person ego tu - nos vos -
    ES     ESTE  


Present Infinitive STARE Perfect Infinitive STETISSE
Present participle STANS Future participle STATVRVS
Gerund STANDVM Supine STATV(M)
Person ego tu - nos vos -
    STA     STATE  

Demonstratives used when necessary.

For information on the morphological evolution of the Romance copula, see Romance verbs.

See also



  1. ^ CF, SAY, E.B. WILLIAMS (From Latin to Portuguese); J.P. MACHADO (Dicionário Etimológico da Língua Portuguesa).
  2. ^ Google returns ~727,000 results for ha sigut, ~3.740.000 results for ha estat and ~35 results for ha sét.


  • WILLIAMS, E.B. From Latin to Portuguese
  • MACHADO, J.P. Dicionário Etimológico da Língua Portuguesa

Further reading

PDF documents, mainly on the Spanish copula

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Игры ⚽ Нужна курсовая?

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Romance languages — Romance Geographic distribution: Originally Southern Europe and parts of Africa; now also Latin America, Canada, parts of Lebanon and much of Western Africa Linguistic classification: Indo European Italic …   Wikipedia

  • Copula (linguistics) — To be redirects here. For the song, see To Be. For to be, or not to be , see To be, or not to be. In linguistics, a copula (plural: copulae or copulas) is a word used to link the subject of a sentence with a predicate (a subject complement). The… …   Wikipedia

  • Indo-European copula — A feature common to all Indo European languages is the presence of a verb corresponding to the English verb to be . General featuresThis verb has two basic meanings. In a less marked context it is a simple copula ( I m tired ; That s a shame! ),… …   Wikipedia

  • Vulgar Latin — (in Latin, sermo vulgaris , folk speech ) is a blanket term covering the popular dialects and sociolects of the Latin language which diverged from each other in the early Middle Ages, evolving into the Romance languages by the 9th century. The… …   Wikipedia

  • Portuguese grammar — Portuguese grammar, the morphology and syntax of the Portuguese language, is similar to the grammar of most other Romance languages especially Galician and the other languages of Iberian Peninsula. It is a synthetic, fusional language. Nouns,… …   Wikipedia

  • Portuguese language — Portuguese português Pronunciation [purtuˈɣeʃ] (EP) [poʁtuˈges][1] (BP) [poɾtu …   Wikipedia

  • Differences between Spanish and Portuguese — Although Portuguese and Spanish are closely related, to the point of having a considerable degree of mutual intelligibility, there are also important differences between them, which can pose difficulties for people acquainted with one of the… …   Wikipedia

  • Latin conjugation — Conjugation is the creation of derived forms of a verb from its basic forms or principal parts. It may be affected by person, number, gender, tense, mood, voice or other language specific factors. When, for example, we use a verb to function as… …   Wikipedia

  • Untranslatability — is a property of a text, or of any utterance, in one language, for which no equivalent text or utterance can be found in another language.Terms are neither exclusively translatable nor exclusively untranslatable; rather, the degree of difficulty… …   Wikipedia

  • Tigrinya verbs — In order to view the Tigrinya characters in this article, you will need a Unicode Ge ez font, such as GF Zemen Unicode. Unless otherwise indicated, Tigrinya verbs in this article are given in the usual citation form, the third person singular… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”