English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I am a native speaker of Portuguese, and in latin languages there are two verbs representing "to be", one which is a permanent state of being ("esse") and another that is a transient state of being ("stare"). My question is, what is the best way to convey this difference when there is a single verb available?

share|improve this question
I don't think there is such distinction in English. "I am well" doesn't mean I will permanently be well. – kiamlaluno Mar 28 '11 at 13:41
Two notes: "latin languages" are usually called "Romance languages" in English. Furthermore, you really ought to just say "Iberian languages", as I don't think any of the Romance languages other than Spanish and Portuguese exhibit this distinction. (I could be wrong about this, though.) – JSBձոգչ Mar 28 '11 at 13:44
@JSBangs - I never thought of that, since Latin is the basis for so many of Romance (thanks) languages. I'll check that out. – Otávio Décio Mar 28 '11 at 13:46
@JSBangs: Stare is used also in Italian, but io sto bene is the translation of "I am well;" we don't use be in that case, or the sentence would have a different meaning (something like "I am the Good"). – kiamlaluno Mar 28 '11 at 13:51
Latin doesn't have that distinction: it is all esse. – Cerberus Mar 28 '11 at 14:06
up vote 4 down vote accepted

There is no general way to convey this difference in English, and English speakers often find the difference between esse/stare (ser/estar in Spanish) to be very difficult to master for this reason.

When it's very important to make this distinction, you can add an adverb like "permanently" or "for now" to clarify things. Most of the time, though, just use to be and ignore the difference that would exist in Portuguese.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.