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Ser: Advanced Use as a Linking Verb

The verb Ser is used in a lot of complex ways. Let’s practice some new sentence templates for this linking verb as we become more and more fluent with our present and past conjugations of Ser.

Full Podcast Episode


Let’s start forming weird, complex sentences in Spanish.

Intro: Join us on a rigorous, step-by-step journey to fluency. I’m Timothy and this is LearnCraft Spanish.

Today we’re going to work on some of the wild and crazy ways that Ser can be used, not just simply to link two parts of a sentence together, but in many ways beyond that.

This is important, because: Think back to that imaginary conversation that we visualized in Episode 16. In a perfect Spanish conversation with a native speaker, you’re going to spend a lot of time talking about what something is or who someone is. And this won’t just happen in the simple sentence templates we’ve talked about. You’ll use Ser pretty much ANY time you’d describe what something is or who someone is. Let’s practice some more ways you can do this so that when the time comes to have that conversation, you can express yourself freely. And for each of these new sentence templates, try to imagine some ways that you yourself might customize them with your own meaning in that conversation.

OK, so: So far, we’ve been using conjugations of Ser to link two parts of a sentence. Usually we have some kind of noun both before and after the Ser conjugation, although sometimes we can use certain prepositions such as de and por and para when they’re used to indicate what something is. Here are some quick examples:

The girl is my friend.

La chica es my amiga.

That was that.

Eso era eso.

The guy was from Argentina.

El chico era de Argentina.

Now what about a sentence like this one:

The problem is that he wants even more.

So, where’s the “to be” verb in this sentence? We have the word “is”. And what comes right after “is” is the word “that”. In this case,  “that” would be translated as a que phrase.

The problem is que he wants even more.

So here’s the fun thing: As we learned last week in Episode 11, a que phrase can sometimes be treated as one big noun. And that’s what’s happening here: “That he wants even more” is being treated as a noun. It’s kind of like saying “the problem is (the fact that he wants even more).”

Just to be sure, we can apply the “what it is” test. In this equation, we have “the problem” on one side, and we have “that he wants even more” on the other side. And yes, we’re equating them with one another. It’s what it is. So we’ll use es here.

The problem es que él wants even more.

El problema es que él quiere aún más.

In fact, you’ll very often see a que phrase right after a conjugation of Ser. This is yet another way that Ser is the mortar that holds the language together; we’re talking about abstract ideas, but we’re describing what they are, and that’s what Ser is for.

Here’s are a few more examples:

The issue is that he isn’t here.

The issue es que él no is here.

El problema es que él no está aquí.

The best thing was that he was my teacher.

The best thing era que él era my teacher.

Lo mejor era que él era mi maestro.

My concern was that she didn’t listen.

My concern era que ella no listened.

Mi preocupación era que ella no escuchaba.

Now, once again, in all of these sentences, we have something both before and after the conjugation of Ser. We’ve just expanded what can go after the conjugation of Ser.

But here’s a question: Is it possible for a linking verb like Ser NOT to go between the two things that are being linked?

Check out this example from English: “Is your dog a good boy?”

In this case, we’re using the linking verb “is” to link two pieces of information, “your dog” and “a good boy”. If this were a simple statement, you would say “your dog… is… a good boy”. But when we phrase this as a question, for some reason we move the word “is” to the beginning of the sentence, and we put the two nouns right up against each other.

In some cases this happens in Spanish, too. We could actually translate this sentence one of two ways:

¿Your dog es un good chico?

¿Tu perro es un buen chico?

¿Es your dog un good chico?

¿Es tu perro un buen chico?

And this particularly happens when we start asking more complex questions, such as “why” questions. Check out this sentence: “Why is she your friend?” In this case, we’re using the word “is” to equate two things: “she” and “your friend”. But we would never ask it like this: “Why she is your friend?” Instead, we always phrase it as “Why is… she… your friend?” The two things that we’re equating are right next to each other, and the word “is”, which serves as our equals sign, comes before both of them.

This is how you’ll do it in Spanish, too. So even though Ser is considered a linking verb, in many questions, the link between the two parts happens before both parts are even named. So we have:

¿Por qué es ella your amiga?

¿Por qué es ella tu amiga?

Let’s practice with a couple more sentence examples in this template:

Why were you the teacher(m)?

¿Por qué eras tú el teacher?

¿Por qué eras tú el maestro?

Why is that a problem?

¿Por qué es eso a problem?

¿Por qué es eso un problema?

Why weren’t we friends(m)?

¿Por qué no éramos nosotros amigos?

¿Por qué no éramos nosotros amigos?

OK, so that’s a situation where instead of having the linking verb between the two things that are being equated, you actually move it before both of them. So, new question: Is it possible to END a sentence with Ser? In other words, not to put anything after “is” or “was” or something like that?

We actually do that all the time in English, in sentences like this one:

“They aren’t my friends, but he is.”

Here we have the word “is” at the end of the sentence. What we mean to say is “they aren’t my friends, but he is my friend.” There are kind of two equations here. But in the second equation we leave off the phrase “my friend”, because it’s already clearly implied. We just say “but he is.”

The thing is, in Spanish… you can’t do this. You can’t use a linking verb like Ser without attaching SOMETHING to it.

However, that doesn’t mean that you have to use all these extra words: “They aren’t my friends, but he is my friend.” Instead, you can take a shortcut. It’s just not quite the same shortcut we take in English. In Spanish, here’s the shortcut you would take:

“They aren’t my friends, but he is it.”

Weird, right? The word “it” here is strange in English, but it actually occurs all the time in Spanish. To make this work, you specifically use the word lo in these situations, in the same structure as if it were a direct object pronoun. And here, what lo, or “it” represents is “all that stuff I mentioned earlier”. In fact, it’s not really a direct object pronoun in cases like this — It’s something we call an “attribute”, which is a technical term meaning that lo isn’t really referring to a person, but rather to “all that stuff mentioned earlier in the sentence”, very much like the word eso.

So here’s how we’d translate it:

They aren’t my friends, but he is it.

Ellos no son my amigos, but él lo es.

Ellos no son mis amigos, pero él lo es.

Again, this seems eccentric and obscure to English speakers, but it’s natural in Spanish. So it will take some time for it to become second nature, but it will eventually. And you’re gonna do it all the time! Basically, any time you would end with a form of “to be” in English, you would put lo before it in Spanish.

Let’s practice this with a few more examples:

He isn’t a student, but I am.

Él no es student, but yo lo soy.

Él no es estudiante, pero yo lo soy.

I wasn’t a member, but he was.

Yo no era member, but él lo era.

Yo no era miembro, pero él lo era.

We weren’t friends, but they(m) were.

Nosotros no éramos amigos, but ellos lo eran.

Nosotros no éramos amigos, pero ellos lo eran.

He’s a friend. She isn’t.

Él es un amigo. Ella no lo es.

Él es un amigo. Ella no lo es.

In this last example, you might wonder why we’d use lo instead of la, since in this case we’re referring to what she is. But the rule for this particular sentence template is that you always use lo, no matter who or what it is that you’re referring to.

OK, so we’ve talked a lot in this episode about the ways you can structure sentences using the conjugations of Ser, the personal forms associated with certain people. In the present tense, those forms are es, eres, son, somos, and soy. And in the past they’re era, eras, eran, and éramos.

But what about the word ser itself? S-E-R? We’ve already started practicing this word a little bit, specifically translating it as “to be”. And we’ve shown that this form is used like nouns. For example, the template “I want food” could be replaced with “I want to be a teacher”.

I want ser a teacher.

Quiero ser profesor.

We’ve also used this sentence template:

To be a student is a fun thing.

Ser a student es a fun thing.

Ser estudiante es algo divertido.

But there’s something odd about this sentence in English. We don’t usually say “to be a student is a fun thing”; we more often say “being a student is a fun thing”. How would we translate that in Spanish? It would still be “ser a student es a fun thing”.

So the fact is that the form ser literally means “to be”, but it’s often also translated as “being” in English, specifically when “being” is used as a noun, or at the start of a noun phrase.

Let’s keep playing with the phrase “ser student”. We can use this as a noun in all kinds of different ways.

But first, a quick note about this: In Spanish, we don’t say “ser a student”, we just say “ser student”. When Ser is used before certain nouns used to describe people, such as professions or memberships, the article disappears. For example, “is a pilot” turns into “es pilot”, or “was a member” turns into “era member”. We don’t use un or una in these contexts. So you’ll see that happening in our examples going forward.

All right, let’s play with the phrase “ser student”.

As an example, we can take the sentence “I like food” and then turn it into “I like ser student.”

Or we can turn “food is great” into “Ser student is great.”

We can even turn “my friends want food” into “my friends want ser students.”

Basically, you can use “ser student” or “ser students”, or pretty much any ser phrase like this, as a noun in just about any other way that nouns can be used.

One of these ways is something we talked about last week: Prepositions. Prepositions are always used right before nouns, and you can also use prepositions right before the basic form ser. Let’s see what happens when we do this.

We’ll start with para:

I did it para ser student.

Lo hice para ser estudiante.

This is intention: I did it in order to be a student.

Now how about por:

I did it por ser student.

Lo hice por ser estudiante.

This is cause: I did it because of being a student.

In each case, the thing following the prepositions para or por is simply an infinitive phrase. We’re still treating “ser student” as a noun, and it actually works.

We’re even able to put our other prepositions before Ser, although we have to be creative with the context in order to make it make sense. Here’s a fun one:

What is the point of being a good person?

¿What es the point de ser a good person?

¿Cuál es el punto de ser una buena persona?

We aren’t fans of being unappreciated people.

We no somos fans de ser unappreciated people.

No somos fanáticos de ser personas poco apreciadas.

What about our other prepositions, en and con? Well, it’s really not easy to come up with ideas of how to use those right before ser. I mean, when would you say “with being a student” or “at being a student”? However, there ARE some idiomatic contexts in which this would actually happen. For example:

A lot of pride comes with being a student.

A lot of pride comes con ser student.

Mucho orgullo viene con ser estudiante.

You can even use en ser — in very few cases, but here’s an example:

We put emphasis on being a student.

We put emphasis en ser student.

Ponemos énfasis en ser estudiante.

Now, you don’t have to remember all of these specific contexts; the overall point here is that phrases that start with ser can be treated as a noun in basically every way, including right after prepositions. This form of the verb is called the infinitive, the form that’s typically used not as a verb function in a sentence, but as a noun function. It’s fun to practice this now, because when we get to other verbs, you’ll see a preposition used right before an infinitive all the time in Spanish.

Let’s practice just a couple of uses of para ser and por ser, which are pretty common.

We did it in order to be the winners(m).

Nosotros lo did para ser los winners.

Nosotros lo hicimos para ser los ganadores.

That was because of being a thief(f).

Eso era por ser una thief.

Eso era por ser una ladrona.

In tomorrow’s episode, we’re gonna get a lot more practice with all of these uses of Ser. Meanwhile, to get some more active practice with everything we learned today, go to LCSPodcast.com/19 to use the free flashcards.

This show is brought to you by LearnCraftSpanish.com. The Spanish voice in this episode was our coach Michael Agudelo. Our music was provided by the Seattle Marimba Quartet, and I’m Timothy, encouraging you to do the hard work of learning Spanish. Acquiring a second language is one of the most fulfilling things you can do, so start your fluency journey today at LCSPodcast.com.

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