Ser versus estar: A mneumonic device that puts estar in its P.L.A.C.E

Article written by Keith Mason form University of Virginia
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The use of ser and estar often creates problems for both teachers and students.  Many textbooks introduce "to be" verbs either in too much detail or with the oversimplified dichotomy of permanent versus temporary.

Most textbooks outline in great detail the rules for using ser and estar. While these rules are generally accurate and clear, they tend to provide more information that can be processed by the typical Spanish language learner, especially regarding the many uses of ser.

The second main problem lies in the use of the dichotomy of permanent and temporary to distinguish ser from estar.  This oversimplification causes difficulties, as exemplified by the adjective muerto/a and location.  Both of these can be seen as permanent, which suggests the use of ser:  Nevertheless both constructions take estar.

To address the dilemma of oversimplifying ser versus estar with a permanent/temporary dichotomy, or providing too many rules to process, one can justify the creation of simplified memory devices that help process necessary information in an abbreviation fashion.  Krashen (1983:97) discusses the need to make rules more "learnable" and "simple," i.e., make rules easy enough for the brain to use and remember.

A cursory look at textbooks shows that there are as many as eight used of ser outlined; however the choice of ser can be reduced by focusing on the memorization of the uses of estar.  The use of the acronym "P.L.A.C.E" accomplishes this goal.

Most devices aiming to outline the use of ser and estar focus on both verbs, while the present device (P.L.A.C.E)  focuses on one verb only: estar.

The present five-letter mnemonic device "P.L.A.C.E" summarizes the uses of estar.  Students need to memorize five words that end with -tion (simply referred to as "-tion words") and form the acronym "P.L.A.C.E":

Position    Location    Action    Condition    Emotion

The following are examples of each category of estar use:

Position: expresses the physical position of posture of a person or thing:

estar sentado            estar levantado            estar acostado

Location: expresses where places, people, or things are located:

estoy en Nueva York        El libro está en la mesa

Action: expresses the result of an action or the progressive

el hombre está muerto        estoy comiendo ahora

Condition: expresses health and other changeable states

estar enfermo                estar sucio             estar lleno        

Emotion: expresses emotions such as

estar contento     estar triste     estar deprimido

but one must remember that alegre, melancólico and feliz are considered inherent character traits, and not simply experienced emotions that may change.

The acronym "P.L.A.C.E" certainly simplifies the selection between ser and estar in that it helps students to minimize what they need to memorize.  If students focus on the uses of estar, the selection of ser becomes a matter of elimination.  If one needs to express something that is not of the five -tion words, then one must use ser.

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