July 4, 2008

'Ter' versus 'estar com'

We have seen the difference between ser and estar... Ter and estar com form another pair that can be confusing, this time for both English and Spanish speaking learners.

Like in Spanish, to say you are cold, hungry, sleepy etc., in formal Portuguese you use ter (have):

Tenho frio/ calor/ fome/ sono. (Written Portuguese)
Tengo frio/ calor/ hambre/ sueño. (Spanish)
I am cold/hot/hungry/tired.

... though we sometimes see this in written text, it sounds very unnatural. In spoken Brazilian Portuguese, it is much more natural to use estar com to say these things:

Eu estou com frio/calor/fome/sono.

[Suggestion: At this point, you may try to make simple phrases on your own now using estar com with different persons (você, a gente, eles...) and different words you may know (frio, medo, sede, raiva, muita pressa, vontade de comer chocolate)... If that is easy, try making up small dialogues using other expressions you may know, e.g.:

João: Você quer água?
Maria: Quero sim. Eu estou com muita sede.]

The main difference between the two is very similar to the difference between ser and estar: In general, Ter is more appropriate to express conditions that are somewhat permanent, whereas estar com is best for temporary states. (... so since frio/calor/fome/sono above are things that are normally temporary, estar com is the best form to be used with them). We can see this more clearly from the following examples:

Eu tenho medo de cachorro.
I am (always/permanently) afraid of dogs.

Eu estou com medo daquele cachorro.
I am afraid of that dog (right now).

Ele tem raiva de todos os politicos.
He is (permanetly) angry at all politicians. ( since he hates all politicians)

Ele está com raiva da Maria, mas vai passar.
He is angry at Maria, but it will pass.

This can also happen in cases indicating possession:

Eu tenho um carro importado.
I have/own an imported car.

Eu estou com um carro importado hoje, emprestado do meu chefe.
I have (temporarily) an imported car today, borrowed from my boss.

Did you get the difference? Now, you could practice by trying to make sentences that emphasize the difference (like the ones immediately above)... or you could do search for estar com to see how people use it on the Internet... Meanwhile, eu já vou: estou com fome!


  1. I loved your post! I am a beginner portuguese student, and I could never understand the difference between ter and estar com when we learned it in class. Muito obrigado!

  2. Thanks Dan! (Dan happens to be meu marido :-))

  3. uma boa dica, obrigado

  4. Muito obrigada. Eu sou uma americana preta e tenho notado que em algumas cancoes se usa 'nega' (Tania Maria e Elis Regina) mas nao como 'deny' ou 'negate'. Se pode dizer 'nega' para as pessoas pretas no Brazil?


  5. Oi Daniela (Kate?),

    Você já está escrevendo em Português! Muito legal! You are totally right: nega not always means 'deny'. The same form is also an informal word meaning 'black woman' or it is sometimes used for females of any skin color, as an endearment term... but although both words are written the same, they are pronounced differently: nega (deny) is pronounced with an open 'e' (as the e in café) and nega (black woman/ honey) is pronounced with a closed 'e' (as the e in você). I have a very shot note on the second word in the end of this post: http://portuguesetips.blogspot.com/2008/07/learn-by-singing-amanh-eu-no-vou.html

    Thanks for the comment! HTH!


Leave a comment!