To be or not to be? If only it were that simple in Portuguese!

The verb to be in Portuguese has a few possible translations; the main two are SER and ESTAR but you also have FICAR and ANDAR. Here are a few tips to help you choose which one to use:

The verb ser is used for conditions or characteristics that are permanent and the verb estar is used for transitory or non-permanent conditions or characteristics.
For example compare these two sentences:
Maria é bonita (Maria is beautiful) – Maria is always beautiful.
Maria está bonita (Maria is beautiful) – Maria is beautiful at this moment in particular.

The verb ser is used to express something permanent, as a guide remember to use ser for the following:
a) Nationality
b) Profession or marital status
c) Telling the time
d) Possession
e) Personality traits
f) What something is made of
g) Geographical location (unchanging)

Ela é americana. She is American
Sou artista. I am an artist
O Brasil é na América do Sul. Brazil is in South America

The verb estar is used for temporary conditions, as a guide remember to use estar for the following:
a) Location (variable)
b) Weather on a particular day or time
c) With an adjective that is for a temporary state or mood

Como estás hoje? Estou bem, obrigada. How are you today? I’m fine, thanks.
Onde está o Pedro? Where is Pedro?
Estou com fome. I’m hungry.

The verb ficar is also used when expressing location and in the sense of staying or remaining.
Onde fica o mercado?Where is the market?
Angola fica na Africa.Angola is in Africa.
Fico em casaI stay at home.

And finally, the verb andar can also be used to mean to be, when what you are describing is a feeling or action that is prolonged to the moment of the sentence. It can take the sense of ‘has been’ or will be’.
Anda pensando no que fazerShe has been thinking about what to do.
Ele anda muito preocupado ultimamente. He has been really worried lately.
Andaremos em acabar isso hoeWe will be finishing that today.

I hope that helps you decide which verb to use.