Tutor profile: Sabrina B.
When do I use the verb "ser" vs. "estar" in descriptions?
The Spanish verbs "ser" and "estar" both mean "to be" so it can be very tricky to decide which verb to use in descriptions. The biggest difference between these two verbs is that "ser" refers to something permanent while "estar" refers to something temporary. For example, "ser" is frequently used when describing physical characteristics of a person, place or thing. I.e. "Ella es alta y morena" (she is tall and dark-haired) or "la casa es pequeña y acogedora" (the house is small and cozy). These qualities or characteristics don't change with time or duration, and therefore, we use the verb "ser." The verb "estar," on the other hand, describes a non-permanent condition. We use it for descriptions of states of being. I.e. "Ella está cansada porque madrugó hoy" (she is tired because she got up early today). Being tired in this case is a temporary condition that was caused by getting up early. One catch to the rule that physical descriptions typically use the verb "ser," however, is that we can use "estar" to associate qualities or characteristics with a specific period of time. For example, "es una chica muy guapa" means "she's a very pretty girl" while "ella está muy guapa en ese vestido" means "she's very pretty in that dress." In the second sentence, the speaker uses "estar" instead of "ser" because they are highlighting that this person is especially beautiful when wearing the dress.
Is passive voice grammatically incorrect?
The passive voice isn't a grammatical error, but rather a stylistic choice. In general, using the active voice ("Meg ate the pizza") instead of the passive voice ("the pizza was eaten" or "the pizza was eaten by Meg") makes for more clear, specific and concise writing. Because the active voice requires both a subject and a verb, it gives the reader more information and gets to the point quicker. Using clear sentences that give your reader the information they need without room for confusion is important to strong writing. In the example sentence using the passive voice, "the pizza was eaten," the reader would likely wonder, "who ate the pizza?" The version of the same sentence written in the passive voice with a prepositional phrase, "the pizza was eaten by Meg," is wordy and indirect. There are instances, however, in which the passive voice is appropriate. For example, if you don't know who completed the action, the passive voice is necessary ("my bike was stolen last week"). Similarly, in contexts in which the "doer" of the action is irrelevant or distracting, we might also choose to use the passive voice ("the house was built in 1895").
What do I put in a conclusion paragraph of an English essay?
I like to think of writing an essay as going up the steps of a lighthouse. By the time you reach the conclusion paragraph, you've made it to the very top -- where you and your reader have a clear view of everything you have carefully explained and analyzed in the essay. You don't want to immediately climb back down the stairs once you've reached this point -- that would be anticlimactic! Instead, you should use this opportunity to briefly restate your thesis / main argument, but then go farther to show how your argument has greater implications -- how it connects to society or literature at large, in essence, why your reader should care about your argument outside the scope of this essay. You don't want to go so far as to write what would be a totally new thesis statement, however. Instead, try to narrow down those categories of "society" and "literature" to something more specific that is closely linked to your argument. Maybe you're comparing two poems from separate time periods and analyzing the different ways they define love. Perhaps there is something to be said about how the varying definitions of love you've analyzed speak to the different social contexts in which they were produced and what we can learn about how our views of love have changed over time. Reflect on the "so what" message you want the reader to take from your essay and end your essay on that note.
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