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Stay Vs. Be

Be Vs. stay

One recurrent mistake I’ve seen in basic or even intermediate English learners is the misuse of the verb “stay”. Maybe because the word stay sounds a lot like the word estar in Spanish these two verbs are easily confused by Spanish speakers.

Now, the verb be has different definitions but it is the one meaning “where something is” that is commonly interchanged for stay.

Let’s go over definitions first. The second meaning of be according to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online says:

2 [intransitive always + adverb/preposition] used to say where something or someone is.

  • Jane’s upstairs.
  • Are my keys in the drawer?
  • The principal’s in his office.
  • How long has she been here?

However, in class I’ve heard sentences like:

  • My father stays at home right now. (incorrect)
  • The books stay on the table. (incorrect)
  • Mike stays (incorrect)

What are the speakers trying to express here? Well, the answer precisely the meaning mentioned above, where something or someone is. Therefore, the verb be, not stay, should be used.

  • My father is at home right now.
  • The books are on the table.
  • Mike is

You must be wondering, if I can’t use stay to say where something is, when do I use it?

The second definition provided by the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online defines stay as follows:

IN A CONDITION [intransitive always + adverb/preposition, linking verb] to continue to be in a particular position, place, or state, without changing SYN remain

  • Rollings will stay as chairman this year.
  • Eat right to stay healthy.
  • It was hard to stay awake.
  • Nine women gained weight, and four stayed the same.

Let’s compare these two sentences:

  1. Rollings will stay as chairman this year.
  2. Roollings will be chairman this year.

Both sentences are grammatically correct but there’s a significant difference in meaning. The first one means Rollings, who has been chairman until now, will continue to be chairman this year. On the other hand, the second sentence means This year he will become chairman. There will be a change of state, he wasn’t chairman before, he will be in the future.

More examples:

  1. Eat right to stay healthy.
  2. Eat right to be healthy.

Both sentences are grammatically correct, and it makes perfect sense to say Eat right to be healthy; however, in the first example we are assuming that the person is already healthy, the meaning is Eat right to continue to be healthy, that is eat right to continue to be in that state, without changing. Do you see the difference?

 

1 thought on “Stay Vs. Be”

  1. I think most of the times ” stay” can be replaced with “remain” (permanecer). That is what I was doing when a beginner. If the verb can be replaced with “remain” than it’s “stay” if not than it’s “be”

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