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Published on: Vocabulary

Ser‌ ‌vs‌ ‌Estar:‌ The‌ ‌Ultimate ‌Guide‌ ‌

Discover the differences between “Ser” and “Estar” in Spanish and how to use them correctly.

Just as the English Be verb is used to indicate a state of being, so we use the verbs ser and estar in Spanish.

To distinguish their different meanings and understanding the context or situation where they are used will be fundamental in achieving fluent communication in Spanish. 

It’s perfectly normal while learning the language, some questions may come to mind such as: When to use ser or estar? What are the differences between ser and estar? Is it difficult to learn how to use ser and estar?

No worries, we’ve got you covered. Stick with us and we’ll show you all the examples and teach you all the rules you need to know about using ser/estar. We bring you the perfect guide to master once and for all these mythical Spanish verbs.

The Perfect Guide for Learning When to Use Ser and Estar  

Unlike the English Be verb, in Spanish we have two verbs to express the existence and state of being of someone or something: ser and estar. In the following examples you will notice that they differ in form

Language  Verb  Examples
Spanish Ser/Estar Soy de Guadalajara Estoy en Guadalajara
English To Be I am from Guadalajara I am in Guadalajara

Another way to identify and compare it is with the list of pronouns:

To Be Ser Estar 
I am Yo soy Yo estoy
You are eres estas
She is (Or He/it) Ella es Ella está
We are Nosotros somos Nosotros estamos
You all are Ustedes son Ustedes están
They are Ellos son Ellos están

However, since they have different meanings in Spanish, you must be able to recognize the precise moment and circumstance in order to use them without losing the conversation’s thread.

When should I use the verbs Ser and Estar?

However, since they have different meanings in Spanish, you must be able to recognize the precise moment and circumstance in order to use them without losing the conversation’s thread.

When should I use the verbs Ser and Estar?

Spanish verbs Ser and Estar are the basis of every conversation. Learning how to use them perfectly usually takes a bit of time, but with our help you’ll be able to do it fast.

To understand when to use these two verbs correctly in Spanish, you must first understand their distinctions.

Ser vs Estar: What differs?

These are the most important differences between Ser and Estar:

  • Ser is used to refer to a fact or characteristic of a person or object.
  • Estar is used to describe perceptions, opinions, conditions and any fact or circumstance that may vary over time.

However, a slightly simpler way to illustrate their differences is by describing them with “permanent” and “temporary” states.

The verb ser is used to define permanent situations, for instance: your nationality or your profession. They are immovable facts and characteristics that will not change in form. If you were born in Canada, you are Canadian and will be so forever.

On the other hand, estar is used to describe temporary states of things, that may vary over time or by circumstance: emotional mood, marital status or place of work. You can change your mood, but never the place where you were born. 

You can identify when to use ser or estar to answer certain questions:

  • Ser: responds to What and Who. 
  • Estar: responds to Where and How.

Since there are a variety of ways or circumstances you must learn to distinguish in order to communicate effectively, next we’ll show you the correct uses of ser and estar in Spanish for everyday situations.

Ser vs Estar according to the Context and the Situation

If we use any of these two verbs incorrectly, we may completely change the meaning and sense of a sentence. Let’s take this case for instance:.

If in a sentence we refer to a place being cold with estar, we are referring to the fact that it is very cold at that moment. If on the contrary we use ser, we would state that the place is always cold.

When we communicate as Spanish speakers, we must respond to a number of contexts and circumstances that, while they mean nearly the same thing in English, reflect two different facts in Spanish.

Here we’re going to review the most common everyday situations using Ser and Estar:

Most Common Uses of the Verb Ser

As already mentioned, we use ser to describe the permanent features of a person or a thing. Here are some examples:

Most Common Uses of the Verb Ser

As already mentioned, we use ser to describe permanent features of a person or a thing. Here are some examples:

1. Identification 

If you want to identify an object or a person in a precise way or to evidence a fact or action:

  • Él es un hombre  
He is a man  
  • Eso es un vehículo
That is a vehicle
  • Ellos son peleadores
They are fighters
  • Maria es mujer
Maria is a woman

2. Time

You can also refer to any time, date, hour or year:

  • La fiesta es el 30 de Octubre
The party is on October 30th.
  • El mes que viene es mi cumpleaños
Next month is my birthday
  • Son las 9 a.m.
It is 9 a.m.
  • Ya es hora de irnos
It is time to go
  • La reunión es en 2 minutos y es en la oficina de arriba
The meeting is in two minutes and it is in the upstairs office.

3. Origins

Ser is used to talk about where someone or something comes from:

  • Este cacao es de Venezuela
This cacao is from Venezuela
  • El automóvil es importado
The car is imported
  • Juan es de una ciudad lejana
Juan is from a distant city
  • Soy de la costa
I am from the coast

4. Relations 

Ser is used to identify the relationship of a person with another, either by family ties (mom, dad and grandma), emotional ties (boyfriend, girlfriend and friends), professional ties (boss and colleagues). Here some examples:

  • Alejandra es mi novia
Alejandra is my girlfriend
  • Soy novio de Fernanda
I’m Fernanda’s boyfriend
  • El Sr. Gómez es mi jefe
Mr. Gomez is my boss
  • Camila es mi prima
Camila is my cousin

5. Characteristics or Descriptions

We can express and define the characteristics of someone, something or a situation, as well as to describe a fact or quality in general that cannot be modified over time by using ser:

  • María es una persona feliz
María is a happy person
  • José es muy inteligente
Jose is very smart
  • Yo soy alto y delgado
I’m tall and thin
  • Ellos son un equipo ganador
They are a winning team
  • Mi casa es grande 
My house is big
Estos árboles son altos

6. Occupations 

In this case ser is used to express how someone makes a living: a profession: lawyer, doctor, among others or a work occupation: as a machine operator, secretary, among others, also to point out when a person is passionate about an activity: walker, sportsman, activist, etc. Some examples:

  • Yo soy abogado
I am a lawyer
  • Estos niños son estudiantes
Those children are students
  • Ellos son bomberos
They are firemen
  • María es piloto de aviones
Maria is an airplane pilot

7. Religion and political ideology

If we want to point out the political ideology or religion of a person or group of people, we must use ser:

  • Soy católico
I’m a Catholic
  • Ellos son un grupo de cristianos
They are a group of Christians
  • Alejandro es comunista
Alejandro is a communist
  • David es liberal
David is Liberal

8. Possessions 

We can also point out a person’s possessions, material or immaterial, by using ser:

  • Ese es mi vehículo
This is my vehicle
  • Ese carro es de mi hermana
This is my sister’s car
  • El correo es del vecino
The mail is from the neighbor
  • Esa es la oficina de mi esposa
That is my wife’s office

Most Common Uses of Estar

We use estar to describe any action or characteristics that are temporary. Among the most common situations in which the verb estar is used we have:

1. Condition 

When we refer to someone’s physical condition: when in pain, tiredness or illness, a person’s status or when describing circumstances, we use estar:

  • Maria está incapacitada
Maria is disabled
  • Los niños están contentos con sus regalos
The children are happy with their gifts
  • Estoy con mucho malestar
I am in a lot of discomfort
  • Carlos está desempleado
Carlos is unemployed
  • Gilberto está muerto de risa con tus chistes
Gilberto is dead laughing with your jokes
  • José está en aprietos
Jose is in a lot of trouble

2. Action 

Estar is also used to talk about any action that is taking place. For example:

  • Estoy escribiendo
I am writing
  • Paula está cocinando
Paula is cooking
  • Los niños están jugando en el parque
The children are playing in the park
  • En el trabajo estamos festejando el ascenso de mi jefe
At work we are celebrating the promotion of my boss

3. Emotion 

A person’s mood is considered a temporary state. So, to express our own or someone else’s emotion at a specific moment we use estar:

  • Estoy molesto porque el pedido que hice aún no me ha sido entregado
I am upset because the order I placed has not yet been delivered
  • Alejandra está eufórica, pues ha sido admitida a la universidad
Alejandra is euphoric, as she has been admitted to the university
  • Mi mamá está contenta porque se acerca la navidad
My mom is happy because Christmas is coming
  • Luis está triste porque su equipo de fútbol perdió
Luis is sad because his soccer team lost

4. Location 

By using estar we can refer to the place where an object or a person is located:

  • El teléfono está en tu cuarto
The phone is in your bedroom
  • Mi casa está cerca del parque
My house is near the park
  • Estoy en Margarita de vacaciones
I am in Margarita on vacations
  • Estamos en el restaurante de la esquina para almorzar
We are in the restaurant on the corner for a delicious lunch
  • La escuela está muy cerca de mi residencia
The school is very close to my residence

5. Position 

Estar is also used to refer to the position in which an object is found, or someone’s physical posture:

  • Mi madre está sentada en el comedor
My mother is sitting in the dining room
  • Estoy agachado haciendo unas reparaciones
I am bending over doing some repairs
  • Mi madre está erguida en su asiento
My mother is upright in her seat
  • El mesonero está sentado en su tiempo de descanso
The waiter is sitting in his time of rest

Ser vs Estar: How the meaning of a sentence changes according to the use of these verbs

A verbal expression in Spanish can be made up of several words. However, the meaning of the phrase will be drastically altered depending on the verb used.

Here are some examples and their explanation:

Example 1:

  • Ser: Soy amoroso – I am loving (It means that you are a loving person)
  • Estar:  Estoy Amoroso – I’m in love (It means that in that moment I find myself loving, but not necessarily always so)

Example 2:

  • Ser: Soy orgulloso – I am proud (It refers to the fact that he is a conceited person)
  • Estar: Estoy orgulloso – I am proud (It refers to the happiness of having reached a goal or objective)

Example 3:

  • Ser: Ser bueno/ Be good (It refers to the qualities of the person)
  • Estar: Estar bueno/ Be good/Be Hot (Refers to a physical state of the person considered attractive)

Example 4:

  • Ser: Ella es Hermosa/ She is beautiful (It refers to a beautiful woman)
  • Estar: Ella está hermosa/ She is beautiful/ She looks beautiful (He means that at that moment, she is beautiful; perhaps at another time she will be ugly)

Example 5:

  • Ser: La fruta es verde/ The fruit is green (Refers to the color of the fruit)
  • Estar: La fruta está verde/The fruit is green (It refers to the fact that the fruit is not yet ripe)

Idiomatic expressions that use Ser

Having studied the uses of Ser and Estar in Spanish it is impossible to overlook the idiomatic expressions. Idioms don’t mean what they literally are expressing. These sayings are to be taken fully as phrases. They are full of colors and images that contribute to the linguistic richness of Spanish, making it fun to learn. Let’s know some of them:

  • Ser del año de la pera: to be very old.
  • No ser para menos: to justify something.
  • Ser de armas tomar: to be fearless, daring.
  • No ser plato de buen gusto: not something pleasant to have or do.

Idiomatic expressions that use Estar

Here are some examples of Spanish idioms using estar:

  • Estar hasta las narices: to be fed up with something or someone.
  • Estar al corriente: to be up to date.
  • Estar en la luna: to be out of touch of reality
  • Estar por ver: in expectation of what would happen
  • Llegar a estar: to become

Spanish is a fascinating language, besides being one of the most spoken in the world. Learning to master Spanish correctly will give you a number of unimaginable benefits and will give you a new perspective when getting to know new cultures.

Mastering the uses and applications of the verbs Ser and Estar will be the first step for you to establish a conversation in Spanish like any native.

You can go over the rules and get acquainted with thousands of situations where you’ll be able to get the necessary experience to improve your fluency. Learn about the benefits that speaking Spanish can provide and get in touch with real specialists in the area.

A specialized language school would be your best option to start your learning journey.

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