Ser vs Estar: your ultimate guide

The correct use of the verbs ser vs estar is usually a major headache for Spanish students. It is difficult to use these Spanish verbs correctly at the right time, unless you have practiced a lot.

Ser vs Estar: what is it all about?

In Spanish, unlike other languages, we have two verbs to refer to ourselves or to other people (or also things) depending on what we want to say at each moment: ser and estar.

When we are speaking or writing, deciding whether we have to use ser vs estar is not that difficult. You just have to have some clear concepts and above all have a lot of practice. The more we use these verbs, the better we will learn to apply them correctly in our daily lives. When you become fluent in Spanish, you will stop thinking about which of the two verbs you have to use at one time or another. You will come to realize that one of the two will sound wrong in the phrase you are building or simply that you have changed the meaning of what you wanted to say.

You have to be careful when using ser vs estar: it is not the same to say that “Mi amigo Mario es de Madrid” instead of “Mi amigo Mario está en Madrid”. We will see the difference below.

Ser vs estar: what you are taught at school

Some time ago, when you were learning Spanish at school, your Spanish teacher probably told you that ser must be used to talk about permanent things whereas estar must be used for things that can change. The reality is that it is not always like that! Nowadays there are things that we believe invariable and finally you can change it, such as for example hair color. Someone can be born a brunette and eventually dye their hair and become blonde. This is why you have to be careful with this rule.

When to use ser vs estar?

What are the biggest differences between ser vs estar? Here is a small summary!

The use of ser

Among other things, we use the verb ser to identify ourselves or to identify another person. With the verb ser, we can express:

  • The identity: Soy Ana, soy una mujer, etc.
  • Nationality or origin: Soy española, soy de origen brasileño, etc.
  • The profession: Soy profesora, soy médico, soy escritor, etc.
  • Religion: Soy judía, soy cristiana, soy musulmana, etc.
  • The physical description: Soy alta, soy rubia, soy delgada, etc.
  • Character description: Soy cabezota, soy tímida, etc.

The use of estar

With estar, we can position ourselves or distinguish ourselves at different times. With the verb estar, we can express:

  • The location: Estoy en Sevilla, estoy en casa de mi madre, etc.
  • Define our mood: Estoy aburrido, estoy contento, estoy enfadado, etc.
  • Define our physical state: Estoy enferma, estoy mareada, etc.
  • Talk about circumstances: Estoy de viaje, estoy de vacaciones, etc.

Example of use: ser vs estar

Taking into account these uses, we could say:

“Normalmente soy muy feliz, pero hoy estoy muy triste.” With this example we make it clear that normally I am a very happy person, but today for some reason I am sad, but it is a circumstantial problem that will change in a short time.

Other differences between ser and estar

The verbs ser and estar can have many other uses:

  • We also use the verb ser to describe and talk about the material from which things are made, for example: “Las copas son azules o las copas son de cristal”. Here we can see perfectly that we can give a description of the color of the glasses as well as talk about the material they are made of.
  • We also use ser to say the time (“Son las dos y media”), the time of day (“es de día o de noche”) or the date (“hoy es 25 de diciembre”).
  • Another use of ser would be to show possession “Este libro es mío” or to refer to a relationship: “Es mi amigo” o “Ana es mi hermana”.
  • On the contrary, we use estar to refer to the place where things are: “Las copas están encima de la mesa” or to talk about the physical position of both ourselves and other people or animals: “estoy tumbado”, “el perro está sentado”, etc.
  • Another moment in which we would use the verb estar would be to talk about actions in progress: “Estoy caminando”, “estoy estudiando”, etc.

As you can see, we normally use ser to talk about the characteristics of people or things or to express possession, while estar is used to talk about the place, position or state of people or things.

By making this differentiation, we can have more confidence in ourselves when deciding which of these two Spanish verbs we should use. As we said at the beginning, a single sentence can change its entire meaning depending on the verb that we use!

Ser vs estar practice

Here are some examples of Spanish adjectives that change their meaning when used with ser vs estar.

  • Pepe es listo: Pepe is intelligent.
  • Pepe está listo: Pepe is ready.
  • El tomate es verde: It refers to the color of the tomato.
  • El tomate está verde: It refers to the fact that the tomato is unripe.
  • Luis es muy atento: It means that Luis is very kind.
  • Luis está muy atento: Luis is very attentive.
  • María es muy buena: María has a very good heart. She is kind.
  • María está buena: Be careful! It can means that she is healthy, but also that she is very sexy.
  • El niño es malo: The child has bad behavior.
  • El niño está malo: The child is sick.
  • Ser vivo: To be bright, clever.
  • Estar vivo: To be alive.
  • Sofía es católica: It refers to the religion of Sofía.
  • Sofía no está muy católica: Sofía is not feeling very well.
  • La camisa de seda es muy delicada: The shirt is very smooth and fine.
  • Pedro está delicado: Pedro is in poor health.

For more examples of use of ser vs estar, here is a small video:

Conclusion

We must be careful with adjectives whose meaning can vary. Sometimes we will only laugh for having said something without the meaning that we wanted to express. On other occasions, we can create a big misunderstanding.

The correct use of ser vs estar, like many other Spanish grammar rules, may seem very complicated to Spanish students.  If you follow all our tips, we are sure it will be much easier for you to use them correctly!


Are you looking for a Spanish course to improve your Spanish? We offer many programs for high school students, college students, and adult learners!

Here are some of our most popular programs right now. You can also practice your Spanish in our Learn Spanish blog!

No Comments

Post A Comment

GermanSpainFrenchUSA