Ser or estar? How to decide
One of the topics which beginners find the most challenging is the correct use of two to be verbs in Spanish.
Fortunately, in some cases it is very clear to use which one to use. On the other, when these verbs are supposed to be used with adjectives, confusions may occur.
We’ve already seen some important uses of ser and estar in earlier sections. Let us review those uses together with some more.
Uses of Ser
The primary use of ser is identification.
- Es una casa (it’s a house)
- Soy una mujer (I am a woman)
Ser is used to express what someone’s occupation is.
- Ella es estudiante (she is a student)
- Carlos es mecánico (Carlos is machinist)
Ser is used to describe people personally and physically as we’ve seen before.
- eres agradable you are pleasant
Place of origin
Ser is used to tell where someone comes from
- ¿de dónde eres? (Where are you from?)
- Soy de España (I am from Spain)
- Soy español (I am Spanish)
Telling the time
As we covered in detail earlier, to be verb ser is used to tell the time in Spanish. “es” is used if “one” o’clock is used. In all other cases, “son” is used.
- es la una (It’s one o’oclock)
- son las seis y media (It’s half past six)
Ser is used to say that a thing belongs to someone.
- este libro es de Carlos (This book belongs to Carlos)
Place and time of an event
To express when and where an event takes place, again ser is used.
- la reunión es el lunes (the meeting is on Monday)
- la reunion es a las dos de la tarde (the meeting is at two o’clock in the afternoon)
Expressing the date
Again, we covered this topic earlier. For more information go to days, months and seasons in Spanish.
- Hoy es martes (today is Tuesday)
- ¿Qué día es hoy? (what is the date today?)
- Hoy es lunes, el tres de mayo (today is monday, the third of may)
It’s used to tell what something is made of.
- ¿De qué material es la ropa? (what’s the dress made of?)
- Es de lana (It’s made of wool)
Uses of estar
One of the primary uses of estar is location, which we covered in the last lesson. Don’t confuse this uses of estar with that of ser which is used to tell the location of an event. Estar is used to define the position of someone or something.
- El libro está en la mesa. (The book is on the table)
- ¿Dónde estás? (Where are you?)
How something is
To ask how something is use estar
- ¿Cómo estás? (How are you?)
- ¿Cómo la comida? (How is the food?)
Estar is used as an auxillary verb in progressive tense, which is covered in detail in another lesson.
- Estoy hablando (I am speaking)
There are many idiomatic expressions used with estar. For example; estar enamorado/-a means to be in love. You can find more of such expressions in the vocabulary section below.
Ser vs. Estar
Some adjectives change the meaning based on which to be verb they are used with. For example; ser aburrido is to be boring, while estar aburrido is to be bored. You can find a list of those adjectives, again in the vocabulary section below.
Fixed expressions of estar
estar listo/-a to be ready
estar bien comunicado to have good transport connection
estar mal comunicado to have poor transport connections
estar marcado/-a por to be marked by
estar de pie to be standing up
estar en contacto con to be in touch with
estar de moda to be in fashion
estar enfermo/-a to be ill
estar muerto/-a to be dead
estar seguro/-a to be sure
estar en camino to be on the way
estar presente to be present
estar de acuerdo to agree
estar enamorado/-a to be in love
estar en las nubes to have one's head in the clouds
Adjectives which change their meaning with ser and estar
ser verde: to be green
estar verde: to be unripe
ser malo: to be bad
estar malo: to be ill
ser cansado/-a: to be tiresome
estar cansado/-a: to be tired
ser bueno/-a: to be good
estar bueno/-a: to be attractive
ser despierto/-a: to be alert
estar despierto/-a: to be awake
ser interesado/-a: selfish
estar interesado/-a: to be interested
ser enfermo/-a: to be sickly
estar enfermo/-a: to be sick.
ser feliz: to be a happy person by nature
estar feliz: to be happy at the moment
ser listo/-a: to be clever
estar listo/-a: to be ready
ser moreno/-a to be dark-skinned
estar moreno/-a to be tanned
ser viejo/-a to be old
estar viejo/-a to look old
ser pálido/-a to be pale skinned
estar pálido/-a to be pale
ser grave to be serious
estar grave to be seriously ill
ser seguro/-a to be safe
estar seguro/-a to be certain
ser maduro/-a mature
estar maduro/-a ripe
ser rico/-a to be rich
estar rico/-a to be tasty
ser pesado/-a to be heavy
estar pesado/-a to be tiresome
ser vivo/-a to be sharp
estar vivo/-a to be alive