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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)

Describing people

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?)

Progressive Tense

Estar is used as an auxillary verb in progressive tense, which is covered in detail in another lesson.

  • Estoy hablando (I am speaking)

Fixed Expressions            

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

Let's Practice

Which one is correct?

All Exercises