Solving the mystery of Ser vs. Estar

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While learning Spanish, understanding the difference between ser vs. estar, sometimes becomes quite confusing. Both these verbs mean ‘to be’ in English. There’s a lot of confusion over these two verbs and when and how to use them.

In this guide, we will explain the differences between ser vs. estar and how to apply them correctly in different situations.

Difference between ser vs. estar

Ser is used to describe permanent states, whereas estar is used to describe temporary conditions. In English, you would use the verb “to be” for both, but they have slightly different meanings in Spanish.

Another distinction is that ser refers to what something is, whereas estar refers to how something is. Ser and estar appear frequently in basic Spanish phrases and sentences. Let’s look at both of them in detail with relevant examples.

Ser vs Estar video lesson

Ser

As we have discussed earlier, the verb ser is used in Spanish to express permanent conditions and to describe what something is. Some of the most common applications for ser include:

  •         To recognize something or someone
  •         To describe fundamental characteristics and qualities
  •         To discuss nationality or place of origin
  •         To discuss professions or occupations
  •         To share religious or political beliefs
  •         To determine the time, day, or date
  •         To deal with possession
  •         To describe the material from which something is made
  •         To understand the relationship between two people

Estar

The verb estar describes how a person, concept, or object finds itself in a place, time, or situation, as well as their mood, health, ongoing actions, opinions, and feelings. It is the how rather than the what. It may seem difficult to you at first, but remember these common uses for estar to help you learn:

  •         To specify location and time
  •         To express conditions and states
  •         To use progressive tenses (-ing)
  •         To use various idiomatic expressions

How to conjugate Ser?

The conjugation of Ser is irregular, which means it does not follow a consistent pattern to form all of its tenses, as evidenced by its indicative form in the present tense. Please see the table below:

Singular

Plural

Yo soy

I am

Nosotros somos

Nosotras

We are

Tú eres

You are

Vosotros sois

Vosotras

You all are

Él es

Ella 

Usted

He/she is 

Ellos son

Ellas 

Ustedes 

They are

One of the most noticeable differences in the English language is that “you” can be translated into tú or vosotros to refer to one or more people (second person singular or plural). This is also true of the verb estar. Let’s look at examples of each tense to get a better grasp on the verb ser.

Ser: First person singular, present tense

  • English: I am an honest friend.
  • Spanish: Yo soy un amigo honesto.

This is a first-person singular description or identification of a fundamental quality. It is a declaration of a person’s permanent condition.

Ser: Second person singular, present tense

  • English: You are from Barcelona.
  • Spanish: Tú eres de Barcelona.

The sentence refers to the person’s origin, which is another permanent condition because your place of birth or origin does not change over time. In English, we could use “you” to include more people (second person plural), but in Spanish, eres can only be used to describe one person.

Ser: Third person singular, present tense

  • English: She is a doctor.
  • Spanish: Ella es doctora.

It is a persistent condition of the individual, even if she changes careers. It’s worth noting that the gender is specified in these cases in Spanish. Even without the subject, her gender is determined by her title: es doctora.

Ser: First person plural, present tense

  • English: We are their parents.
  • Spanish: Nosotros somos sus padres.

The sentence describes a person’s relationship. In this instance, we’re referring to family members and their relationship, which is also a permanent condition. When identifying elements represented by both masculine and feminine genders and a group with undetermined genders, the Spanish language traditionally prioritizes the masculine gender.

Ser: Second person plural, present tense

  • English: You are the best!
  • Spanish: ¡Vosotros sois los mejores!

Vosotros (plural you) refers to the qualities or characteristics of a group of people. It is also a permanent condition that will not change. As previously stated, the masculine gender is used to identify an unknown group of people. If all of the elements represented by “you” are feminine genders, vosotros becomes vosotras.

Ser: Third person plural, present tense

  • English: It’s 3 PM.
  • Spanish: Son las tres de la tarde.

You can also use the verb ser to tell the hour, as seen in this example. If you were to say that it’s 1 PM or 1 AM, the plural would become singular because it is only one hour.

How to conjugate Estar?

Estar also has the same meaning as the English verb “to be,” so distinguishing between the two is critical. Remember that estar primarily refers to how an object is and how it relates to a location or condition. Furthermore, its condition or location is temporary.

Singular

Plural

Yo estoy

I am

Nosotros estamos

Nosotras

We are

Tú estás

You are

Vosotros estáis

Vosotras

You all are

Él está

Ella 

Usted

He/she is

Ellos están

Ellas 

Ustedes 

They are

Estar: First person singular, present tense

  • English: I’m available this afternoon.
  • Spanish: Estoy disponible esta tarde.

Because you are in a temporary situation, you will need to use estar. You will be available this afternoon (for example, to work, travel, or hang out), but you may not be available again at night or in the morning, and this is not something that will last.

Estar: Second person singular, present tense

  • English: Are you happy or sad?
  • Spanish: ¿Estás feliz o triste?

Being happy, sad, or in a different mood is a passing state. You may not always be a happy person, so this is not a permanent characteristic, as nationality, origin, or profession can be.

Estar: Third person singular, present tense

  • English: He is traveling.
  • Spanish: Él está viajando.

This sentence demonstrates how to translate an English gerund (-ing) to Spanish: in these cases, you always use estar (está cocinando, está caminando, está escuchando). At the same time, it indicates that someone is travelling and that the situation is temporary.

Estar: First person plural, present tense

  • English: We are far from my house.
  • Spanish: Nosotros estamos lejos de mi casa.

We are talking about our current physical location. Even though it may appear permanent in some cases, our location is always subject to change. As a result, we must employ estar.

Estar: Second person plural, present tense

  • English: You are married.
  • Spanish: Estáis casados.

This is one of the most common mistakes made by beginners, and it can be confusing at first. Even though most family relationships require the use of ser, being married, separated, or divorced is always a temporary condition when it comes to Spanish grammar rules.

Estar: Third person plural, present tense

  • English: They are very elegant today.
  • Spanish: Ellos están muy elegantes hoy.

They can try to be elegant every day, but this example implies that they are particularly elegant today, implying that it is a temporary condition. If you want to say that they are always very elegant, you could use ser as in the following example: ellos son muy elegantes.

Conclusion 

As you can see, the uses of the Spanish verbs ser and estar can be difficult to grasp at first, and you may find yourself wondering which one to use in different situations. Remember that ser is used for long-term conditions and to describe what something is, whereas estar is used for short-term conditions and to describe how something is.

Mastering ser and estar will take time. Keep practicing their uses and look for examples that can minimize your confusion. Look for convenient Spanish lessons to master these Spanish concepts. 

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  • I am Teacher Catalina.

  • I am a Spanish Teacher, a native Spanish speaker, and have been teaching Spanish in the USA for over 16 years, always teaching in a fun and engaging way. My passion ❤️ is to teach Spanish, share my expertise as an educator, and collaborate with people around the world 🌍.

  • Free handouts (Click to download from Google drive)

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    Conjugating regular -er & -ir verbs works exactly the same way we learned how to conjugate -ar verbs, however, we have different endings. 

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