Ser vs Estar Master Grammar Guide: Conjugations, Usage, and Transformative Adjectives
“Should you use ser or estar?” That is the question.
If you’ve ever asked that same question yourself, you’re part of the 99% of Spanish students who wonder why on Earth the Spanish language needs two verbs to express what in English you can say with only one (“to be”).
To be fair, that’s how it works in most Romance languages, but I digress. Ser and estar are the two translations of the verb “to be” in English, and they’re two of the most common verbs in Spanish.
If your goal is to be fluent in Spanish one day, you definitely need to master these verbs.
Follow this grammar guide step by step to achieve that quite easily. In it, I introduce you to the definitions of ser and estar, the differences between them, rules for when to use them, conjugation charts, and a list of adjectives that work better with one or the other. Finally, access a list of example sentences with both ser and estar and take a practice quiz to test your knowledge!
Table of Contents:
- Definitions of Ser and Estar
- Differences Between Ser and Estar
- Ser and Estar Conjugations
- Adjectives in Spanish List
- Spanish Sentences Using Ser and Estar
- Ser vs Estar Practice Quiz
- Master Ser and Estar and Improve Your Spanish
Definitions of Ser and Estar
The verbs ser and estar are two of the most essential verbs in the Spanish language and they’re always taught together, as they’re closely related. Both translate to English as “to be,” which is arguably the most important verb in the language of Shakespeare.
To learn more about why in Spanish we use two (or even three) verbs to express the same things that can be said in English with one verb, I recommend reading Ser vs Estar vs Tener: All the Ways to Say ‘I am’ in Spanish.
For now, I’ll focus on the definitions of ser vs estar, and from there I’ll walk you through all the specifics and particularities of these useful verbs.
Definition of Ser
Ser expresses the “essence of things.” In other words, what makes something what it is. It conveys an idea of permanent states, and that’s why you use it when talking about qualities that (usually) don’t change.
Definition of Estar
Estar, on the other hand, expresses the idea of being in a place or state. Estar expresses “how” something is, instead of “what” (or “who” in the case of people). It’s a verb that conveys an idea of temporary states, and that’s where the difference between ser and estar is more easily identified.
Differences Between Ser and Estar
As you can see from their respective definitions, the differences between these two common Spanish verbs have to do with what (and who) vs how, and permanent vs temporary states.
However, that’s just the starting point, as both ser and estar have multiple meanings and uses.
A better way to understand the differences between these two verbs is to study their uses.
When to Use Ser
Use ser to talk about the essential characteristics of someone or something, inherent qualities, and permanent states. Specifically, use ser in the following five situations:
Use ser for physical descriptions, personality traits, and describing an object.
Miguel es muy amable.
Miguel is very kind.
La mesa es un poco pequeña para esas sillas.
The table is a bit small for those chairs.
Use ser to discuss the place of origin of a person or the material something is made of.
María es de La Habana, Cuba.
Maria is from Havana, Cuba.
La camisa de José es de seda.
Jose’s shirt is made of silk.
When talking about someone’s occupation, job, or profession, always use ser.
Pedro es un excelente abogado.
Pedro is an excellent lawyer.
If you’re talking about dates, years, months, days, or the time on your clock, you should use ser, too.
Hoy es 23 de julio.
Today is July 23rd.
Son las tres y media.
It’s half past three.
Use ser when talking about property or possession.
Este es el coche de Juan.
This is Juan’s car.
When to Use Estar
Use estar to talk about temporary states, particularly in the following five situations:
The thing about emotions is that they’re temporary. You might be sad right now, but in a couple of hours you’ll be happy, nervous, excited, or upset. Always use estar when talking about emotions and moods.
Mamá está feliz por su nuevo trabajo.
Mom is happy with her new job.
If you want to express the idea of location, you need to use estar.
La Península de Yucatán está en México.
Yucatan’s Peninsula is in Mexico.
3. Physical Position
Use estar when talking about someone’s physical position (including your own).
Mi abuelo está acostado en su cama.
My grandfather is lying in his bed.
Physical and mental conditions tend to change over time. For that reason, you use estar when talking about them.
Mi hermana está enferma.
My sister is sick.
5. Ongoing Actions
If you’re going to talk about ongoing actions, you need to use estar followed by another verb in its gerund form (-ando, -iendo).
Carlos está trabajando duro estos días.
Carlos is working hard these days.
Ser and Estar Conjugations
Let’s take a look at the conjugation of the verbs ser and estar in the present, preterite, and imperfect tense.
Watch this interesting video explaining the conjugations of both verbs. Read these articles with the full conjugation sets of ser and estar, which include every mood and tense in the Spanish language.
|él / ella||es||fue||era|
|él / ella||está||estuvo||estaba|
Adjectives in Spanish List
Besides learning when to use each verb and how to conjugate them, you also need to master the adjectives that work better with ser and those that should only be used with estar.
First, here’s a list of common Spanish adjectives that only work with one of these verbs. Later we’ll discuss how some adjectives change their meaning according to the verb you’re using.
Adjectives to Use Only with Ser
Use the following list of adjectives only with ser. For a more complete understanding of how adjectives work with ser, read ‘Ser’ Adjectives and How to Use Them in Spanish Sentences.
|Adjective in Spanish||Adjective in English||Example Sentence|
|capaz||capable||Rodrigo es capaz de hacer alguna locura. Rodrigo is capable of doing something crazy.|
|común||common||Esto es muy común.|
This is very common.
|famoso/a||famous||Shakira es muy famosa en Europa.|
Shakira is really famous in Europe.
|importante||important||El presidente de Estados Unidos es muy importante.|
The US president is very important.
|inteligente||intelligent||Einstein era muy inteligente.|
Einstein was very intelligent.
|posible||possible||Es posible que me mude a Buenos Aires.|
It’s possible that I will move to Buenos Aires.
|simpático/a||kind||Carla es muy simpática conmigo.|
Carla is very kind to me.
|suficiente||enough||Lo que gano es suficiente para mi familia.|
What I earn is enough for my family.
|único/a||unique||Esa pintura es única.|
That painting is unique.
Adjectives to Use Only with Estar
Use the following list of adjectives exclusively with estar.
|Adjective in Spanish||Adjective in English||Example|
|asustado/a||scared||Jorge está asustado porque no encuentra trabajo. Jorge is scared because he can’t find a job|
|bien||well||¿Estás bien?Are you okay?|
|contento/a||pleased, happy||Estoy muy contento de que estés aquí.I’m very pleased that you’re here.|
|enfermo/a||sick||Mi abuelita está muy enferma. My grandma is very sick.|
|enojado/a||angry, mad||El maestro está enojado conmigo. The teacher is mad at me.|
|escondido/a||hidden||El dinero está escondido debajo de mi colchón.The money is hidden under my mattress.|
|mal||wrong||Esto está mal. This is wrong.|
|preocupado/a||worried||Estoy preocupado por mis amigos.I’m worried about my friends.|
|satisfecho/a||satisfied||¿Estás satisfecho con tu esfuerzoAre you satisfied with your effort?|
The following list includes Spanish adjectives that change their meaning depending on which verb you use with them, their English meanings, sentences with ser, and sentences with estar in Spanish.
Meaning with ser: boring
La novia de Carlos es aburrida.
Carlos’ girlfriend is boring.
Meaning with estar: bored
La novia de Carlos está aburrida.
Carlos’ girlfriend is bored.
Meaning with ser: good
Jorge es bueno.
Jorge is good.
Meaning with estar: attractive
Jorge está bueno.
Jorge is attractive.
Meaning with ser: to be self-interested
Tu amigo es un interesado.
Your friend is a self-interested person.
Meaning with estar: to be interested in something or someone
Tu amigo está interesado en comprar un coche.
Your friend is interested in buying a car.
Meaning with ser: clever
Meaning with estar: ready
Meaning with ser: to be bad
Erika es mala.
Erika is bad.
Meaning with estar: to be expired (with food), or to be ill (with people)
Erika está mala.
Erika is ill.
Meaning with ser: prideful
Mi papá es orgulloso.
My dad is prideful.
Meaning with estar: to be proud
Mi papá está orgulloso de mí.
My dad is proud of me.
Meaning with ser: annoying
Soy muy pesado.
I’m very annoying.
Meaning with estar: heavy
Estoy muy pesado.
I’m very heavy.
Meaning with ser: rich
Bill Gates es muy rico.
Bill Gates is very rich.
Meaning with estar: tasty
La cena estuvo rica.
Dinner was tasty.
Meaning with ser: safe
Aquí estás segura.
Here you’re safe.
Meaning with estar: sure
Estoy seguro que me darán el trabajo.
I’m sure I’ll get the job.
Spanish Sentences Using Ser and Estar
Now, it’s time for some practice with more ser vs estar examples:
Example Sentences With Ser
Yo soy escritor.
I’m a writer.
Tú eres colombiano.
La escuela es bonita.
The school is beautiful.
Esta es la oficina de mi papá.
This is my dad’s office.
El coche de Mónica es azul.
Monica’s car is blue.
Hoy es lunes.
Today is Monday.
Mi hermana es la niña más inteligente de su clase.
My sister is the smartest girl in her class.
El vendedor es muy amable.
The salesman is very kind.
La clase de español es interesante.
The Spanish lesson is interesting.
Ella es mi mamá.
She’s my mom.
Example Sentences With Estar
Estoy en mi casa.
I’m at my house.
¿Estás enojada conmigo?
Are you mad at me?
Estamos cenando ahora mismo.
We’re having dinner right now.
¿Dónde está tu salón?
Where is your classroom?
Estoy parado afuera de tu casa.
I’m standing up outside your house.
Pedro está muy cansado.
Pedro is very tired.
Mamá está preocupada por ti.
Mom is worried about you.
Estoy muy bien, gracias.
I’m very well, thank you.
Te estamos esperando a ti nada más.
We’re just waiting for you.
Estoy listo para el examen.
I’m ready for the exam.
Ser vs Estar Practice Quiz
Finally, take a quick quiz to test your ser and estar knowledge. Watch this video for more quizzes and practice materials on this topic.
1. Rocío __________ estudiando en su casa.
2. El hospital __________ muy moderno.
3. __________ las ocho de la noche.
4. Mi hermano __________ policía.
5. Ese __________ mi coche.
6. México __________ en Norteamérica.
7. __________ sentado en la segunda fila.
8. Mi novia __________ muy inteligente.
9. Mi abuelo __________ un gran ejemplo a seguir.
10. Yo __________ muy triste por lo que pasó.
Master Ser and Estar and Improve Your Spanish
Ser and estar both mean “to be.” That’s why sometimes it’s challenging for native English speakers to differentiate when to use each of these verbs. Things get even more complicated when you include tener as another way to say “I am.” However, by following this grammar guide, you’ll quickly master the use of this pair of important verbs.
Sign up for a free trial class with one of our certified, native-speaking teachers from Guatemala and master the use of ser and estar today. Homeschool Spanish Academy has been providing reliable Spanish services for more than 10 years, and we offer flexible scheduling and tailored Spanish programs.
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