Ser vs Estar: Using Adjectives with These Spanish Verbs
To be or to be? That is the question in Spanish. You know it well: the famous ser vs estar situation.
This is one of the trickiest parts of the language for new learners. It’s tricky because the differences between one verb and the other are minimal, but really important.
In this post, I’m gonna take you down the ser vs estar rabbit hole, and then take a wild turn into adjectives territory–which is an adventure in itself.
Are you ready?
Ser vs Estar
These two Spanish verbs translate as “to be” in English. While a difference in meaning doesn’t exist in English, Spanish speakers use each verb in very specific situations. That’s of course the origin of the problem for learners: how do you know when to use one or the other? The title of our post says it all: ser vs estar. It’s like a permanent fight inside the heads of students of the language, struggling to choose between when to use ser and when to use estar.
Ser vs estar are similar in meaning, otherwise they wouldn’t be translated as the same verb in English. However, in Spanish, it’s crucial to know to differentiate them because they express distinct ideas that can change the whole meaning of a sentence.
The Spanish Verb Ser
Ser expresses permanent states, the “essence of things,” or the stuff that makes something what it is. You use ser when you want to express who you are, what you do (for a living), and your nationality. In all these cases, you’re describing your permanent qualities as a person that aren’t likely to change.
So, how do you know when to use ser? I’ve written before about the subject and you can read this thorough guide about the uses for these two verbs. Here, I’ll just mention all the situations when you have to use ser:
6. Event location
The Spanish Verb Estar
On the other hand, estar expresses temporary states, qualities, conditions, or locations that are meant to change whether soon or eventually. If, for instance, you want to say where you are or how you feel, you will use estar.
Use estar in the following situations:
1. Ongoing Actions
4. Physical Position
5. Physical and Mental Conditions
7. Variable Price
Adjectives in Spanish
Adjectives in Spanish have the exact same function as they do in English. They are words that describe someone or something. In grammar lingo, we say that adjectives affect or modify a noun. Adjectives give us important information about the look of a person, the taste of a wine, and the quality of a product, for example.
They are like “tags” that amplify the information about the subject. In English, you use them all the time. In Spanish too, but in a slightly different way that we’ll explore below.
How Do Adjectives Work in Spanish?
While in English adjectives come before the noun, in Spanish they usually come after the noun. So, instead of saying “the red house,” you say la casa roja.
Pretty simple, right? However, in Spanish, you always have to consider gender and number. Adjectives change their form depending on if the noun they are modifying is masculine or feminine, and also if it’s singular or plural.
That gives us four possible adjective forms. Let’s see how they behave with a masculine and a feminine noun, both in singular and plural:
la casa roja – feminine, singular.
las casas rojas – feminine, plural.
el libro rojo – masculine, singular.
los libros rojos – masculine, plural.
It’s important to mention that, in Spanish, not all adjectives get modified for gender. If, for example, the house were blue instead of red, the Spanish adjective would be azul which never changes, notwithstanding the gender of the noun it’s modifying. In other words, la casa cannot be azula.
Ser vs Estar: The Use of Adjectives
The peculiarity of the ser vs estar situation is not restricted to the fact that they are translated into English as the same verb. They also have specific adjectives that function well with each of them and others that, when applied to both of them, change their meaning. Interesting, right?
Some adjectives in Spanish only work with ser and using them with estar would sound unnatural. Let’s see some of the most common:
|Adjective in Spanish||Adjective in English||Example in Spanish||Example in English|
|importante||important||Ese contrato es muy importante.||That contract is very important.|
|común||common||Es una enfermedad común.||It’s a common illness.|
|suficiente||enough||Mi esfuerzo no fue suficiente.||My effort wasn’t enough.|
|inteligente||intelligent||Carlos es muy inteligente.||Carlos is very intelligent.|
|famoso||famous||Ella no es famosa en México.||She isn’t famous in Mexico.|
|capaz||capable||El ingeniero es muy capaz.||The engineer is very capable.|
|único||unique||Esa gira fue única.||That tour was unique.|
|simpático||kind||Miguel es simpático.||Miguel is kind.|
|posible||possible||Eso no es posible.||That is not possible.|
Now, let’s take a look at some of the adjectives that only work with estar:
|Adjective in Spanish||Adjective in English||Example in Spanish||Example in English|
|contento||pleased, happy||¿Estás contento por tu ascenso?||Are you happy for your promotion?|
|escondido||hidden||El tesoro estaba escondido en una isla.||The treasure was hidden on an island.|
|bien||well||Estoy bien, gracias.||I’m well, thanks.|
|mal||wrong||Estuvo mal lo que hiciste.||It was wrong what you did.|
|satisfecho||satisfied||Estoy satisfecho con mi esfuerzo.||I’m satisfied with my effort.|
|preocupado||worried||María está preocupada por el examen.||Maria is worried about the exam.|
|asustado||scared||Estoy asustado por esta situación.||I’m scared about this situation.|
|enfermo||sick||José está enfermo.||Jose is sick.|
|enojado||mad, angry||¿Estás enojada conmigo?||Are you mad at me?|
Adjectives that Change Meaning with Ser vs Estar
Then you have the adjectives that change their meaning depending on if they are used with ser or with estar. These are the adjectives that make for funny situations if you use them with the wrong verb.
|Adjective||Ser meaning||Ser example||Estar meaning||Estar example|
|listo||clever||Olga es muy lista.
(Olga is very clever.)
|bueno||good||Soy una buena persona.
(I’m a good person.)
|attractive (informal)||Karina está buena.
(Karina is attractive.)
|malo||to be bad||Pedro es malo.
(Pedro is bad.)
|to be expired (with food),
to be ill (with people)
|Esta leche está mala.
(This milk has expired.)
|rico||rich||Bill Gates es muy rico.
(Bill Gates is very rich.)
|tasty||La sopa está rica.
(The soup is tasty.)
|pesado||annoying||Mi hermano es un pesado.
(My brother is annoying.)
|heavy||Esa caja está pesada.
(That box is heavy.)
|seguro||safe||Este es un lugar seguro.
(This is a safe place.)
|sure||¿Estás seguro de eso?
(Are you sure about that?)
|orgulloso||prideful||Ricardo es muy orgulloso.
(Ricardo is very prideful.)
|to be proud of something or someone||Estoy orgulloso de ti.
(I’m proud of you.)
|aburrido||boring||Su clase es muy aburrida.
(Her class is very boring)
(Are you bored?)
|interesado||to be self-interested||Raquel es una interesada.
(Raquel is a self-interested person.)
|to be interested in something or someone||Estoy interesado en comprar esa casa.
(I’m interested in buying that house.)
Ser vs Estar Quiz
Fill in the blank with the right verb (ser vs estar), considering the situation and meaning of the sentence:
- La pizza de ayer _______________ muy rica. – Yesterday’s pizza was very tasty.
- Este documento _______________ muy importante. – This document is very important.
- ¿_______________ listo para la carrera de mañana? – Are you ready for tomorrow’s race?
- Tu mamá _______________ muy preocupada. – Your mom is very worried.
- _______________ aburrido. – I’m bored.
- Los casos así _______________ muy comunes. – Cases like this one are very common.
- No _______________ posible conseguir boletos. – It’s not possible to get tickets.
- _______________ muy pesado. – I’m too heavy.
- Carlos _______________ bueno. – Carlos is good.
- Sus padres _______________ orgullosos de ella. – Her parents are proud of her.
If you understood this question, maybe you are ready to take the next step and start practicing with one of Homeschool Spanish Academy native Spanish-speaking teachers. Our classes are fun and flexible, and will help you improve your conversational skills in Spanish, as well as your grammar. Sign up now for a free trial lesson and show your friends how listo you are!
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