Ser vs. Estar: To be or To be??....What is the difference!!??

Many of my students dread conjugating verbs. They dread it even more when the verbs are irregular and have the same meaning!!  The verbs ser and estar both mean "to be", so what is the difference between the two?? Ser is used to describe things that are permanent or often unchangeable.  For example, Yo soy de Estados Unidos.(I am from the United States).  The form of ser used in the sentence is soy.  You can not change where you are from. Ser is also used to describe characteristics, professions, religions and nationalities.
      Estar is used to describe things that are temporary. For example, Yo estoy en Florida para las vacaciones(I am in Florida for vacation). I am vacationing in Florida, but I am not from there.  There is a little rhyme that is printed in the textbook, Realidades, which helps you remember when to use the verb, estar.  The rhyme goes, For how you feel or where you are, always use the verb estar. Estar is used to describe emotions and locations.
These are the differences between ser and estar.


Ser is used for physical characteristics that are permanent, immovable or unchangeable. For example, " El pupitre es pardo." The student's desk is brown. Ser is also used to describe nationalities. "Elena es de Bolivia como Juan." Elena is from Bolivia like Juan.  Also ser is used to indicate profession and religion. "Maria es una maestra y es presbyteriana." Mary is a teacher and a Presbyterian. 
Estar indicates death, emotions, and present prgressive. Please note: in Spanish, death is a temporary condition due to the concept of reincarnation. "Yo estoy muerta." I am dead. Estar is also used with feelings. "Estoy contenta con mi vida." I am happy with my life. Estar is also used with other verbs to create the present progressive verb tense that ends in "ing" "Yo estoy caminando a la escuela." I am walking to the school. nancy n
Ser vs. Estar is a very difficult grammar topic in the Spanish language for non-native speakers to understand. It takes time to fully understand the concept and it's important to have patience. There are two important points that were left out in the above comments. One of the reasons comprehending the difference between Ser and Estar is difficult is because there are certain exceptions.
For example, the verb SER is always used to ask and tell what time it is. ¿Qué hora es? = What time is it? Son las tres menos diez de la mañana = It is 2:50 in the morning. Non-native Spanish speakers don't understand why the verb SER is used instead of ESTAR. They 1 minute, it's not going to be 2:50 anymore. It will be 2:51. So why should SER be used when the time is constantly changing everyday? It is used because the topic TIME will always exist. TIME is permanent.
Another exception is when saying which continent a country is in. The verb ESTAR is used. Colombia está en Sudamérica. Non-native Spanish speakers don't understand why ESTAR is used instead of SER. Why can't it be...Colombia es en Sudamérica? They think it only makes sense to use SER because Colombia being in South America is permanent. Everyone knows that Colombia won't move over one day to Europe. It will always be in South America. So why is ESTAR used? Because we are talking about location and whenever speaking about location (whether temporary or permanent), ESTAR is always used. Temporary location: Ahora estoy en mi casa = Right now, I am in my house. Permanent location: Los Estados Unidos está en Norteamérica = The United States is in North America. Using ESTAR for permanent locations is an exception to the rule that ESTAR is used in temporary conditions.
Hope this helps!
Bridget C.
Hey some people can actually make this make sense i thought it was impossible i guess its not as complicated as my dumb teacher made it thx
One way I can remember the differences between ser and estar are using some acronyms
For ser I use DONOT
D stands for description. When you are using adjectives to DESCRIBE a person or thing, you will use the verb ser
O stands for origin. Where you are from will always use ser (if there is de and then a place, it is ser)
N stands for nationality
O stands for occupation. If you are a teacher, you use ser to say I am a teacher and same with engineer, student, doctor, and etc.
Finally t stands for telling time.
ESTAR has an acronym too.
HELP is what I use
H stands for health such as what condition you are.
E stands for emotions and feelings.
L is location and if there is the word en, then you use estar. Also, whenever you use prepositions in that sentence, it is estar, not ser
Present progressive also means using estar. This one is confusing but all you have to know is that when you say something in the present tense like I am talking, them you are using estar.


Donna M.

Spanish Teacher, Reading Coach and Phonics Guru

100+ hours
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