Ser y Estar

Written by tutor Jamie S.

The verb “to be” is the most commonly used verb, even though many of us don’t really think about it. Don’t believe me? Consider how many times you say, “am,” “is,” or “are” every day! Maybe you didn’t even know that was the verb “to be.”

Let’s look at how it is conjugated in English:

Singular Plural
I     am We     are
You     are You (all)     are
S/he, It     is      They     are     

In English we only have one verb that means "to be," but in Spanish there are actually two. These two verbs are ser and estar. Just like English, they are not conjugated like most regular verbs in Spanish.

Yo soy        Nosotros somos
eres        Vosotros sois
Él/Ella, Ud. es        Ellos, Uds. son
Yo estoy        Nosotros estamos
estás        Vosotros estáis
Él/Ella, Ud. está        Ellos, Uds. están

So, when do we use ser and when do we use estar?

In general, ser is used to express more permanent ideas such as occupation and origin.
On the other hand, estar is mostly used to express temporary ideas such as emotions or locations.

Here is a more detailed overview of when to use ser and estar:

Tell time.
  • Son las once de la mañana. (It’s eleven o’clock
    in the morning.)
Identify people and things.
  • Juan y yo somos buenos amigos. (Juan and I
    are good friends.)
  • Madrid es la capital de España. (Madrid is the
    capital of Spain.)
Tell someone's career or occupation.
  • José es policía. (Jose is a police officer.)
Describe basic, inherent characteristics.
  • Mi carro es rojo. (My car is red.)
  • María es alta y delgada. (Maria is tall and thin.)
Express generalizations.
  • Es importante hacer la tarea. (It's important to
    do your homework.)
Express origin (with de) or nationality.
  • ¿De donde eres? (Where are you from?)
  • Soy de Lima. (I’m from Lima.)
  • Son colombianos. (They’re Colombian.)
Express possession (with de).
  • Este es el libro de mi hermana. (This is my sister’s book.)
Tell what material something is made of (with de).
  • Mi camisa es de lana. (My shirt is wool.)
Tell for whom or what something is intended (with para).
  • Los regalos son para mi sobrino. (The gifts are
    for my nephew.)
  • ¿Cuál libro es para la clase de español? (Which
    book is for Spanish class?)
Tell location.
  • La Casa Blanca está en Washington, DC. (The White
    House is in Washington, DC.)
Describe health.
  • Estoy bien, gracias. (I'm fine, thanks.)
  • Julia está muy enferma. (Julia is very ill.)
Describe emotions and mental states.
  • ¿Estás loco? (Are you crazy?)
  • Pablo está preocupado por los exámenes. (Pablo is
    worried about his exams.)
Describe temporary states or conditions.
  • Estoy muy ocupado en el trabajo. (I’m very
    busy at work.)
  • La tienda está cerrada hoy. (The store is
    closed today.)
Form the progressive tense (with present
  • Estoy caminando al estadio. (I’m walking to the stadium.)
  • ¿Qué estás haciendo ahora? (What are you doing now?)
With fixed certain expressions.
  • Está bien. (It’s fine.)
  • No estoy de acuerdo. (I don’t agree.)

The idea of having two verbs that mean “to be” can be a difficult concept for English speakers to grasp at the beginning. But one of the benefits is that you can change the whole meaning of a sentence just by changing the verb!

Take a look at these examples:

¿Cómo es?
(What is it like?)
¿Cómo está?
(How is it?)
¿Cómo es tu mejor amigo?
What is your best friend like?
¿Cómo estás hoy?
How are you today?
Daniel es un hombre guapo.
Daniel is a handsome man.
Daniel está muy guapo esta noche.
Daniel looks very handsome tonight.
Carmen es una persona nerviosa.               
Carmen is a high-strung person.
Carmen está nerviosa porque tiene un examen.
Carmen is nervous because she has an exam.
Mi profesor es muy aburrido.
My professor is so boring.
¡Estoy muy aburrido!
I’m so bored!

Now you know when to use ser and when to use estar! Test out your new knowledge to see if you can choose the correct verb for each sentence:

Ser y Estar Practice Quiz

Mi primo _____ un doctor pediátrico. (My cousin is a pediatric doctor.)

A. es
B. está
The correct answer here would be A.

La Torre Eiffel y el Museo del Louvre _____ en París. (The Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum are in Paris.)

A. son
B. están
The correct answer here would be B.

Mi familia y yo _____ originalmente de Argentina. (My family and I are originally from Argentina.)

A. somos
B. estamos
The correct answer here would be A.

¡Siempre ______ cansado porque nunca duermes! (You’re always tired because you never sleep!)

A. eres
B. estás
The correct answer here would be B.
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