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Ser and Estar: To Be or To Be?

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

The verbs ‘ser’ and ‘estar’ are two of the most commonly used words in the Spanish language and they both mean ‘to be’. This causes confusion for most learners of the language. In this article, I will provide a simple guide to help you navigate the tricky decision of which ‘to be’ to use!


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Permanent or Temporary


The general rule of thumb is that ‘estar’ is used when describing something that will be temporary and ‘ser’ tends to be used to describe something more permanent. For instance:

Ella está triste – She is sad

Ella es alta – She is tall

In the first sentence we are describing her mood at a particular time. We don’t expect this to be permanent so we used the verb estar. On the other hand, her height is a permanent characteristic and for this reason we use ser in this sentence.


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What Question Are You Answering?


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Knowing whether something is temporary or permanent can help to choose between 'ser' or 'estar'. However, in some cases it might not be clear cut so you’ll need some extra tricks to try and work out which verb to use. Try and ask yourself what question you are answering with the sentence you are forming. Here are some examples:


Where? (estar)

Estamos en el parque – We are in the park.

How? (estar)

Estoy muy feliz – I am very happy.

What? (ser)

Soy profesora – I am a teacher.

Who? (ser)

Ella es mi madre – She is my mother.

Set Phrases That Always Use Ser or Estar

There are also some types on sentences that will always use either 'ser' or 'estar'. Knowing these will help you to use the right verb automatically:

Ser

Physical characteristics

Ella es alta (She is tall)


Nationality

Soy Inglesa (I am English)


Profession

Ella es médica (She is a doctor)


Date and time

Hoy es el cinco de abril (Today is the 5th April)


Possession

El sombrero es de Juan (The hat is Juan’s)


Identification

Este es mi primo (This is my cousin)


Place of an Event

La fiesta es en el parque. (The party is in the park)

Estar

Physical states

Estoy cansada (I am tired)


Emotions

Estás feliz (You are happy)


Physical location

Está en el centro de la ciudad (It is in the city centre)


Current activity

Estoy trabajando (I am working)


Marital status

Estamos casados (We are married)


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I hope this guide has been helpful. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments.


To learn three verb structures that will boost your ability to communicate in Spanish click here.

For some tips on how to boost your vocabulary please take a look at this article.

¡Hasta la próxima!


Hi, I am Karen. I am a languages tutor and blogger. I offer online tuition for students across the UK. I live in Tonbridge, in Kent, with my husband and my son. For me learning Spanish has meant fun, adventure, friendship and fulfilling work. I love sharing all that I have learnt with my students and via my blog. If you would like to receive 10% off your first online lesson, as well as regular updates and tips for learning Spanish, subscribe here.




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