Ser and Estar - Guide for learning the difference

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The topic of the verbs Ser and Estar is always a tricky topic when learning the Spanish language. Especially for English speaking people because both verbs translate to the verb “To Be” in English.

 

At first when you look at it this way, it is not easy to spot the differences between these two verbs, when translated, both Ser and Estar look almost the same. However there is quite a difference between these two Spanish verbs. 

Let’s start with the definition of the two verbs:

SER:

Ser in Spanish is translated as “To be” and it really marks the meaning of “To be” but in a more permanent way. You use Ser in Spanish to express essential qualities, characteristics, and the identity of an object or person and it is used to express permanent states. 

 

Here are a couple of examples: 

SER: Examples

ES: Estoy feliz hoy porque mi jefa no está en la oficina.

EN: I am very happy today because my boss is not in the office.

ES: Mi gato está muy cansado esta noche. 

EN: My cat is very tired tonight. 

ES: La escuela está en la calle Ricardo Martinez numero 34.

EN: The school is on Ricardo Martinez Street number 34. 

ES: Ella está muy sucia hoy, no se cual es la razón.

EN: She is very dirty today, I don’t know what is the reason for that.

ES: Nosotros estamos en un bar cerca de la playa.

EN:  We are in a bar next to the beach.

ES: Ellos están comiendo frutas.

EN: They are eating fruit.

 

As you can notice from examples, Ser expresses more permanent qualities and characteristics of a person or an object. All the states of the objects and people in the examples are also in a more permanent state. 

Below you will find the conjugation of the verb Ser in the Spanish present tense:

Conjugating SER in the Present Tense

Yo soy  -> (I am)

Tú eres -> (You are – informal singular)

Él/Ella/Usted es -> (He/She/You(formal) are)

Nosotros/Nosotras somos -> (We are)

Vosotros/Vosotras sois -> (You all are – informal plural, mainly used in Spain)

Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes son -> (They/You all are)

If you want to see how to conjugate “Ser” in other verb tenses, check out the full list on SpanishDictionary.

ESTAR:

Estar in Spanish is also translated as “To Be” but it is used to express things that are more temporary. You use Estar to express temporary states of people and objects and it is used to indicate locations, emotions and actions. 

Check out the following examples of when to use Estar

ESTAR: Examples

ES: Estoy feliz hoy porque mi jefa no está en la oficina.

EN: I am very happy today because my boss is not in the office.

ES: Mi gato está muy cansado esta noche. 

EN: My cat is very tired tonight. 

ES: La escuela está en la calle Ricardo Martinez numero 34.

EN: The school is on Ricardo Martinez Street number 34. 

ES: Ella está muy sucia hoy, no se cual es la razón.

EN: She is very dirty today, I don’t know what is the reason for that.

ES: Nosotros estamos en un bar cerca de la playa.

EN:  We are in a bar next to the beach.

ES: Ellos están comiendo frutas.

EN: They are eating fruit.

 

From the examples above, you can see that Estar is being used for expressing temporary states like feelings, actions or locations. 

 

Check out the verb conjugation of Estar in the Spanish present tense: 

Conjugating ESTAR in the Present Tense

Yo estoy -> (I am)

Tú estás -> (You are – informal singular)

Él/Ella/Usted está -> (He/She/You(formal) are)

Nosotros/Nosotras estamos -> (We are)

Vosotros/Vosotras sois -> (You all are – informal plural, mainly used in Spain)

Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes son -> (They/You all are)

If you want to see how to conjugate “Estar” in other verb tenses, check out the full list on SpanishDictionary

SER AND ESTAR: WHEN TO USE SER:

As we talked about in the sections above, you use Ser to express a more permanent state of what or who something is. 

There are two ACRONYMS that helped me memorize the rules on when to use Ser 

First one is short and it is: DOT: 

DOT stands for the following: 

  • Descriptions
  • Occupation 
  • Time

This acronym is short and catchy (DOT) but the one that gives you more insights on what to look for when deciding to use Ser in your sentences is DOCTOR

DOCTOR stands for the following: 

  • Descriptions
  • Occupations
  • Characteristics
  • Time
  • Origin
  • Relations
 
Ser and Estar: DOCTOR Acronym on when you use Ser verb instead of Estar

Let me give you a couple of examples on each letter in the DOCTOR acronym:

1) DESCRIPTIONS

As the name suggests, you use Ser to express more permanent descriptions like physical appearance of a person or an object, other qualities like if the person is smart or dumb, shy or extrovert, funny or boring etc. 

SER DESCRIPTIONS: Examples

ES: El es aburrido.

EN: He is boring.

ES: Tu eres guapa. 

EN: You are hot/good looking.

ES: El coche de tu padre es viejo. 

EN: Your dad’s car is old. 

ES: Yo soy gordo y alto.

EN: I am fat and tall.

ES: Mi novio es inteligente.

EN:  My boyfriend is smart.

2) OCCUPATION

You will use Ser to talk about someone’s occupation or profession. If you are trying to tell someone that you are a teacher or your mother is a doctor, you will use Ser in that case. 

SER OCCUPATION: Examples

ES: Mi madre es abogada.

EN: My mom is a lawyer

ES: Yo soy vendedor de computadoras.  

EN: I am a computer salesman.

ES: Tu eres la jefa de tu empresa. 

EN: You are the boss of your company.  

ES: Ellos son bomberos.

EN: They are firefighters. 

ES: Nosotros somos medicos. 

EN:  We are doctors. 

3) CHARACTERISTICS

When you talk about attributes or character traits of a person or object, you will be using Ser for that. To say a table is made of wood or metal, if someone you know has a playful personality in these kinds of cases Ser is used, not Estar.

SER CHARACTERISTICS: Examples

ES: Esta silla es de madera. 

EN: This chair is made of wood. 

ES:  Él es muy amable y gracioso. 

EN: He is very nice and funny. 

ES: Tus ojos son azules.

EN: Your eyes are blue.

ES: Nosotros somos feos.

EN: We are ugly. 

ES: Las casas en esta calle son muy viejas. 

EN:  The houses in this street are very old. 

4) TIME

This one is easy to remember. When expressing time in Spanish, you will always use Ser.

SER TIME: Examples

ES: Es la una.

EN: It is one o’clock.

ES:  Son las cinco y media de la mañana.

EN: It is five-thirty in the morning.  

ES: Ahora son las cuatro de la tarde.

EN: Now it is four o’clock in the afternoon.

ES: Me levanto a las diez y cuarto. .

EN: I get up at quarter past ten. 

ES: Tus padres se van a acostar a las once de la noche. 

EN: Your parents are going to bed at eleven o’clock at night.

5) ORIGIN

When talking about where someone or something is from, you will be using “Ser” to express that in your sentences. 

 

SER ORIGIN: Examples

ES: Mis amigos son de Brazil.

EN: My friends are from Brazil.

ES:  El libro que estás leyendo es de Reino Unido.

EN: The book you are reading is from the UK.  

ES: La actriz es mexicana.

EN: The actress is Mexican.

ES: Ustedes son españoles.

EN: You are Spanish. (Formal plural You) 

ES: ¿Eres chino? 

EN: Are you Chinese? 

6) RELATIONS

When talking about personal relationships, your family relations, or romantic relationships, you will be using Ser in these sentences.

SER RELATIONS: Examples

ES: Juan es mi padre.

EN: Juan is my father.

ES:  Ella es mi mejor amiga.

EN: She is my best friend.  

ES: Somos vecinos.

EN: We are neighbors.

ES: Ellos son mis compañeros de trabajo.

EN: They are my work colleagues.

ES: Tú eres mi hija.

EN: You are my daughter.

To sum up, when you are unsure if you need to use Ser in a sentence, remember the DOCTOR acronym and check if any of the conditions mentioned above are relevant to what you are trying to express. By using these guidelines, you will quickly learn when to use Ser like a pro. 

SER AND ESTAR: WHEN TO USE ESTAR:

Now that you learned what rules and conditions are marking the use of Ser, let’s dive into the topic of when to use the verb Estar.

Estar also has some rules and guidelines on when it should be used in a sentence instead of Ser. Most teachers will tell you about the PLACE Acronym, which makes it easier to learn and remember the key rules for “Ser vs Estar

PLACE stands for the following: 

Position

Location

Actions 

Condition

Emotions

This acronym is pretty catchy and easy to remember. We will go over these 5 rules in more detail: 

Ser and Estar: DOCTOR Acronym on when you use Ser verb instead of Estar

Let me give you a couple of examples on each letter in the PLACE acronym:

1) POSITION

When using Estar for a position, you will use the verb to express the physical position or stance of a person or object that is being talked about. Is that someone sitting or standing or is an object above or below a different object. 

 

 

ESTAR POSITION: Examples

ES:Estoy corriendo a la tienda.

EN: I’m running to the shop.

ES: Tu madre está sentada en el sofá.

EN: Your mother is sitting on the sofa.

ES: Pedro está debajo de la mesa.

EN: Pedro is under the table.

ES: La estantería está cerca de la ventana.

EN: The shelf is near the window.

ES: La nevera está en la cocina.

EN: The fridge is in the kitchen.

2) LOCATION

When talking about the location of something or someone, no matter if that location is permanent or temporary, you will be using Estar to express it.

 

ESTAR LOCATION: Examples

ES: Mi casa está en la calle José Manuel Candela 32.

EN: My house is on Jose Manuel Candela Street 32.

ES: La tienda de ropa está en el centro comercial.

EN: The clothes shop is in the shopping center.

ES: Estás en el autobús.

EN: You are on the bus.

ES: El libro que quieres comprar no está en la librería de tu barrio.

EN: The book you want to buy is not in the bookshop in your neighborhood.

ES: Ellos están en el parque.

EN: They are in the park.

3) ACTIONS

When you are describing ongoing actions, you will be using Estar for expressing actions in the sentences. The reason for that is that for expressing ongoing actions you will be using the Spanish Gerund (Gerundio) which is always accompanied by Estar.

ESTAR ACTIONS: Examples

ES: Mi perro está corriendo en el parque.

EN: My dog is running in the park.

ES: Tu abuelo está comiendo patatas bravas.

EN: Your grandfather is eating patatas bravas.

ES: Están comprando ropa en las tiendas baratas.

EN: They are buying clothes in cheap shops.

ES: Estás cantando mi canción favorita.

EN: You are singing my favorite song.

ES: Estamos viendo una película.

EN: We are watching a movie now.

4) CONDITION

When you are talking about certain temporary conditions such as being sick, healthy, hungry, or tired for example, you have to use Estar for describing these conditions.

ESTAR CONDITION: Examples

ES: Hoy estoy cansada.

EN: I am tired today.

ES: Ayer estaba muy aburrida, no sé por qué.

EN: She was very boring yesterday, I don’t know why.

ES: Hoy estás muy contenta. ¿Qué ha pasado?

EN: You are very happy today. What happened?

ES: Tenemos hambre todo el día.

EN: We’re hungry all day.

ES: Están enfermos toda la semana.

EN: They’re sick all week.

5) EMOTIONS

When expressing emotions that a person is feeling, you have to use Estar to describe these emotions. 

ESTAR EMOTIONS: Examples

ES: Hoy estoy feliz.

EN: I am happy today.

ES: Ella está triste porque su hija está enferma.

EN: She is sad because her daughter is sick.

ES: Estamos muy cansados esta semana.

EN: We are very tired this week.

ES: Están muy tristes.

EN: They are very sad.

ES: ¿Estás bien?

EN: Are you OK?

CONCLUSION:

Now you know all there is to know about the Ser vs Estar topic.

I advise you to memorize these acronyms that we talked about before because they make learning the differences between the two verbs much easier. 

 

Remember: 

DOCTOR is for SER  and PLACE is for ESTAR.

 

Now that you got these basics covered, here are the sites and online resources where you can practice using Ser and Estar.

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