SER or ESTAR: The Ultimate Question

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Whether you’re a total beginner or you’ve been studying Spanish for a while, you might have heard that SER and ESTAR are a little bit challenging to master.

Let’s admit it, these two verbs drive learners completely crazy.

As it’s a long post we provide links that take you to the relevant sections. ¡Vamos!

Why Are These Verbs So Challenging?

  • SER and ESTAR can be both translated as ‘to be’.
  • This distinction doesn’t exist in other languages (except from Iberian Romance languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Galician and Catalan; and Mandarin).
  • The rules for when to use SER or ESTAR are not always obvious.

Why Do I Need to Know the Difference? Is It Really Important?

The short answer is yes, it’s very important. Using SER or ESTAR incorrectly can create a lot of communication problems and misunderstandings.

Just to give you a few examples, it’s very different to say “you are boring” and “you are bored”; “you are a good person” and “you are hot”. In all these cases the correct use of SER and ESTAR is crucial because it can change completely the meaning of the sentence.

But don’t worry, in this post, you’ll learn how to conjugate SER and ESTAR and we’ll tell you the most effective way to learn when to use them, so you’ll know how to tackle this key Spanish grammar topic. And you know what they say la práctica hace al maestro (“Practice makes perfect”).

What’s the Most Effective Way to Learn When to Use SER and ESTAR?

Thanks to 20 years of experience in teaching Spanish as a foreign language we know the struggle students face with the rules of SER and ESTAR – and most importantly – we also know how to overcome it.

The secret lies in … being patient, like most things in life. We know this doesn’t sound like the advice of the year, but it’s true!

The best way to learn when to use SER or ESTAR is to know their different uses. To make it much easier for you to learn them, we have divided the uses of SER and ESTAR accordingly to our 24 Level System to Spanish Fluency®.

How does it work? As you know, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is divided into 6 levels, but we wanted to go a step further and divided the first 4 levels into 24 sub-levels. That’s why in this post you’ll see the uses of SER and ESTAR divided in A1.1, A1.2, A1.3, A1.4, A2.1 … until you complete the B2 level (B2.8). Find out more about our system here.

¿Estás preparado/-a? – Are you ready?

SER and ESTAR Conjugations

First of all, let’s learn how to conjugate the verbs SER and ESTAR in the present simple or presente de indicativo. As you can see below, SER is an irregular verb. Let’s take a minute here to memorize it.

ESTAR on the other hand has only one irregular form (estoy) and therefore it’s easier to remember.







Él / Ella / Usted



Nosotros / Nosotras



Vosotros / Vosotras



Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes



When to Use SER and ESTAR
- Explained by Levels -

SER – Level 1-4  (A1.1-A1.4) Breakthrough 

  • Indentity (people, objects, animals…)

¿Quién es ella? – Es Sarah. (Who is she? – She’s Sarah.)

¡Hola! Soy Irene. (Hi! I’m Irene.)

¿Qué es esto? – Es una silla. (What’s this? – It’s a chair.)

¿Qué es eso? Es una jirafa. (What’s that? It’s a giraffe.)

  • Nationality or origin

Shakira es colombiana. (Shakira is Columbian.)

Rosalía y Antonio Banderas son de España. (Rosalía and Antonio Banderas are from Spain.)

Nosotros somos de una ciudad grande. (We are from a big city.)

Este queso es francés. (This cheese is French.)

Puerto de la Cruz es una ciudad española. (Puerto de la Cruz is a Spanish city.)

  • Profession 

Nosotros somos profesoras. (We’re teachers.)

eres arquitecto. (You are an architect.)

Madonna y Lady Gaga son cantantes. (Madonna and Lady Gaga are singers.)

Remember! In Spanish we don’t need the indefinite article “un(a)” before the profession. Instead of “Juan es un taxista”, we say “Juan es taxista”.

  • Description of places

El nuevo restaurante es muy grande y moderno. (The new restaurant is very big and modern.)

Tu casa es pequeña, pero es bastante acogedora. (Your house is small, but quite cozy.)

¿Cómo es vuestra casa? Es blanca, antigua y espaciosa. (What is your house like? It’s white, old and spacious.)

  • Physical description (people, animals, objects…)

La mesa es grande y marrón. (The table is big and brown.)

Tu gato es viejo y pequeño. (Your cat is old and small.)

¿Cómo es vuestra madre? Es delgada y rubia. (What’s your mother like? She’s slim and blonde.)

Attention: to say how old you are, you need TENER (to have):

¿Cuántos años tienes? Tengo 31 años. (How old are you? I’m 31 years old.)

  • Personality

Yo soy inteligente, pero no soy muy sociable. (I’m intelligent, but I’m not very sociable.)

Los niños son un poco tímidos. (The children are a bit shy.)

  • Possession

El libro es de María. (The book is Maria’s.)

Esos coches son de mi padre. (Those are my father’s cars.)

  • Relationships

Luis y Jacobo son primos. (Luis and Jacobo are cousins.)

Juan es el novio de Lorena. (Juan is Lorena’s boyfriend.)

  • Time and date

Hoy es lunes. (Today is Monday.)

Es la una y media. (It’s half past one.)

Son las siete y veinticinco. (It ‘s twenty-five past seven.)


When we express the time, the hour “one” is singular so the verb “ser” is conjugated in the 3rd person singular: es; the other hours (2, 3, 4, 5, etc) are plural so “ser” is conjugated in the 3rd person plural: son.

  • Prices

¿Cuánto es? Son diez euros. (– How much is it? – It ‘s ten euros.)


In Spanish we also say:
– ¿Cuánto cuesta? – Cuesta cinco euros. (- How much does it cost? – It costs five euros.) to ask for the price. When we use SER, it expresses the total price of a product.


💡 Do the quizzes below to practice when and how to use the verb ser. Do you still remember how to conjugate SER?

🎬  Watch the video below in which Carmen explains some of the A1 uses of SER and ESTAR.

ESTAR – Level 1-4  (A1.1-A1.4) Breakthrough 

  • Marital status

Mi hermano está soltero. (My brother is single.)

Estamos casados. (We’re married.)

Sus padres están divorciados. (His parents are divorced.)


Mi abuelo es viudo. (My grandpa is a widower.):

In the case of viudo/viuda (widow/widower) we normally use the verb SER.

  • Location (people, objects, animals and places)

El supermercado está al lado de la peluquería. (The supermarket is next to the hairdresser.)

Los actores están en el hotel. (The actors are at the hotel.)

El perro está en el sofá. (The dog is on the couch.)

  • States with bien and mal

– ¿Qué tal estás? – Estoy bien. (How are you? – I’m fine.)

– ¿Está bien el ejercicio? – No, está mal. (Is the exercise correct? – No, it’s incorrect/wrong.)


Let’s see if you can complete these quizzes:


Do the quizzes below to practice how to say the time in Spanish and to repeat some ser vs estar.


Great! You’ve made it. You already learned all uses of the verbs SER and ESTAR of A1.

Let’s do one last small quiz on SER/ESTAR before we start with level A2.

SER – Level 5-9  (A2.1-A2.5) Waystage 

  • Colors

– ¿De qué color son tus calcetines? – Which color are your socks?

– La casa es azul. – The house is  blue.

  • Materials

– La camiseta es de algodón orgánico. – The t-shirt is organic cotton.

– Esos bolsos no son de piel. – Those bags are not made of leather.

  •  Designs

– Ese vestido es de lunares. – That dress has polka dots.

– Las cortinas de Marta son de rayas. – Marta’s curtains are striped.

  •  Time (days of the week, months and seasons)

Hoy es domingo. – Today is Sunday.

Hace frío porque es febrero. – It’s cold because it’s February.

Es invierno. – It ‘s winter.

ESTAR – Level 5-9  (A2.1-A2.5) Waystage 

  • Actions in progress: ESTAR + gerundio

– ¿Qué estás haciendo(What are you doing?

– En este momento Juan y Carmen están tocando el piano. – Juan and Carmen are playing the piano at the moment.

– No puedo ir. Ahora mismo estoy comiendo. – I can’t go. I’m eating right now.

  • Physical states

Estoy enfermo. – I am sick.

Estamos cansados. – We are tired.

Están estresados. – They’re stressed out.

  • Weather expressions

– Hoy está un poco nublado. – It’s a bit cloudy today.

Está despejado.  – It’s not cloudy.

  • Temperature

– ¡Hace mucho calor! Estamos a 39ªC. – It’s really hot. It’s 39ªC.

– En el polo norte están a -40ºC . – It’s -40ªC in the north pole.


Time to practice what you’ve learned in level A2 about SER and ESTAR.


And now a little practice. Do the quiz below.


And that’s it about the uses of SER and ESTAR of level A2. How quickly did you get here?! Do you notice how setting small learning goals helps you advance easier? We hope you do. So, we directly dive into the B1 intermediate level on our way to conquer the SER / ESTAR topic!

SER / ESTAR – Level 10-16  (B1.1-B1.7) Threshold

Let’s continue to differentiate the uses of the verbs SER and ESTAR. You’ll see more examples of uses you already know, learn new forms of use and also exceptions of some rules. Also, you’ll get to know how SER and ESTAR influence the meaning of some adjectives.

You already know that we use the verb SER to describe things and people

For example we can say:

  • Qualities (people, animal, objects) – SER

Mi hermana es una persona muy responsable. – My sister is a very responsible person.

Other adjectives to describe people with SER are:

gracioso(a) (funny), culto(a) (educated), abierto(a) (open(-minded)), buena persona (good person), mentiroso(a) (liar), feliz (happy), tacaño(a) (stingy) or exigente (demanding).

  • States (people, animal, objects) – ESTAR

Marcos está un poco antipático hoy. – Marcos is a little unfriendly today.

This means Marcos is not always an unfriendly person, just today he seems to have a bad day and reacts in an unpleasant way.

These are more adjectives that can be used with the verb ESTAR:

contento(a) (happy), preocupado(a) (worried), triste (sad), furioso(a) (furious), harto(a) (fed up), or deprimido(a) (depressed)

ATTENTION! We use ESTAR to indicate physical states which means that dead or alive go also with this verb.

  • Mi abuela está muerta. – My grandmother is dead.
  • Mi bisabuela está viva. – My great grandmother is alive.
  • Location (people, animals, objects and places) – ESTAR

Mi abuela está en la playa. – My grandmother is at the beach.

El perro está cerca del parque. – The dog is near the park.

Las tijeras están encima de la mesa. – The scissors are on the table.

Londres está en Inglaterra. – London is in England.

  • Location (events: concerts, parties, exhibits…) – SER

El concierto es en el parque. – The concert is in the park.

La reunión fue en la sala de conferencias. – The meeting was in the conference room.

La fiesta será en casa de Rosa. – The party will be at Rosa’s. 

  • Positions with ESTAR  

Los niños están sentados. – The children are sitting.

La maestra está de pie. – The teacher is standing.

SER and ESTAR – Exceptions 

As we mentioned before, there are lots of exceptions of when to use SER or ESTAR.

Let’s have a look at them:

1. Exceptions when talking about the time

You learned that we use the verb SER to indicate the time and other time related expressions but we can also use the verb ESTAR in some cases. Let’s check them out:

Hoy es 10 de mayo – Estamos a 10 de mayo. (Today is May 10th.) We have to use: estamos + a/en + day/month/season/holiday.

  • Hoy es martes – Estamos a martes.
  • Es junio – Estamos en junio.
  • Es Navidad – Estamos en Navidad.
  • Es verano – Estamos en verano.

2. Exceptions when talking about jobs

If you aren’t talking about your “real profession”, and you want to refer to that temporary job you are currently doing, you can use ESTAR with the preposition “de”. By using ESTAR + de we emphasize that it isn’t a permanent situation.

Pedro no encuentra trabajo de psicólogo, así que está de camarero en un restaurante. – Pedro can’t find a job as a psychologist, so he is working as a waiter at a restaurant.

Julia sigue buscando trabajo de contable, pero por el momento está de recepcionista en el Hotel Gran Via. – Julia keeps looking for an accountant job but for the time being she’s a receptionist at the Gran Via Hotel.


We don’t say “estar de estudiante”.

3. Exceptions when talking about prices

When we talk about prices that are constantly changing (on a local market for example) we use ESTAR followed by the preposition “a”.

Los tomates de ensalada están de oferta, están a 80 céntimos el kilo. – The salad tomatoes are on sale, they are 80 cents per kilogram.

– ¿A cuánto están los plátanos hoy? – Están a 1, 50 el kilo. – How much are the bananas today? – They’re 1,50 per kilo.

SER and ESTAR + adjectives/adverbs

  • Adjectives with different meanings depending on SER or ESTAR.

Su padre es rico – His father is rich.
La paella está rica – The paella is tasty.

Es una chica muy lista – She’s a very smart girl.
Cojo el bolso y estoy lista – I take my bag and I’m ready.

Mi hermana está aburrida – My sister is bored.
Su novia es aburridaHis girlfriend is boring.

Acaba de terminar la carrera y está verde para este trabajo – tiene poca experiencia.
Las peras son verdes – color

Este filete no está bueno – no tiene buen sabor.
Es una mujer muy buena – buena persona.

  • Adjectives and adverbs that always go with SER or ESTAR. 

conocido(a) (famoso(a)) – desconocido(a)

bien – mal

legal – ilegal


fácil – difícil

cerca – lejos


de acuerdo – en desacuerdo


a favor – en contra


enfadado(a) – contento(a)


estropeado(a), roto(a) – arreglado(a)


lleno(a) – vacío(a)

parecido(a), similar

seguro(a) de

posible – imposible

prohibido(a) – permitido(a)




Wow, we’ve seen a a lot so far! Let’s practice with the quizzes below.

  • SER – recommendations and advice: es conveniente, es necesario, es importante, es bueno + que + subjuntivo.

Es conveniente que llamemos para reservar habitación en el hotel. – It is advisable that we call to reserve a room at the hotel.

No es bueno que comas tanto picante. – It’s not good for you to eat so much spicy food.

  • SER – probability: es posible, imposible, es probable, improbable + que + subjuntivo.

Es imposible que lleguen a tiempo. – There’s no way they’ll get there in time.

Es muy probable que nos cancelen el vuelo. – There’s a good chance they’ll cancel our flight.

  • SER – opinion, advice, and denying facts: no es verdad, no es cierto, es increíble, es absurdo, es maravilloso, es intolerable, es estupendo + que + subjuntivo.

Es importante que no me mientas. – It’s important that you don’t lie to me.

Es conveniente que hagas lo que te dicen. – It’s advisable that you do what you’re told.

Es triste que pienses así. – It’s sad that you feel that way.

Es fantástico que puedas venir a la fiesta. – It’s great that you can come to the party.


Test your knowledge with the following exercise.

  • ESTAR + subjuntivo. We use this to deny facts, express opinion, value, judgment, or advice with adjectives.

Está bien que los niños coman unas poquitas chucherías. – It’s okay for the kids to eat a little bit of candy.

Está mal que digas palabrotas. – It’s wrong to swear.

No está claro que puedan ganar la liga. – It’s not clear if they can win the league.

SER and ESTAR + indicativo. We use these two verbs in combination with adjectives and the indicative when we want to express certainty or conviction.

  • SER – Es evidente, es obvio, es verdad + que + indicativo.

Es evidente que está enfadada contigo. – She’s clearly mad at you.

Es obvio que nos ha mentido. – It’s obvious she’s been lying to us.

  • ESTAR – Está claro, está demostrado + que + indicativo.

Está claro que es culpable. – It’s clear he’s guilty.

Está demostrado que el tabaco es malo para la salud. – It’s been proven that tobacco is bad for your health.

Now, we want to teach you a few colloquial expressions with the verb ESTAR.


And… it’s quiz time again! Test below if you can apply what you’ve just learned.

That’s it for level B1. Lot’s of content and yes, we know, it got more difficult. But this is how you feel when you’re almost on top of a mountain, right? And be proud of yourself! You already know a lot about the verbs SER and ESTAR. Keep on going!

SER / ESTAR – Level 17-24  (B2.1-B2.8) Vantage 

In level B1 we saw that there are adjectives that, depending on whether they’re combined with SER or ESTAR, they have different meanings. Let’s remember some of them and learn many more:

  • SER abierto(a) – ser sociable, extrovertido(a)
  • ESTAR abierto(a) – no estar cerrado
  • SER aburrido(a) – no ser interesante o divertido(a)
  • ESTAR aburrido(a) – no estar entretenido(a)
  • SER cerrado(a) – ser introvertido(a), reservado(a)
  • ESTAR cerrado(a) – no estar abierto
  • SER despierto(a) – ser listo(a), inteligente
  • ESTAR despierto(a) – no estar dormido(a)
  • SER entretenido(a) – divertir a la gente
  • ESTAR entretenido(a) – no estar aburrido
  • SER listo(a) – ser inteligente
  • ESTAR listo(a) – estar preparado.
  • SER malo(a) – no tener cualidades positivas o ser negativo para la salud
  • ESTAR malo(a) – estar enfermo (personas, animales), no saber bien (comida, bebida) o estar caducado o no apto para comer (comida, bebida)
  • SER maduro(a) – tener la capacidad mental de un adulto o no ser joven (por edad)
  • ESTAR maduro(a) – estar en el punto perfecto para comer (fruta, verdura)
  • SER rico(a) – tener mucho dinero
  • ESTAR rico(a) – tener buen sabor (con comida y bebida)
  • SER seguro(a) – no ser peligroso
  • ESTAR seguro(a) – estar convencido(a) o estar protegido(a)
  • SER verde – hace referencia al color
  • ESTAR verde – ser inmaduro o no tener experiencia

And once again you also get to practice what you’ve just learned by opening the SER or ESTAR quiz below.

Here you have more adjectives that work with the verb SER and others that work with ESTAR.

To express qualities we use SER + ambicioso(a), afectuoso(a), agresivo(a), amable, apasionado(a), callado(a), constante(a), curioso(a), celoso(a), cobarde, discreto(a), desagradable, despistado(a), egoísta, generoso(a), perfeccionista, envidioso(a), falso(a), fiel, puntual, responsable, justo(a), serio(a), etc.

To express moods we use ESTAR + animado(a), desanimado(a), contento(a), fascinado(a), feliz, ilusionado(a), desilusionado(a), satisfecho(a), sorprendido(a), agobiado(a), apenado(a), avergonzado(a), dolido(a), disgustado(a) o resignado(a).

  • Stating facts or giving opinions.

With the verb SER + un(a) + noun we have structures like: es una suerte, es una lástima que.

For example: Es una lástima que no puedas venir. – It’s a pity you can’t come.

With the verb SER + adjective we have: es horrible, es estupendo, es alarmante, es increíble que.

For example: Es horrible todo lo que le ha pasado. – It’s horrible, everything that’s happened to him.

With the verb ESTAR + adjective we say for example:

Está claro que ha sido él. – It’s clear that he did it.

With the verb ESTAR + adverb we can say:
Está bien que me lo hayas dicho. – It’s good that you told me.
Está mal que lo ignores. – It’s wrong to ignore it.


And let’s see if you also pass the last quiz?! We’re sure you’ll do 😉

Congratulations! And thank you! For staying with us until the end of this blog post. You’ve just finished learning an essential part of the Spanish grammar which will help you a lot on your way to Spanish fluency.

Of course, knowing how to handle the verbs SER and ESTAR is only one part of the language, so don’t expect to wake up tomorrow and be fluent in Spanish. The best is to keep on practicing, so why don’t you have a look at our variety of online Spanish lessons?

See you in class! ¡Hasta pronto!

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