Ser or Estar - That Is the Question
Spanish Toughest Verbs – Ser and Estar – Explained and Made Easy by Our Spanish Teachers
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.
Ok let’s admit it, these two verbs drive learners completely crazy.
As this is going to be a long post we will provide links that will take you to the relevant sections of the post below. You also find a more detailed menu bar on the right side of this post to easily navigate to the parts that are relevant to you.
Table of Contents
1. Why are these verbs so challenging?
2. Do I really need to know the difference? Is it that important?
3. What’s the most effective way to learn when to use ser vs estar?
4. Ser and estar conjugations
5. When to use ser and estar explained by levels
Why are these verbs so challenging?
- Ser and estar can both be translated into English 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 might not be always that obvious.
Do I really need to know the difference? Is it that important?
We’re really sorry to say this, but yes, it’s actually quite important. Using ser or estar incorrectly can create so much confusion. 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 good looking”. In all these cases the use of ser and estar is crucial because they could 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 ser or estar, so you’ll know how to tackle this 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 vs estar?
Thanks to 20 years of experience of teaching Spanish to foreigners we know the struggle students can face when being confronted with the rules of how to use ser and estar – and most importantly – we also know how to overcome it.
The secret lies in … being patient, like mostly in life. We know, this doesn’t sound like the advice of the year, but wait, there’s more!
A bit of patience is needed with this special grammar topic because it appears in various levels on the ladder of reaching Spanish fluency.
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.
How does this system 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 will see the uses of ser and estar divided in A1.1, A1.2, A1.3, A1.4, A2.1 … until you reach the complete B2 level, which in our system corresponds to level 24 (B2.8). Have a look at the graphic below to better understand our level devision.
I’m sure you’ve heard that the golden rule to understand the difference is that ser is used to talk about something that is permanent and estar for something that is not permanent. We’re sorry to tell you that this is not the case. It is not. If this were true, then why do we say “Estar muerto” and NOT “Ser muerto”?
With this blog post we want to help you learn, once and for all, the uses of ser and estar. It will be very easy for you, because as we said before, our own teaching system will help you. ¿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 indicative. As you can see below, ser is an irregular verb. Let’s take a minute here to memorize it.
Estar on the other hand is regular and therefore easier to remember.
Él / Ella / Usted
Nosotros / Nosotras
Vosotros / Vosotras
Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes
When to Use Ser and Estar
- Explained by Levels -
We use the verb ser to identify, to say someone’s nationality and profession – Level 1 (A1.1 / Novice Low)
So, let’s get straight to it!
First of all, we use the verb ser to identify people or objects. So, to find out who someone is or what something is.
For example, we say:
¿Quién es usted? – Yo soy Sarah. (Who are you? – I’m Sarah.)
¿Y quién es ella? (And who is she?
¿Qué es eso? – Es una silla. (What’s that? – It’s a chair.)
Also, we use the verb ser to say someone’s nationality.
Shakira es colombiana. (Shakira is Columbian.)
Nosotros somos polacos. (We are Polish.)
Another use of the verb ser is to say someone’s profession.
Nosotros somos profesoras. (We’re teachers.)
Ustedes son arquitectos. (You are architects.)
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”.
These are all basics for first conversations in Spanish which is why we have to learn these uses of the verb ser right at the beginning.
🎬 Watch the video below in which Carmen, one of our teachers at Let’s Speak Spanish, explains the A1.1 uses of ser.
Now, let’s see what you’ve learned so far.
💡 Do the quizzes below to practice when and how to use the verb ser. Do you still remember how to conjugate ser?
Let’s practice! Level 1 (A1.1)
We use ser to describe persons and objects, say someone’s age and express possession – Level 2 (A1.2 / Novice Mid 1/2)
We use ser to describe objects and people, their physical appearance and their personality.
Specifically, we use the verb ser to:
We also use the verb ser to indicate possession of objects and family/friend relationships.
– ¿De quién es este libro? – Es de mi hermana. (- Whose book is this? – It ‘s my sister’s.)
Esta es mi madre, mi padre y estos son mis hermanos. (This is my mother, my father and these are my siblings.)
We use the verb estar to talk about civil status, positions and locations – Level 2 (A1.2 / Novice Mid 1/2)
When we talk about marital status, we use the verb estar.
Mi hermano está soltero. (My brother is single.)
Estamos casados. (We’re married.)
Sus padres están divorciados. (His parents are divorced.)
But remember: Mi abuelo es viudo. (My grandpa is a widower.): In the case of viudo/viuda (widow/widower) we don’t use the verb estar but we use the verb ser instead.
We also use the verb estar when we describe the physical position, the location or the posture of a person, thing or animal.
El supermercado está al lado de la peluquería. (The supermarket 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.)
Ser vs estar quiz - Let’s practice! - Level 2 (A1.2)
We use ser to express day and time – Level 3 (A1.3 / Novice Mid 2/2)
In most cases, we use ser to talk about 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.)
Remember! 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.
Do the quizzes below to practice how to say the time in Spanish and to repeat some ser vs estar.
Ser vs estar quiz - Let’s practice! - Level 3 (A1.3)
We use ser to say the price – Level 4 (A1.4 / Novice High 1/3)
Have you noticed? You’re already at level 4 (A1.4), at the last level of the A1 beginners level, with the learning of ser and estar. It wasn’t so bad until now, right?
So let’s finish this level with two more uses of ser and estar.
When we ask for the total price of a product we use the verb ser.
– ¿Cuánto es? – Son diez euros. (– How much is it? – It ‘s ten euros.)
Remember: 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.
We use estar to express conditions with good and bad – Level 4 (A1.4 / Novice High 1/3)
When we want to express conditions with the adjectives bien y mal (good and bad) we use the verb estar.
– ¿Cómo está tu padre? – Está bien. (How ‘s your father? – He ‘s fine.)
– ¿Qué tal está el ejercicio? – Está mal. (How ‘s the exercise? – It ‘s bad.)
Let’s do one last small quiz of ser vs estar before we start with level A2.
Ser vs estar quiz - Let’s practice! - Level 4 (A1.4)
Great! You’ve made it. You already learned all uses of the verbs ser and estar of level A1. So, let’s continue with level A2!
We use ser to describe color, material, design and weekdays, months and seasons – Level 5 (A2.1 / Novice High 2/3)
You’ve reached the start of the A2 elementary level of the ser and estar challenge.
So, let’s begin with some more uses of ser.
We use the verb ser to:
We also use the verb ser with the days of the week, the months of the year, and the seasons.
Hoy es domingo. (Today is Sunday.)
Es invierno. (It ‘s winter.)
Mi cumpleaños es en marzo, el día 5. (My birthday is in March, the fifth.)
We use estar to talk about actions in progressive tense – Level 5 (A2.1 / Novice High 2/3)
Another use of the verb estar is to talk about actions that are performed right now or often in the present. We use estar with the gerund – estar + gerundio.
Estoy aprendiendo español. (I’m studying Spanish.)
Ahora mismo está comiendo. (Right now, he/she is eating.)
Time to practice what you’ve learned in level A2.1 about ser and estar.
Ser vs estar quiz - Let’s practice! - Level 5 (A2.1)
We use estar to express symptoms and physical conditions – Level 6 (A2.2 / Novice High 3/3)
In level A2.2 you just learn one quick use of the verb estar which is that we use estar to express symptoms and physical states.
Estoy enfermo. (I am sick.)
Estamos cansados. (We are tired.)
Están estresados. (They’re stressed out.)
And now a little practice. Do the quiz below.
Ser vs estar quiz - Let’s practice! - Level 6 (A2.2)
We use ser to express possession – Level 8 (A2.4 / Intermediate Low 2/3)
As you already know from level A1.2, we use ser to express possession. Here in level 8 (2.4), we’ll show you some more examples and different ways of how to express possession in Spanish.
Este es mi ordenador. (This is my computer.)
Este ordenador es mío. (This computer is mine.)
Este ordenador es el mío. (This computer is mine.)
We use estar to talk about the weather and temperature – Level 8 (A2.4 / Intermediate Low 2/3)
In level 2.4 you also learn that we use the verb estar to:
Next up, it’s quiz time again!
Ser vs estar quiz - Let’s practice! - Level 8 (A2.4)
And that’s it already about the uses of ser and estar of level A2. How quickly did you get until 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 vs estar topic!
We use ser and estar to describe the condition of things and people – Level 10 (B1.1 / Intermediate Mid 1/3)
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.
Shall we start?
You already know that we use the verb ser to describe things and people. In the levels A1.2 and A2.1 we focused more on describing objects. Now, we’ll show you some examples of how to describe people using the verb ser.
For example we can say:
Mi hermana es una persona muy metódica y responsable. (My sister is a very methodical and responsible person.)
Other adjectives to describe people which work with the verb ser are:
gracioso (funny), culto (educated), abierto (open(-minded)), buena persona (good person), mentiroso (untruthful), feliz (happy/satisfied), tacaño (stingy) or exigente (demanding).
- We employ ser in front of nouns: Clara es abogada. (Clara is a lawyer.)
- We use ser in front of possessives: Este libro es mío. (This is my book.)
- To indicate the time and in other expressions with time. For example:
- Son las diez. (It ‘s ten o’clock.)
- Hoy es 8 de junio. (Today is June 8th.)
- But there are exceptions. We’ll see them later.
On the other hand we use the verb estar to describe the (current) state of objects and people.
For example we say:
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 adjectives that can be used with the verb estar:
contento (happy), preocupado (worried), triste (sad), furioso (angry), harto (fed up), or deprimido (depressed)
However, there are quite a few exceptions. For example: Estar muerto. (To be dead.)
We also use the verb estar to:
- Indicate a location. For example: Estamos en Tenerife. (We are in Tenerife.)
- Indicate a condition or situation. For example: Estoy cansado. (I’m tired.)
- Describe positions. For example: Los niños están sentados. (The children are sitting.)
Exceptions of ser and estar rules – Level 10 (B1.1 / Intermediate Mid 1/3)
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: estar (in the person nosotros (we)) + a + día (day).
- Hoy es martes – Estamos a martes. (Today is Tuesday)
- Es junio – Estamos en junio.
- Es Navidad – Estamos en Navidad
- Es verano – Estamos en verano
We need: estar (in the person nosotros (we)) + en + meses (months), períodos de tiempo (time periods) and estaciones (seasons).
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.)
Remember: We don’t say “estar de estudiante”.
3. Exceptions when talking about prices
When we want to emphasize that prices 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 in offer, 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.)
Some adjectives have different meanings depending on whether they are combined with ser or estar – Level 10 (B1.1 / Intermediate Mid 1/3)
Additionally, there are some adjectives that have different meanings if we use them in combination with SER or ESTAR.
Let’s see some examples:
Su padre es rico – tiene mucho dinero
La paella está rica – que tiene buen sabor
Es una chica muy lista – inteligente
Cojo el bolso y estoy lista – estar preparada
Mi hermana está aburrida – siente aburrimiento
Su novia es aburrida – no es divertida
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.
Then on the other hand, in some cases you don’t have to think much, as there are some adjectives that always go with ser and others always with estar. Have a look at the table below and start using these adjectives with the correct verb!
conocido (famoso) – desconocido
bien – mal
legal – ilegal
fácil – difícil
cerca – lejos
de acuerdo – en desacuerdo
a favor – en contra
enfadado – contento
estropeado (roto) – arreglado
lleno – vacío
posible – imposible
prohibido – permitido
Wow, level B1.1 is really full of ser vs estar uses! In order not to forget them, practice with the quizzes below.
Ser vs estar quiz - Let’s practice! - Level 10 (B1.1)
We use ser to make recommendations, give advice and to express probability, opinions, make a judgment, or give advice using adjectives and a subjunctive – Level 14 (B1.5 / Intermediate High 2/3)
We use the verb ser to make recommendations and give advice. We have expressions like: 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.)
Also, we use the verb ser to express probability, like: 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.)
In addition, we can use the verb ser to express opinion, judgement, or to deny facts or give advice with adjectives using the subjunctive. You can use structures such as: 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 B1.5 knowledge with the following quiz.
Ser vs estar quiz - Let’s practice! - Level 14 (B1.5)
We also use estar to deny facts, express an opinion, make a judgment, or give advice using adjectives and a subjunctive – Level 15 (B1.6 / Intermediate High 3/3)
We can also use the verb estar to deny facts, express opinion, value judgment or advice with adjectives and using the subjunctive.
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.)
Until now, you’ve seen sentence structures that work with the subjunctive. Now, you’ll get to know structures that work with the verbs ser and estar + the indicative. We use these two verbs in combination with adjectives and the indicative when we want to express certainty or conviction.
With the verb ser we have structures like: 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.)
And with the verb estar we have the following structures: 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.)
We also use estar to deny facts, express an opinion, make a judgment, or give advice using adjectives and a subjunctive – Level 15 (B1.6 / Intermediate High 3/3)
Now, we want to teach you colloquial expressions with the verb estar.
Do you know for example what it means when someone says something like: “Estoy a dos velas”? or …¿”Está loco” or “Estoy lleno”? No? Then keep on reading!
And… it’s quiz time again! Test below if you can apply what you’ve just learned.
Ser vs estar quiz - Let’s practice! - Level 15 (B1.6)
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 vs estar. Keep on going!
More adjectives that have different meanings depending on whether they are combined with ser or estar – Level 17 (B2.1 / Advanced Low 2/3)
You’re already so close to reaching Spanish fluency and to mastering all uses of ser and estar. Congratulations already on making it so far! But there’s still a little bit more to learn about these two challenging Spanish verbs.
So, let’s continue with the differentiation.
We use the verb ser with adjectives to express the character or characteristics of what is being described.
Es un edificio muy alto. Tiene 23 pisos. (It’s a very tall building. It has 23 floors.)
We use the verb estar, also with adjectives, to describe (current) states.
La estantería está demasiado alta, hay que bajarla un poco. (The shelf is too high, we have to lower it a bit.)
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 significa ser sociable, ser amistoso.
- Estar abierto significa no estar cerrado.
- Ser aburrido, aburrir a la gente.
- Estar aburrido es sentir aburrimiento.
- Ser cerrado quiere decir ser tímido, reservado
- Estar cerrado es no estar abierto
- Ser despierto es ser listo, ser inteligente
- Estar despierto es no estar dormido
- Ser entretenido significa divertir a la gente
- Estar entretenido significa no estar aburrido
- Ser listo es ser inteligente
- Estar listo significa estar preparado.
- Ser malo es no tener buena intención
- Estar malo es estar enfermo o no tener algo buen sabor
- Ser maduro es tener madurez, no ser infantil
- Estar maduro es estar en su punto
- Ser rico es tener mucho dinero
- Estar rico significa tener buen sabor
- Ser seguro es que no es peligroso
- Estar seguro significa estar protegido
- Ser verde es tener ese color
- Estar verde es inmaduro o no estar preparado
And now I’m going to tell you more adjectives that work with the verb ser and adjectives that work with estar.
We already know that to express qualities we use ser and we can use adjectives like:
ambicioso, afectuoso, agresivo, amable, apasionado, callado, constante, curioso, celoso, cobarde, discreto, desagradable, despistado, egoísta, generoso, perfeccionista, envidioso, falso, fiel, puntual, responsable, justo, serio, etc.
To express moods we use the verb estar. Here are some adjectives:
animado, desanimado, contento, fascinado, feliz, ilusionado, desilusionado, satisfecho, sorprendido, agobiado, apenado, avergonzado, dolido, disgustado o resignado.
And as always you also get to practice what you’ve just learned by opening the ser vs estar quiz below.
Ser vs estar quiz - Let’s practice! - Level 17 (B2.1)
Let’s see some sentence structures with ser and estar that we use to confirm that a fact is true or to give an opinion about a fact – Level 19 (B2.3 / Advanced Mid 1/3)
Can you believe it?! You’ve already reached the last level of the topic ser and estar within our teaching system! Looking back it wasn’t all that bad, right? So, let’s get this last part done!
As a last step we’re going to explain constructions with ser and estar that we use to confirm that a fact is true or give an opinion about a fact.
With the verb ser + a substantive 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 + an 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 + an adjective we say for example: Está claro que ha sido él. (It’s clear that he did it.)
With the verb estar + an adverb we can say: Está bien que me lo hayas dicho. (It’s good that you told me.) Está mal que no hagas caso. (It’s wrong to ignore it.)
And let’s see if you also pass the last quiz?! We’re sure you’ll do 😉
Ser vs estar quiz - Let’s practice! - Level 17 (B2.1)
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 soon in class! ¡Hasta pronto!
Want To Learn Spanish The Fastest Way Possible?
With a flexible class schedule, you decide when’s the best time to take private Spanish lessons!
We teach you according to our 24 Level System to Spanish Fluency®, where we clearly define your next goals to be accomplished fast so you stay motivated all the way to Spanish fluency.