HOW TO USE SER VS ESTAR IN SPANISH

If you have ever been confused by ser vs estar, then this post will help you with a list all of the most common uses of these two important Spanish verbs.

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HOW TO USE SER VS ESTAR IN SPANISH

If you have been studying Spanish for some time, you’ll already know how challenging these verbs can be.

If you are just starting out, there are two reasons why these verbs are so difficult: They are both a translation of the English verb ‘to be’.

To help you learn ser and estar in Spanish, Below are 14 of the most common uses of these Spanish verbs including some important exceptions to the usual rules.

Below you can learn the main uses of ser and estar, you’ll also see how to conjugate these verbs in the past, and you’ll get a simple decision making model you can use to make a quick guess if you can’t remember a specific rule.

you can see below all the main uses of ser vs estar with links to examples and explanations.

SER

1 Physical characteristics
2 Nationality or origin
3 Price
4 Profession
5 Event location
6 Date and time
7 Possession
8 Identification

ESTAR

1 Physical states or emotions
2 Physical location
3 Temporary or variable prices
4 Temporary job
5 Progressive tense
6 Date (option 2)

Ask yourself if you are talking about a permanent or temporary quality. If something seems temporary, use estar, if it is a more permanent quality, use ser.

Another approach is to consider the answers to the following questions:

Where? (estar) Ejemplo: Mi casa está al lado del río.
How? (estar) Ejemplo: ¿Cómo estás?
What? (ser) Ejemplo: Eso es de color amarillo
Who? (ser) Ejemplo: Soy musico OR Ella es mi prima.

The past conjugations of ser and estar
To compound the challenge of ser and estar, there are the two main past tenses in Spanish: the past simple and the past imperfect.

These two past tenses combine to create a perfect storm of confusion for an English student learning Spanish. You’ll see here there are now four translations of the phrase ‘I was’. These are:

SER PAST SIMPLE – SER PAST IMPERFECT

Here are the conjugations of “ser” in the two past tenses:

Yo fui… – Yo era
Yo estuve… – Yo estaba…
Tu fuiste… – Tu eras…
El/ella fué… – El/ella era…
Nosotros fuimos… – Nosotros éramos…
Ustedes fueron… – Ustedes eran
Ellos fueron… – Ellos eran…

ESTAR PAST SIMPLE –  ESTAR PAST IMPERFECT

Here are the conjugations of “estar” in the two past tenses:

Yo estuve… – Yo estaba
Tu estuviste… – Tu estabas…
El/ella estuvo… – El/ella estaba…
Nosotros estuvimos… – Nosotros estábamos…
Ustedes estuvieron… – Ustedes estában
Ellos estuvieron… – Ellos estában…

Past simple tense: for events that have a clearly defined start and end moment in time.
Past imperfect tense: for events that have no clearly defined start and end.

“SER” USES

Use 1 of Ser – Physical characteristics
The first use of ser is for describing characteristics such as height, shape, size, colour and material.
English: The tree is tall.
Español: El árbol es alto.

English: When he was adolescent, he was quite handsome.
Español: Cuando era adolescente, era muy guapo.

English: The table is make of wood.
Español: La mesa es de madera.

When you want to describe the materials an object is made out of, you should combine ser with the preposition de, such as this last example.

Use 2 of Ser – Nationality or origin
This use of ser is one of the easier uses to remember. Where you are from is a permanent characteristic, it is possible to move and live in a new location, but in Spanish you should always describe your origin with ser.

English: I’m Australian (I’m from Australia).
Español: Soy Australiano (Soy de Australia).

English: Last week I met a girl and she was Colombian.
Español: La semana pasada conocí a una chica y era colombiana.

English: The rice is from Spain.
Español: El arroz es de España.

Use 3 of Ser – Price
When you want to ask or describe the price of an item in Spanish, mostly you will need to use ser. You will see later that there is an exception for variables prices such as those in the markets.

English: How much is it (all)?
Español: ¿Cuánto es (todo)?

English: They are €40 (forty euros).
Español: Son €40 (cuarenta euros).

English: The prices here are expensive.
Español: Los precios aquí son caros.

Use 4 of Ser – Profession
When you are describing your chosen profession, the career you intend to devote yourself to in the mediate to long term, you should use ser.

English: He’s a carpenter.
Español: Él es un carpintero.

English: She’s the boss of a small business.
Español: Ella es la jefa de un pequeño negocio.

English: We are teachers.
Español: Somos profesores.

Use 5 of Ser – Event location
This use of ser can be confusing. Normally you need to use estar with location but when you are talking about events such as a meeting, a party, a wedding, or a conference, you need to use ser.

English: The show is in the center of town.
Español: El espectáculo es en el centro.

English: The wedding was in the countryside.
Español: La boda fue en el campo.

English: The conference was in Valencia, but they changed it and now it’s in Barcelona.
Español: La conferencia era en Valencia, pero lo cambiaron y ahora es en Barcelona.

Use 6 of Ser – Date and time
In most cases, ser is used to talk about date and time.

English: It’s three o’clock.
Español: Son las tres.

English: Today is Thursday.
Español: Hoy es Jueves.

English: My birthday is in five days.
Español: Mi cumpleaños es dentro de cinco días.

Use 7 of Ser – Possession
Even though ownership can change hands quickly, you need to talk about it with ser.

English: This idea is hers.
Español: Esta idea es de ella.

English: That pen is mine.
Español: Ese bolígrafo es mío.

English: Is this yours?
Español: ¿Esto es tuyo?

Use 8 of Ser – Identification
Ser is also used to identify an item or person.

English: This is Almodóvar’s new movie.
Español: Esta es la nueva película de Almodóvar.

English: What is that?!
Español: ¡¿Qué es esto?!

English: This is my best friend.
Español: Este es mi mejor amigo.

“ESTAR” USES

Use 1 of Estar – Physical states or emotions
The first use of estar is for describing temporary states such as being sick or emotional.

English: He isn’t at work today because he is sick.
Español: Él no está en el trabajo hoy porque está enfermo.

English: My girlfriend is sad because she is too busy.
Español: Mi novia está triste porque está demasiada ocupada.

English: My grandparents are dead.
Español: Mis abuelos están muertos.

This last example really tests the simple rule for ser and estar as permanent and temporary states respectively. If something or someone is dead, this doesn’t strike me as a state that is going to change anytime soon, but nonetheless you need to estar to describe their current physical state.

Use 2 of Estar – Physical location
If you are reading this post in order, you will have already seen that ser is used to talk about location with events. Apart from that exception, estar is used for all other situations to describe location.

English: Where are you?
Español: ¿Dónde estás?

English: Yesterday we were at the beach.
Español: Ayer estuvimos en la playa.

English: The table is next to the television.
Español: La tabla está al lado de la televisión.

Use 3 of Estar – Temporary or variable prices
In contrast to the third use of ser for price, estar is used in combination with the preposition a to talk about prices that change on a daily basis, such as those in a local market.

English: How much is the octopus today?
Español: ¿A cuánto está el pulpo hoy?

English: Today it’s €8 (eight euros) per kilo.
Español: Hoy está a €8 (ocho euros) el kilo.

English: Last week oranges were two dollars per kilo.
Español: La semana pasada naranjas estuvieron a dos dólares el kilo.

Use 4 of Estar – Temporary job
When you aren’t talking about your life’s calling or profession, and you only want to refer to temporary work, you can use estar in combination with the preposition de to describe what you are temporarily doing.

English: I’m a student.
Español: Estoy de estudiante.

English: I’m a waiter but I want to be a lawyer.
Español: Estoy de camarero pero quiero ser abogado.

English: I’m a receptionist to get by but I would like to be a teacher.
Español: Estoy de recepcionista para sobrevivir, pero me gustaría ser profesora.

Use 5 of Estar – Progressive tense
This use of estar forms a new Spanish tense, and is used to talk about what is happening continuously in any given moment. To form this tense you need to combine the verb estar with the Spanish gerundio, which is the Spanish equivalent of ‘walking’, ‘singing’, ‘running’, or ‘talking’.

English: I’m speaking with my mother on the phone.
Español: Estoy hablando con mi madre por teléfono.

English: I’m looking for information about this city.
Español: Estoy buscando información sobre esta ciudad.

English: I can’t speak with you right now, I’m working.
Español: No puedo hablar contigo ahora mismo, estoy trabajando.

Use 6 of Estar – Date (option 2)
The last use of estar is for talking about ‘being’ in a day, date or month. If you are going to talk about the date with this use of estar you can only use it as the first person plural and in combination with the preposition a for the day or en for the month or year.

English: It’s Tuesday (we are on Tuesday).
Español: Estamos a Martes.

English: We are in May.
Español: Estamos en Mayo.

English: Today we are at the 18th of February.
Español: Hoy estamos a 18 de febrero.

NOW YOU PRACTICE THE VERB SER OR ESTAR!

The rules in this post don’t cover every aspect of ser vs estar. But, if you do learn these rules and you learn them well, you will be ahead of most Spanish students. Moreover, any shortfall from a full knowledge of the topic will go completely unnoticed.

I suggest you practice the uses of ser and estar in combination with two main past conjugations.

Try telling a Spanish native friend a story about something that happened to you recently, and set the scene with where, when, and what you were doing using the rules above.

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HOW TO USE SER VS ESTAR IN SPANISH

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By |January 4th, 2019|spanish-language|