What is the difference between ser and estar?

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What is the difference between ser and estar?

What is the difference between ser and estar? – When beginning to learn Spanish, one of the first obstacles you will face is determining how to properly use the verbs ser and estar. The bad news is that both of these are translated into English as “to be,” which makes things a bit more interesting. What’s the upbeat report? If you have no prior information, then you have an equal probability of getting it correctly either way. It may even be worse!

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What is the difference between ser and estar?
    Ser? Estar? ¡Ay caramba!

    In order to improve your odds and begin making educated guesses, you will first need to let go of your mono concept of “to be” and understand that you will need to perform a secondary analysis in order to determine which “to be” you will require in order to accurately express what it is that you want to say. Your brain will need some time to adjust to the new information, but we are certain that with a little bit of practise, you will be able to get the hang of it.

    First, let’s have a look at the present tense conjugations:

    Él, Ella, Ustedesestá
    Ellos, Ellas, Ustedessonestán

    NOTE: If the verb in question is estar, the conjugation will always start with the prefix est-. This is just a brief hint to help you remember which conjugation corresponds to which form. The “other one” is known as Ser.

    It is in your best interest to spend a few moments learning things by heart before jumping in headfirst. Just take a moment to focus on conjugating one verb. Take a piece of paper with you and try to jot down as much as you can from memory on the sheet. If you get anything incorrect, try it again till you get 100%.

    Now, the difficult part: deciding. The very short solution is to follow this straightforward rule: the preposition ser is used to signify permanent states, whereas the preposition estar is used to indicate transient states and locales. This addresses the vast majority of it, and if you follow the steps in the right order, your accuracy will climb to roughly 85%. Better than half and half!

    Taking a more macro perspective, the most effective way to tackle this is from a situational one. You will never have a reason to list every possible application of Spanish unless you are getting ready to become a Spanish teacher. To become proficient in a language, all you need to know is the appropriate thing to say at any given time.

    And while we’re on the subject of those “moments,” here’s pretty much all you needed to know about the difference between ser and estar. ¡Vamos! (Let’s go!)


    Permanent States – SER:

    You are going to use ser whenever you want to describe the appearance of someone or anything, the attributes that they have, where they are from, what they are made of, their profession, their nationality, etc.

    Madrid es grande.Madrid is big.
    El libro es de México.The book is from Mexico.
    Ellos son altos.They are tall.
    Yo no soy marinero, soy capitán.I am not a sailor, I am a captain.
    Temporary States – ESTAR:

    The verb estar is used for describing a more fleeting quality, such as an individual’s current state of mind or the way something appears, feels, smells, etc. at the present instant.

    La ciudad está tranquila (esta noche).The city is calm (this evening).
    Yo estoy listo ahora.I am ready now.
    La sopa está demasido caliente.The soup is too hot.
    Ellos están felices porque hace sol.They are happy because it is sunny.
    ¿Cómo estás?How are you?
    Estoy bien.I am well.

    Estar is used to specify a location while giving directions or an explanation.

    Lima está en Peru.Lima is in Peru.
    Tú estás en el café.You are in the café.
    La comida está sobre la mesa.The food is on the table.
    Ellos no están aquí.They are not here.

    To be clear, a thing’s or a person’s location need not be a fixed one. Whatever the case, estar it must be, save for….

    If you need to specify where anything is taking place, use ser.

    La fiesta es en mi casa.The party is at my house.
    El concierto es en el estadio.The concert is in the stadium.
    ¿Qué hora es?What time is it?
    Es la una.It is one o’clock.
    Son las dos.It is 2 o’clock.
    ¿Qué fecha es?What is the date?
    Es el 1 de enero.It is the 1st of January.
    ¿Qué día es hoy?What day is it today?
    Es el lunes.It is Monday.
    ¿De quién es el libro?Whose book is it?
    Es mi libro.It’s my book.
    No, es su libro.No, it’s her book.
    Es el libro de Pedro, no?It’s Pedro’s book, isn’t it?


    There are instances when both are grammatically correct. However, the meaning will change dramatically depending on what you use.

    ¿Cómo está tu madre?How is your mother?
    Está bien.She is well.
    ¿Cómo es tu madre?What does your mother look like?
    Es alta y rubia.She is tall and blond.
    Está contenta.She is happy. (at the moment)
    Es contenta.She is happy. (she is generally a happy person)
    Está fría.She is cold. (to the touch)
    Es fría.She is cold. (she has a cold personality)
    Note: “She is cold”, as in “she needs a blanket” is Ella tiene frío. See our upcoming piece on expressions using tener to learn more.

    More examples:

    La ciudad es bonita.The city is beautiful.
    La ciudad está bonita.The city is beautiful. (in this moment)
    La banana es verde.The banana is green. (that’s the variety)
    La banana está verde.The banana is green. (it’s unripe)
    Está soltero.He is single.
    Estamos casadas.We are married.
    Estoy viva.I’m alive.
    Están muertos.They are dead.
    Él es mi hermano.He is my brother.
    Somos esposos.We are spouses.
    Son sus padres.They are his parents.
    Soy tu profesora.I am your teacher.

    ¡Ahí está! That settles it! The rules of ser y estar are complex, and the examples given here are not meant to cover every possible scenario. That’s the kind of thing that would make us giddy (and it does). These are the big-picture considerations for our current discussion. Your accuracy should be closer to 99% if you can get your brain around all of the above and put it into practice. You’ll learn the rest as you go along and fit it into what you already know.

    Oh, and always keep in mind that setbacks are only lessons in disguise. Don’t worry too much about the little failures since they get you closer to success.

    To be or not to be. That is the question. (Hamlet) — What would you say? (Bonus question!)

    Ser o no ser, esa es la cuestión.

    If you wish to learn Spanish online or offline and live in Mumbai or Navi Mumbai, India, then you must check out’s spanish courses, which are highly recommended. You can download the app from the Play Store or App Store

    Happy learning!

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