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SER vs. ESTAR in Spanish

Updated: Mar 4

How to correctly use SER and ESTAR in Spanish.

Two men smiling and thinking about how to correctly use "ser" and "estar" in Spanish.

SER (“to be”) and ESTAR (“to stay”…, most commonly used as “to be”) are two different verbs, often used to express similar things in Spanish.

Let’s see how to correctly use them…


- Yo soy (I am)

- Tú eres (You are) INFORMAL*

- El / Ella es (He, She is)

- Usted es (You are) FORMAL*

- Nosotros/as somos (We are)

- Vosotros/as sois (You all are) INFORMAL*

- Ellos/Ellas son (They are)

- Ustedes son (You all are) FORMAL*

In Spanish, we use the verb SER (“to be”) to…

1. Describe fixed or permanent characteristics of a person, thing or place. Characteristics that do not change over time:
  • el nombre: Soy Claudio.

  • the name: I am Claudio.

  • la nacionalidad: Soy argentino / español / etc.

  • the nationality: I am Argentinean / Spaniard / etc.

  • la profesión: Soy un profesor de español.

  • the profession: I am a Spanish teacher.

  • el género: Soy un hombre / Soy una mujer...

  • the gender: I am a man / I am a woman...

  • rasgos personales: ¡SOY simpático!

  • personal traits: I am nice/friendly!

  • descripciones físicas: Ella es muy alta.

  • physical descriptions: She is very tall.

2. To express dates, days, seasons, periods, and places in which an event occurs:
  • fechas: Hoy es el 7 de junio

  • dates: Today is June 7th

  • días: Hoy es martes

  • days: Today is Tuesday

  • estaciones: Es primavera

  • seasons: It is spring

  • horarios: Son las 15:00

  • schedules/hours: It is 3:00pm

  • períodos y lugares en los cuales sucede un evento: La fiesta es mañana / La fiesta es en mi casa

  • periods and places in which an event occurs: The party is tomorrow / The party is at my house

3. To express the material that makes up something:
  • La casa es de madera y cemento armado.

  • The house is made of wood and reinforced concrete.

4. To express possession or belonging:
  • El libro es de Sofía.

  • The book is Sofia’s.

5. To express an assessment:
  • Comer verduras frescas y biológicas es bueno para nuestra salud.

  • Eating fresh, organic vegetables is good for our health.

Here, we’re talking about things that CANNOT change in time…. Right?!

Well, I mean…, today, one could change almost EVERYTHING on that list, even the gender and the nationality…, but this is not the case in the mentality of a middle age Spaniard trying to put into place the necessary rules to differentiate the Spanish Language from the Latin Language.

So…, when it comes to think about things that CANNOT change in time (let’s say, one’s profession), try to put yourself in the place of a young adult living in the Spanish middle age, and coming from a family of farmers…, that wants to become a doctor. Sadly and most probably not happening, at least not without a very strong sponsorship from somebody already making part of a “higher” social caste.

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- Yo estoy (I am / stay)

- Tú estás (You are / stay) INFORMAL*

- El / Ella está (He, She is / stay)

- Usted está (You are / stay) FORMAL*

- Nosotros/as estamos (We are / stay)

- Vosotros/as estáis (You all are / stay) INFORMAL*

- Ellos/Ellas están (They are / stay)

- Ustedes están (You all are / stay) FORMAL*

In Spanish, we use the verb ESTAR (“to stay”…, most commonly used as “to be”) to…

1. Describe temporary states, moods/emotions, appearances:
  • El café ESTÁ caliente

  • The coffee IS hot

Here, the coffee is hot at the moment of pronouncing this phrase…, but in 5 minutes or less, it will be cold. So, we use ESTAR because we’re talking about the temperature of coffee, and that’s something that can change in time.

  • Sofía está muy feliz (ahora)

  • Sofia is very happy (now)

  • Sofía está casada

  • Sofia is married

In the mentality of a middle age Spaniard with “more than strong” religious convictions (lot’s of people where tortured and burned alive in both Spain and Latin America under the Catholic Inquisition, sadly present all across Europe at that time), marriage was considered, anyway, a temporary thing…, temporary as the life of both partners.

2. Talk about the location of things, animals, and people in space (NOT EVENTS):
  • Mis perros ESTÁN en el parque

  • My dogs ARE in the park

Here, my dogs are “located” in the park…, they are physically there, so we can use ESTAR to communicate that info.

3. To express a temporary action or profession, if referring to people, with the preposition DE:
  • Al momento estoy de camarero en un restaurante, pero soy arqueólogo.

  • At the moment I'm a waiter in a restaurant, but I'm an archaeologist.

4. To express an assessment with good and bad:
  • Comer sano está bien.

  • Eating healthy is good.

  • Decir mentiras está mal.

  • Telling lies is wrong.

5. To form the progressive tenses: estar + gerund
  • Estoy trabajando en un proyecto muy importante.

  • I am working on a very important project.

  • Estaba regando las flores en el jardín.

  • I was watering the flowers in the garden.

That being said, this whole topic is FULL OF EXCEPTIONS!

To learn them all…, you can try our FREE Interactive Exercises (with instant explanations based on your answers) on SER vs. ESTAR here: 🚀

Choose the section > General Grammar > SER vs. ESTAR 🙂

That being said, in case you want to push yourself beyond the correct use of SER and ESTAR in Spanish, maybe finding new and powerful resources, plus the opportunity to practice your Spanish by talking in a professionally managed environment, if you want, you can take a look at our Live Conversation Classes (384 Classes available per YEAR — 1 to 6 students per class) 🙂

Complete Spanish Courses — from Zero to HERO in 6 months — can be found through our homepage 🚀

Qué tengas un maravilloso día!


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