Ser vs Estar: Guide For Total Spanish Newbies

Continuing along my "to be" theme, today I am going to discuss the difference in Spanish between ser and estar, both verbs with mean "to be".

After yesterday's extended discussion of the Russian way, today will be a piece of cake! In fact, in Spanish, the difference is even easier to remember than in Italian!

Ser

The Spanish verb ser indicated permanence. You choose this verb any time you want to discuss "being" something, somewhere, or someone that will not change for a long time, or ever. This is appropriate for a career, for a physical characteristic or personality trait, a nationality or religion, for time, or for the time or location of an event. For instance:

Él es médico. - He is a doctor.
Mi amigo es ruso. - My friend is Russian.
Yo soy alto. - I am tall.
Son las tres. - It's three o'clock.
Tú eres hermosa. - You are beautiful.
El partido es el viernes. - The party is on Friday.

All of these traits are permanent, and unlikely to change.

Estar

The Spanish verb estar indicates a more temporary condition. This is the verb to choose when discussing a temporary feeling, mood, physical condition or characteristic, a geographic location, or with a gerund to describe the present progressive tense.

Estoy enojado. - I am angry.
Ella está cansada. - She is tired.
¿Por qué estás en mi dormitorio? - Why are you in my bedroom?
México está al sur de los Estados Unidos. - Mexico is to the south of the United States.
Maria está escribiendo. - Maria is writing.

In these examples estar is used to describe temporary conditions, locations, and ongoing actions.


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  • "For how you feel and where you are, that is when you use estar!"
    It's pretty broad and general, but it works most of the time =D

  • My HS Spanish teacher used enfermo as an example of the important difference. He would say "estoy enfermo" and cough or look tired. Then he would get this demented look on his face, walk around like Frankenstein, and say "Soy enfermo!" I thought it illustrated the difference nicely.

  • I love it!

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