ser vs estar

When to Use Ser vs estar: The Ultimate Guide (+ Examples)

Unlike English, the Spanish language has two verbs that mean “to be”: ser and estar. Both have their own specific meaning and are used in different contexts. In this article, you’ll learn all the rules governing ser vs estar usage, and (more importantly) tons of examples that you can learn so you don’t even have to think about the rules at all when speaking Spanish.

In short, when to use ser vs estar

SERESTAR
Ser is used to express permanent traits or qualities, to identify someone or something. Also for time and dates.Estar is used to express emotions, temporary physical and emotional conditions, and locations.

You can also watch this video about ser vs estar from Spring Spanish, a language learning platform I co-founded that uses Conversation Based Chunking to teach you Spanish.

Conjugation of ser vs estar

PRONOMBRESSERESTAR
Yosoyestoy
eresestás
Él/Ella/Ustedesestá
Nosotros/Nosotrassomosestamos
Vosotros/Vosotras (only in Spain)soisestáis
Ellos/Ellas/Ustedessonestán

Rules for the use of ser vs estar

Rules for SER

Let’s have a look at in-depth rules for the verb ser to better understand the different usage of ser vs estar.

Ser is used for characteristics that never change. 

Of course, life constantly changes and those changes occur at an increasingly rapid pace, so some characteristics that used to be permanent during a person’s entire life . 

So, maybe to understand these expressions you may travel in time, where people had the same name, gender, religion, and occupation all his or her life.

As we are dealing with adjectives in some sentences, remember that if you are a man or you are talking about a masculine thing, it should end in -o,while  if you are a woman or you are talking about a feminine thing, the adjective should end in -a. More about learning adjectives in my article with the best tips to learn Spanish.

Ser is used:

  • To express nationality
    • Soy español. (for a man) (I’m Spanish.)
    • Soy española. (for a woman) (I’m Spanish.) 
  • To express the religion.
    • Soy cristiano. (for a man) (I’m a Christian.)
    • Soy cristiana. (for a woman) (I’m a Christian.)  
  • To express your profession.
    • Soy abogado. (for a man) (I’m a lawyer.) 
    • Soy abogada. (for a woman) (I’m a lawyer.) 
  • To express someone’s character.
    • Es simpático. (for a man) (He’s nice.) 
    • Es simpática. (for a woman) (She’s nice.) 
  • To express the shape of something.
    • Este mueble es redondo. (for a masculine thing) (This furniture is round.) 
    • La mesa es redonda. (for a feminine thing) (The table is round.) 
  • To express the size of something.
    • El coche es pequeño. (for a masculine thing) (The car is small.) 
    • La casa es pequeña. (for a feminine thing) (The house is small.) 
  • To say the material of which something is made.
    • Este armario es de metal. ( This closet is made of metal.) 
  • To say that something belongs to someone
    • Este bolígrafo es de Ana. (This pen belongs to Ana.)
  • To ask or tell the time (read this article for an in-depth review of the numbers in Spanish)
    • ¿Qué hora es? Es la una. (What time is it? It's 1 pm) (The answer uses “es” in singular, because one is singular)
    • ¿Qué hora es? Son las tres. (What time is it? It's 3 pm) (The answer uses “son” in plural, because three is plural)
  • To ask or tell the date.
    • ¿Qué día es hoy? Es 5 de octubre. (To tell the day of the month) (What day is it today? It's 5. October.)
    • ¿Qué día es hoy? Es martes. (To tell the day of the week) (What day is it today? It's Tuesday.)

Rules for ESTAR

Estar is used:

  • To express the state of something
    • El pescado está congelado. (for a masculine thing) (The fish is frozen.) 
    • La carne está congelada. (for a feminine thing) (The meat is frozen.) 
  • To express the state of food
    • El café está frío. (for a masculine thing) (The coffee is cold.) 
    • La leche está fría. (for a feminine thing) (The milk is cold.) 
  • To express a physical state of an object that can change
    • El coche está sucio. (for a masculine thing) (The car is dirty.) 
    • La casa está sucia. (for a feminine thing) (The house is dirty.) 
  • To express a physical stateo of a person that can change
    • Mi padre está enfermo. (for a man) (My father is ill.) 
    • Mi madre está enferma. (for a woman) (My mother is ill.) 
  • To express an emotional state that can change
    • Mi padre está triste. (My father is sad.) 
    • Mi madre está triste. (My mother is sad.) (when the ending of the adjective is -e, it stays the same for a woman and a man.)
  • To describe the place where someone or something is located
    • El teatro está lejos. (The theater is far.) 
    • Tu hermana está lejos. (Your sister is far.)  (the adverbs stay the same) 

My recommendation? Learn a lot of these chunks with ser vs estar by heart.

If you memorize chunks in context from conversations or example sentences like the ones above, you don’t even have to think about the rules for ser vs estar; you know they’re correct, so you can use them yourself right away.

The more chunks with ser vs estar you learn, the easier it’ll become for you. So let’s take a look at some more examples!

4. Chart comparing the usage and nuances of ser vs estar

SERESTAREXPLANATION
El es rico (He is rich all the time)El está rico (He is rich currently, but not always)With the verb “ser”, we express a permanent or general state of being, we can say that it is always so. 
“Estar” means the state of being is temporary, for a period of time
Ella es gorda (she is fat always)Ella está gorda (she is fat right now, but not always)With the verb “ser”, we express a permanent or general state of being, we can say that it is always so. 
“Estar” means the state of being is temporary, for a period of time
Ella es pesimista (she is pessimistic in general in life)Ella está pesimista (she is pessimistic right now, about a specific situation)With the verb “ser”, we express a permanent or general state of being, we can say that it is always so. 
“Estar” means the state of being is temporary, for a period of time
El es alegre (he is happy as a general characteristic)Ella está alegre (he is happy right now, at this very moment)With the verb “ser”, we express a permanent or general state of being, we can say that it is always so. 
“Estar” means the state of being is temporary, for a period of time
El es cojo (he is lame as a general characteristic)El está cojo (he is lame at this very moment, but not always)With the verb “ser”, we express a permanent or general state of being, we can say that it is always so. 
“Estar” means the state of being is temporary, for a period of time
El es un aburrido (he is boring)El está aburrido (he is bored)The verb “ser” in Spanish is often coupled with the article “un” or “una” and an adjective. In this case, the adjective works as a noun describing a general characteristic of a person. “El es un aburrido = he is a boring person”. 
With the verb “estar” the adjective is just an adjective: it describes a temporary state. El está aburrido = he is bored (right now).
El es un interesado (he is selfish)El está interesado (he is interested)The verb “ser” in Spanish is often coupled with the article “un” or “una” and an adjective. In this case, the adjective works as a noun describing a general characteristic of a person. “El es un interesado = he is a selfish person”. 
With the verb “estar” the adjective is just an adjective: it describes a temporary state. El está interesado = he is interested (right now).
El coche es nuevo (the car is new)El coche está nuevo (the car is like new)With the verb “ser” the adjective has an objective meaning: the car is brand-new, straight from the factory.
With the verb “estar” the adjective is subjective, I’m giving my opinion: I believe the car is like new.

Conclusion 

Even though there are clear rules for when to use ser vs estar, using them correctly might still be tricky, as you have just seen. Luckily, the more chunks you learn by heart, the easier it gets!

Want a head start? Make sure to sign up for your free Spanish Chunking Starter Pack now to get lists of essential Spanish chunks, a Chunking Guide, 12-Week Study Plan and an Over-The-Shoulder Chunking Demo with me.

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