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Ser or Estar in Spanish

¿Ser o Estar? ¡Esa es la cuestión!

In the grand scheme of learning Spanish, once the basics are covered, it is mandatory to tackle the great dilemma that is when to use ser over estar and viceversa. Both verbs translate the auxiliary verb par excellence to be. So why the need for two of them? Well, life is a nasty business at times, but there surely are a few tricks to tame this grammatical beast.

Let’s first revise and compare the present tense conjugation of both verbs:

SER ESTAR
Yo (I) soy estoy
Tú (You) eres estás
Él/Ella (He/She) es está
Nosotros/Nosotras (We) somos estamos
Vosotros/Vosotras (You all) sois estáis
Ellos/Ellas (They) son están

 

Now, the golden general rule to keep in mind is that ser is often used to express concepts which are permanent, whilst estar is preferred whenever describing ideas that are temporary.

In line with this rule, the following extremely handy recapitulatory table indicates main instances as to when to use either verb in Spanish:

SER ESTAR
D Descriptions P Positions
O Occupation L Location
C Characteristics A Action (-ing form)
T Time (Date) C Condition
O Origins E Emotion
R Relationship (Possession)

And here are some examplary sentences related to the acronyms doctor and place which comprise the lists of uses for ser and estar respectively.

SER

D Yo soy Colombiana. → I am Colombian.
O eres dentista. → You are a dentist.
C Ella es morena. → She is dark-haired.
T Son las cuatro de la tarde. → It’s 4 pm.
O Somos de Colombia. → We are from Colombia.
R Vosotras sois mis mejores amigas. → You are my best friends.

 

ESTAR

 

P Están sentados en el parque. → They are seated in the park.
L Estoy en Perú. → I am in Perú.
A Estamos comiendo tortillas. → We are eating tortilla.
C Siempre estás hambriento. → You are always hungry.
E Está súper enfadado con él. → She is very upset at him.

 


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