Spanish Toughest Verbs – Ser and Estar – Explained and Made Easy by Our Spanish Teachers from FUIA
Whether you’re a total beginner or you’ve been studying Spanish for a while, you might have heard that ser and estar are a little bit challenging to master.
Ok let’s admit it, these two verbs drive learners completely crazy.
As this is going to be a long post we will provide links that will take you to the relevant sections of the post below.
Why are these verbs so challenging?
- Ser and estar can both be translated into English as ‘to be’.
- This distinction doesn’t exist in other languages (except from Iberian Romance languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Galician and Catalan; and Mandarin).
- The rules for when to use ser or estar might not be always that obvious.
Do I really need to know the difference? Is it that important?
We’re really sorry to say this, but yes, it’s actually quite important. Using ser or estar incorrectly can create so much confusion. Just to give you a few examples, it’s very different to say “you are boring” and “you are bored”; “you are a good person” and “you are good looking”. In all these cases the use of ser and estar is crucial because they could change completely the meaning of the sentence.
But don’t worry, in this post you’ll learn how to conjugate ser and estar, we’re giving you the golden rule that will allow you to understand the main uses of ser and estar. And you know what they say “la práctica hace al maestro” (“Practice makes perfect.”).
Ser and Estar Conjugations
Here you can find the conjugations of ser and estar in the Present of Indicative.
|Él / Ella / Usted||es||está|
|Nosotros / Nosostras||somos||estamos|
|Vosotros / Vosotras||sois||estáis|
|Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes||son||están|
Ser vs. Estar – What’s the Golden Rule?
As promised, we are going to share with you a Golden rule that will help you to decide whether to use ser or estar, in case you can’t remember a specific rule in context.
Ser is used to talk about WHAT something is; to describe the inherent characteristics, the ones that are always true and never change.
In order to help you remember some of those lasting attributes we want to give you a useful acronym: DOCTOR, which stands for Descriptions, Occupations, Characteristics, Time, Origin, and Relationships.
Estar is used to talk about HOW something is; to describe temporary states and characteristics; and locations.
If you want to remember some of those temporary states think of the acronym PLACE, which stands for Position, Location, Action, Condition and Emotion.
So far it sounds quite straight forward right? Now, let’s have a look at it in more detail.
When to Use Ser
We use ser to describe objects and people: their physical appearance and their personality. We believe that appearance and personality are quite permanent. Let’s see it with a few examples:
If you’re intelligent today, will you be intelligent tomorrow? Yes, that’s quite likely.
If you’re blonde, will you be blonde tomorrow? Probably yes. But what if you dye your hair? We’re sorry if this breaks your patterns but we still see it as something kind of permanent, so we’d use the verb ser too.
Mi piso es grande y moderno. (My flat is big and modern.)
Shakira es alta, rubia y muy guapa. (Shakira is tall, blonde and very beautiful.)
Mi novio es cariñoso y muy romántico. (My boyfriend is caring and very romantic.)
In Spanish, professions have always been very important in people’s lives. Traditionally a person would have a profession for life; nowadays it’s a little bit less common but we do still have careers we devote ourselves to. In those cases we use ser.
Yo soy profesora. (I’m a teacher.)
Mi novio es arquitecto. (My boyfriend is an architect.)
Madonna y Lady Gaga son cantantes. (Madonna and Lady Gaga are singers.)
Remember! In Spanish we don’t need the indefinite article “un/a” before the profession. Instead of “Juan es un taxista”, we say “Juan es taxista”.
Again, when we are describing something: its height, shape, size, colour and material; we use ser. If you think about it, most of those characteristics don’t change, right?
La mesa es de madera. (The table is made of wood.)
El coche de Cristina es rojo. (Cristina’s car is red.)
In most cases, we use ser to talk about time, date and season.
Es la una de la tarde. (It’s one o’clock in the afternoon.)
Son las siete y cuarto de la mañana. (It’s quarter past seven in the morning.)
Hoy es 31 de agosto de 2018. (Today it’s 31st of August of 2018.)
¡Es primavera ya! (It’s spring already!)
Remember! When we express the time, the hour “one” is singular so the verb “ser” is conjugated in the 3rd person singular: es; the other hours (2, 3, 4, 5, etc) are plural so “ser” is conjugated in the 3rd person plural: son.
This is one of the easiest to remember, as it couldn’t be more permanent. If you were born in Germany, you are German today and you will be German tomorrow and so on. You won’t wake up one day being English, right?
Shakira es de Colombia pero vive en España. (Shakira is from Colombia but lives in Spain.)
Yo soy española y mi novio es polaco. (I’m Spanish and my boyfriend is Polish.)