Spanish SER vs ESTAR – Learn to Choose

Ser VS Estar in Spanish - Learn the Difference and Practice

Welcome to our grammar lesson on how to choose between the verbs ser and estar in Spanish.

Both “ser” and “estar” mean “to be”. But we use them in different types of sentences.

Two Spanish sentences: one with "ser" and one with "estar"
Two sentences: one with “ser” and one with “estar”

In this lesson, we will learn the cases where we use “ser” and the cases where we use “estar”, providing examples.

At the end you’ll find a Quiz and Exercises for practice.

Conjugations in Present Tense

Before we explain the difference between “ser” and “estar”, let’s review their conjugations in Present Tense:

 serestar
yosoyestoy
eresestás
élesestá
nosotrossomosestamos
vosotrossoisestáis
ellossonestán


Uses of “ser”

In general, ser is a verb for expressing permanent things (things that don’t change).

That idea is a good start, but it down’t work in every case. The student should learn the most frequent uses of “ser”, one by one.

There is a trick to remember the uses of “ser” – Their initials make the word DOCTOR:

  • Date
  • Occupation
  • Characteristic
  • Time
  • Origin
  • Relation

Let’s read examples of each use:

Date

Hoy es quince de abril.
Today is April 15.

Mañana es mi cumpleaños.
Tomorrow is my birthday.


Occupation

Mi hermano es arquitecto.
My brother is an architect.

María y Laura son artistas.
Maria and Laura are artists.

Note: For occupations, we don’t use any article after ser. We don’t say “mi hermano es un arquitecto”, but “mi hermano es arquitecto”.


Characteristic

Characteristics tend to be permanent, not temporary:

Tu sofá es rojo.
Your sofa is red.

Los españoles son simpáticos.
Spaniards are nice.


Time of the day

Son las nueve de la mañana.
It’s 9 a.m.

Es la una de la tarde.
It’s 1 p.m.


Origin

Telling where someone (or something) is from:

Nuestro profesor es de Colombia.
Our teacher is from Colombia.

Mi amigo y yo somos americanos.
My friend and I are Americans.


Relation

Relations between people and/or things:

Juan y María son primos.
Juan and Maria are cousins.

Ese ordenador es de Ana.
That computer belongs to Ana.


Uses of “estar”

In general, estar is a verb for expressing temporary things (things that change), and also for location.

That idea is a good start, but it doesn’t work in every case. The student should learn the most frequent uses of “estar”, one by one.

The trick for the uses of “estar” – Their initials make the word PLACE:

  • Position
  • Location
  • Action
  • Condition
  • Emotion

Let’s read examples of each use:

Position, Location

Telling where someone or something is, as well as its position.

We use estar even when the position or location is permanent:

El alumno está de pie.
The pupil is standing up. (position)

Estamos sentados.
We are sitting. (position)

La televisión está sobre la mesa.
The TV is on the table. (location)

Madrid está en el centro de España.
Madrid is in the center of Spain. (location, so we use “estar” even though it’s permanent)


Action

By combining estar with the Gerundio of a verb, we form a tense called Present Progressive to express what’s going on:

Estoy estudiando para el examen.
I am studying for the test.

¿Estáis jugando?
Are you guys playing?


Condition

Condition tends to be temporary, not permanent:

La radio está rota.
The radio is broken.

Estoy enfermo.
I am sick.


Emotion

Much like “Condition”, “Emotion” is also temporary:

Estoy muy contento.
I’m very happy/satisfied (at the moment).

Alejandro está enfadado con sus amigos.
Alejandro is angry with his friends.

Practice

Let’s practice “ser” vs “estar” with a Quiz and some exercises:

Quiz

Take this short Quiz to test your knowledge about “ser” vs “estar”!:


Exercise 1

Complete the conjugations of “ser” and “estar” in Present Tense with the missing forms:

 serestar
yosoy...... (4)
...... (1)estás
éles...... (5)
nosotros...... (2)estamos
vosotrossois...... (6)
ellos...... (3)están

Solutions:
1) eres
2) somos
3) son
4) estoy
5) está
6) estáis



Exercise 2

In the following sentences, fill the gaps choosing between the verbs “ser” and “estar” shown in brackets:

1. Mi casa ___ (es / está) en este barrio.
My house is in this neighborhood.

2. Las mesas ___ (son / están) grandes.
The tables are big.

3. ¿Qué ___ (eres / estás) haciendo, Carmen?
What are you doing, Carmen?

4. Mañana ___ (es / está) 20 de abril.
Tomorrow is April 20th.

5. Nosotros ___ (somos / estamos) buscando una farmacia.
We are looking for a pharmacy.

6. La habitación ___ (es / está) sucia hoy.
The room is dirty today.

7. Yo ___ (soy / estoy) Juan.
I am Juan.

8. Nuestro coche ___ (es / está) pequeño.
Our car is small.

9. Mis padres ___ (son / están) profesores.
My parents are teachers.

Solutions:
1) está
2) son
3) estás
4) es
5) estamos
6) está
7) soy
8) es
9) son


Exercise 3

In the following sentences, fill the gaps choosing between the verbs “ser” and “estar” in brackets:

1. Nosotros ___ (somos / estamos) cansados.
We are tired.

2. La Habana ___ (es / está) en Cuba.
Havana is in Cuba.

3. Las raquetas ___ (son / están) de Luis.
The rackets belong to Luis.

4. Los niños ___ (son / están) jugando al fútbol.
The children are playing soccer.

5. Hoy ___ (es / está) 10 de junio.
Today is June 10.

6. La nueva alumna ___ (es / está) de México.
The new student is from Mexico.

7. Vosotros ___ (sois / estáis) tumbados.
You guys are lying down.

8. Yo ___ (soy / estoy) entusiasmado con la fiesta.
I am excited about the party.

9. Ahora ___ (son / están) las diez de la noche.
It is now ten at night.

Solutions:
1) estamos
2) está
3) son
4) están
5) es
6) es
7) estáis
8) estoy
9) son