“Ser” Vs. “Estar” in Spanish – A Guide on How to Choose

Learning when to use “Ser” Vs. “Estar” is one of the classic challenges for Spanish learners. Both verbs translate as “to be” in English, but we use them in different situations.

The purpose of this post is to present you with the most frequent cases where we use “Ser”, as well as the main cases for “Estar”.

By studying the basic cases for each one and with some practice, little by little you will start getting it right most times. Be positive! 🙂

In this post, we will go through the following points:


1. Conjugation of “Ser” and “Estar” in Present Tense

Before getting into the uses of “ser” and “estar”, let’s see their respective conjugations in Present Tense:

 SerEstar
yosoyestoy
eresestás
élesestá
nosotrossomosestamos
vosotrossoisestáis
ellossonestán

2. Uses of “Ser”

The most common trick to remember the cases when we use “Ser” is that their initials make the word “DOCTOR”

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


Date:

Hoy es quince de abril.
Today is April 15th.

Mañana es mi cumpleaños.
Tomorrow is my birthday.


Occupation:

Note: For occupations, we normally don’t use any article. That means we don’t say “my brother is an architect”, but just “my brother is architect”

Mi hermano es arquitecto.
My brother is an architect.

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


Characteristic:

Characteristics tend to be permanent, not temporary:

Tu sofá es rojo.
Your sofa is red.

Los españoles son simpáticos.
Spaniards are nice people.


Time of 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:

Juan y María son novios.
Juan and Maria are a couple.

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


3. Uses of “Estar”

The initials of the cases when we use “Estar” make the word “PLACE”:

  • Position
  • Location
  • Action
  • Condition
  • Emotion


Position, Location:

Telling where someone or something is at the moment, as well and its position.

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)


Action

Combining “estar” with the Gerundio of a given verb, we construct the tense called Present Progressive to express an ongoing action.

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

¿Estáis escuchándome?
Are you listening to me?


Condition:

Conditions tend 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 (at the moment).


4. Practice “Ser” Vs “Estar”: A Quiz

Take this short Quiz to test your knowledge!:


5. Practice “Ser” Vs “Estar”: An Exercise

In the following conversation between two friends, fill the gaps in your mind or on a piece of paper, choosing between the options in brackets. Then check the solutions at the end of this post.

– Hola Fátima, ¿qué _____ 1.(eres / estás) haciendo?

_____ 2.(Soy / Estoy) buscando un regalo para mi hermano. Mañana _____ 3.(es / está) cinco de abril, su cumpleaños.

– ¿A qué hora _____ 4. (es / está) la fiesta?

_____ 5.(Es / Está) a las ocho de la tarde en su piso.

– ¿En qué parte de la ciudad vive tu hermano?

– Su piso _____ 6.(es / está) en el Barrio de las Flores. _____ 7.(Es / Está) un piso bastante grande, ideal para hacer fiestas.

Solutions to the Exercise: 1 = estás, 2 = Estoy, 3 = es, 4 = es, 5 = Es, 6 = está, 7 = Es