If you’re a newbie to Spanish such as I am, one of the most difficult things to grasp is how to use the two verbs meaning “to be” – ser and estar. Here’s a guide to the Spanish verbs ser and estar, with a short introduction, some examples, and links to several more in-depth posts and videos that we’ve shared over the years.

Introduction

Cuenca es una ciudad hermosa.

The easiest way to think of the difference between the two is that ser is used for more permanent qualities, while estar is temporary. Here are some examples of when you use them:

Ser:

  • descriptions (name, appearance, nationality)
  • occupation
  • time (hour, days, dates, years, etc.)
  • relationships
  • possession
  • origin
  • characteristics/personality traits

Estar:

  • location/position
  • emotions/feelings
  • present continuous tense
  • temporary condition

One great example that my teacher in Mexico told me helps me remember the difference between ser and estar. He said:

My wife always tells me… “Estoy cansada de ser casada!”

This means, “I’m tired of being married.” As cansada (tired) is a temporary state, you use estar. Casada (married) is a permanent state, so you use ser. This is also a helpful example, because it’s easy to mix up the words for “tired” and “married,” which could definitely cause some confusion. Plus, I actually thought his dad joke was pretty funny!

Read more about the differences beteween ser and estar here. Before we continue and get into some examples, it’s important to master the conjugation of both ser and estar.

Conjugation

Ser

yo soyI am
tú eresyou are (familiar)
usted esyou are (formal)
él eshe is
ella esshe is
nosotros somoswe are
ustedes sonyou are (plural)
ellos sonthey are (masculine)
ellas sonthey are (feminine)

*For vosotros, you use sois

Estar

yo estoyI am
tú estásyou are (familiar)
usted estáyou are (formal)
él estáhe is
ella estáshe is
nosotros estamoswe are
ustedes estányou are (plural)
ellos estánthey are (masculine)
ellas estánthey are (feminine)

*For vosotros, you use estáis

You can learn the Spanish pronouns and the conjugations of both verbs “to be” in this short video:

Examples

To help show you when to use each of the Spanish verbs “to be,” here’s a little description of myself and what I’m doing these days. I’ll alternate between the verbs ser and estar to show different conditions.

A Guide to the Spanish Verbs Ser and Estar

Estoy en Peru.

Hola! Me llamo Sasha. Soy de Michigan, pero estoy en Peru ahora. Soy maestro de ingles. Estoy trabajando para una compañía en China, pero soy independiente. Soy casado y vivo con mi esposa. Somos felices juntos. Estamos viajando en Sur America por medio año.

Hello. My name is Sasha. I’m from Michigan, but I’m in Peru now. I’m an English teacher. I’m working for a company in China, but I’m independent. I’m married and I live with my wife. We are happy together. We are traveling in South America for half a year.

Here are some more examples in another video you can follow:

(Yo) soy de Estados Unidos.
I’m from the United States.

(Tú) eres maestro.
You are a teacher.

Usted es casada.
You are married.

Él es joven.
He is young.

Ella es bonita.
She is beautiful

Nosotros somos amigos.
We are friends.

Ustedes son estudiantes.
You are students.

Ellos son mis vecinos.
They are my neighbors.

Ellas son amigas.
They are friends.

 

(Yo) estoy en la casa.
I’m at the house.

(Tú) estás ocupado.
You are busy.

Usted está en el banco.
You are at the bank.

Él está de vacaciones.
He is on vacation.

Ella está triste.
She is sad.

(Nosotros) estamos felices.
We are happy.

Ustedes están en la escuela.
You are at the school.

Ellos están enfermos.
They are sick.

Ellas están en el cine.
They are at the cinema.

Of course, there are plenty of cases where you can use either ser or estar, and the meaning changes entirely depending on which verb you use. Just look at this example:

Elena está aburrida.Elena is bored.
Elena es aburrida.Elena is boring.

As you can see, which verb you use is quite important. You wouldn’t want to call your friend boring when you’re just trying to say that she is bored. You can read more examples in these two posts:

More Practice

By now you’re probably ready to try using the verbs ser and estar on your own. That’s great, because we have several posts and videos you can check out to challenge yourself:

You’ll also find plenty of videos on our YouTube channel that you can follow along with to practice. Many of these are embedded in the posts, so you can always check back to the post to get the text/answers. With all these resources at your fingertips, you’re sure to master how to use the Spanish verbs ser and estar in no time. Make sure you’re learning a new Spanish word every day while you’re at it.

About the Author:sasha

Sasha is a teacher, student, writer, photographer, web designer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they’re currently planning a trip through Central/South America.



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