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Ser vs. Estar: When to Use the Correct Verb “To Be” in Spanish

Ser vs. Estar: When to Use the Correct Verb “To Be” in Spanish

SER and ESTAR, they both mean “to be”?! Why does the Spanish language have two verbs expressing “to be” while in English there is only one? Both verbs have very specific uses, so there is no picking and choosing which one to use on a whim. The two “To be” verbs in Spanish; SER and ESTAR cannot be used interchangeably. Learn how to use SER and ESTAR correctly!

Students often think that SER describes permanence and ESTAR describes temporariness. While it may seem true, a better way to think of the difference is that SER describes inherent characteristics while ESTAR describes characteristics that are induced.

Let’s see some examples:

  • El fuego es caliente = Fire is hot. (Fire is inherently hot- no one made it so)
  • El té está caliente = The tea is hot. (Someone heated it; it’s not inherently hot- indeed, sometimes it’s iced!).
  • El pescado es bueno = Fish is good. (General statement- fish is good (e.g. good for one’s health)).
  • El pescado está bueno = The fish is good. (This particular fish has good flavor because it was prepared well).
  • ¿Cómo es Roberto? = What is Roberto like? (Asking about his looks and personality).
  • ¿Cómo está Roberto? = How is Roberto? (Asking how he feels/about his state of health).

Whether you are an advanced Spanish speaker or just starting out learning this great language, this tool will help you wherever you are on the Spanish learning spectrum (from novice to advanced). 

SER and ESTAR cannot be used interchangeably; each verb has its own context and meaning can change significantly if one verb is substituted for another. 

Check out these examples that show just how different the meanings change depending on which verb you use … 

SER = to beESTAR = to be
Ella es feliz. She is always happy, or a happy person. (an intrinsic, character quality of her) Ella está feliz. She is happy right now, at this moment. (feeling)
Jorge es listo. George is smart. (an intrinsic trait)Jorge está listo. George is ready. (his state of being, ready to go at this moment)
Luisa es bonita. Luisa is pretty. (an intrinsic trait)Luisa está bonita. Luisa looks pretty. (right now)

Learn and Practice the Uses of Ser and Estar in Spanish

Let’s start the lesson by learning the SER and ESTAR verb conjugations in present tense. This is the first verb tense you need to master because it shows you the main structure and use of both verbs.

Las conjugaciones de SER

Yo…Soy   I…Am
Tú…EresYou…Are
Él, Ella, Usted…EsHe, She, (You)… Is
Nosotros, Nosotras…Somos  We…Are
Vosotros…SoisYou… Are (Spanish from Spain form)
Ellos, Ellas, Ustedes…SonThey, You…Are

Las conjugaciones de ESTAR

Yo…EstoyI…Am
Tú…Estás  You…Are
Él, Ella, Usted…EstáHe, She, (You)… Is
Nosotros, Nosotras…EstamosWe…Are
Vosotros…EstáisYou… Are
Ellos, Ellas, Ustedes…Están  They, You…Are

How to choose between SER or ESTAR correctly?

Context determines which verb to use. It is important to consider the context when deciding which verb to use. In order to help you determine the uses based on context GRAB this SER and ESTAR cheat sheet and learn the acronym SHARPEN the EDGES to help you memorize when to which.

Download the SHARPEN the EDGES for SER & ESTAR Notes TODAY

Now you give it a try…

Here are some simple examples for you to try this new knowledge. Choose one option between SER or ESTAR, write down your answers and check if they are right below 🙂

El proyector (es / está) prendido.

El proyector está prendido.

Mi hermana (es / está) estudiando ingeniería informática.

Mi hermana está estudiando ingeniería informática.

El cuarto de hotel (es / está) enorme.

El cuarto de hotel es enorme.

Nosotros (somos / estamos) en Suramérica.

Nosotros estamos en Suramérica.

Ellos (son / están) profesores.

Ellos son profesores.

Yo (soy / estoy) muy cansada hoy.

Yo estoy muy cansada hoy


Get more SER and ESTAR practice exercises here!

Download the SER & ESTAR Practice Worksheet TODAY

SER vs ESTAR: choosing the correct verb

Ok, here is your chance to test your SER vs ESTAR knowledge! Give it a shot!


I packaged all of this into easily downloadable .pdf notes–Get your copy for free today!

Do you want more practice? Check our Quizlet sets about SER & ESTAR:

¡Arriésgate, abre la boca y comete errores!


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Leslie Foster
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Hola soy Leslie Foster. I'm super emocionada para este grupo de Intercambio. I'm here to help with anything you need. ¡Progresamos juntos!
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