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Using 'ser' and 'estar' in Spanish for Beginners

Unsure of whether to use "ser" or "estar" in conversation? 😰

We're here to help!

In English we only have one verb to describe "to be". In Spanish the equivalent of "to be" can be used with either " ser " or "estar", and this can be confusing for beginner students!

Video Lesson

If you prefer listening or watching this article, here's the link on Youtube:

Otherwise, please read on!

Use "Ser" for Permanent Characteristics

Let's begin with "Ser".

"Ser" is mostly used to describe personality traits or characteristics in a permanent state. The keyword here is permanent .

"Ser" with Different Pronouns

Before we get into examples, let's review the table of pronouns to make sure we know how to use the verb for each corresponding pronoun.

Yo soyI am
Tú eresYou (informal) are
Usted esYou (formal) are
Él esHe is
Ella esShe is
Nosotros somosWe are
Ellos sonThey (male) are
Ellas sonThey (female) are
Ustedes sonYou (plural, Latin America) are
Vosotros soisYou (plural, Spain) are

Examples with "Ser"

Now we are ready to look at some examples of when to use it:

  1. Yo soy Cilia . I am Cilia. This is my identity ALL the time. It is how I introduce myself to people.
  2. Yo soy de Colombia . I am from Colombia. This is my country of origin which I cannot change no matter where I am now or will be tomorrow. It is the country I was born in.
  3. Tù eres alta . You are tall. It describes a permanent personal characteristic of yourself that you cannot change. .
  4. Él es Doctor . He is a doctor. I am describing a profession. This is what you would describe what a person works at every day.

Use "Estar" for Temporary Situations

Now let's take a look at "Estar" :

"Estar" is the verb used to describe a temporary emotional state, trait, or action. The keyword here is TEMPORARY , meaning it can change from time to time.

"Estar" with Different Pronouns

Once again, let's review how "estar" is used with its corresponding pronoun.

Yo estoyI am
Tú estásYou (informal) are
Usted estáYou (formal) are
Él estáHe is
Ella estáShe is
Nosotros estamosWe are
Ellos estánThey (male) are
Ellas estánThey (female) are
Ustedes estánYou (plural, Latin America) are
Vosotros estáisYou (plural, Spain) are

Examples with "Estar"

Now we are ready to look at some examples of when to use "estar" :

  1. Yo estoy feliz . I am happy. I am implying that I am happy right now caused by someone, something or a situation in particular, but I can be sad in the future. If you say "Yo soy feliz", you are telling people that you are always happy in general. It would be correctly used, however you would be describing your personality and not your emotional state at the moment.
  2. Yo estoy en Ecuador . I am in Ecuador. It implies that at this moment I am in Ecuador but I can travel to another country at anytime. However, my country of origin will remain the same.
  3. El gato està dormido . The cat is asleep. This describes a momentary action. The cat is sleeping right now but it may wake up at any moment.

Using "Ser" and "Estar" in the Same Sentence

Let's look at some examples when you can use both verbs in one sentence:

  1. Yo soy de Colombia pero ahora estoy en Ecuador . I am from Colombia but I am in Ecuador right now. As you can see, in English the same verb "am" is used to describe two very different situations. In Spanish "soy" means I cannot change the place where I was born but "estoy" implies that I am here today but tomorrow I can be somewhere else.
  2. El gato es perezoso y ahora está dormido . The cat is lazy and he is sleeping. This is a description of the cat's personality and the action it is doing in this moment. If you wrongly say "el gato es dormido" you are implying that the cat will never wake up . If you say "El gato està peresozo", you re implying that the cat is lazy in this moment but tomorrow it may not be lazy.

Test Yourself - A Quiz!

Let's take a simple quiz just to make sure you know when to use "Ser" and "Estar". I will provide some questions and you must answer in Spanish using the correct verb. 😬

  1. ¿De dónde eres? (Where are you from?)
  2. ¿Cómo te sientes ahorita? ¿Feliz o triste? (How are you feeling right now? Happy or sad?)
  3. ¿Què haces? (What are you doing now?)
  4. ¿En dónde te encuentras ahorita? (Where are you right now?)
  5. ¿Cómo es tu perro, grande o pequeño? (Is your dog big or small?)

Scroll down for the answers!

Quiz Answers

  1. Yo soy de (your country of origin)
  2. Yo estoy feliz / triste.
  3. Yo estoy (action you are doing now)
  4. Yo estoy en (country, city or place where you are at right now).
  5. Mi perro es grande/pequeño.

Wrapping Up

As you can see, the main difference between these two verbs is that "ser" is PERMANENT while "estar" is TEMPORARY .

¡Adiós por ahora!

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