SER vs ESTAR: What is the difference?

SER vs ESTAR that is the dilemma! The Spanish irregular verbs SER and ESTAR both translate to the English verb ‘to be’, but SER and ESTAR are used differently and most Spanish learners encounter difficulties on their usage.


Since both verbs are two of the most commonly used ones in Spanish, and are highly irregular in forms (at you can see in the present tense conjugation on the right), it is important to learn  their conjugations but overall when one should be used over the other to be able to form accurate sentences.

So first let see the whole conjugation of SER and how to form verb ESTAR in all the tenses.

SER vs ESTAR, what is the difference?

Usage of SER

SER is used to…

  • describe inherent characteristic or quality and conditions that are more or less permanent or long term:

Soy alto (I’m tal).

Teresa es divertida (Teresa is funny).

El coche de Carlo es rojo (Carlo’s car is red).

Arturo es inteligente (Arthur is an intelligent man).

Su familia es católica (Her family is Catholic).

  • express time, day, and hour: 

¿Qué hora es? (What time is it?)

Es la una y diez (It’s ten minutes after one o’clock).

Son las dos de la tarde (It’s two o’clock in the afternoon).

Hoy es lunes (Today is Monday).

Es 5 de enero de 2017 (It’s January 5, 2017).

  • tell a person’s origin or nationality:

¿De dónde eres? (Where are you from?).

Soy  estadounidense (I’m from the United States).

Mi esposa es alemana (My wife is German).

Paul es frances (Paul is French).

  • express relationships: 

Marta es la esposa de Fernado  (Marta is Ferndo’s wife).

Tomás es mi primo (Tomás is my cousin).

  • tell a person’s profession or occupation. 

Soy contable (I’m an accountant).

Lola es enfermera (Lola is a nurse).

Usage of ESTAR

Estar is used…

  • to indicate or ask for physical or geographical locations:

¿Dónde están tus hijos? (Where are your children?).

Ana está en el mercado (Anna is in the market). 

Machu Pichu está en Perú (Machu Pichu is in Peru).

¿Dónde está Canadá?  (Where is Canada?)

  • with an adjective to express a changeable condition:

Mi abuela está enferma (My grand mother is sick).

Estoy cansado/a (I’m tired).

¿Cómo está la tarta? (How’s the cake?).

Su madre está enfadada (His mother is angry).

¿Cómo estás? (How are you?).

Estoy bien (I’m well).

  • to describe the weather, a constantly changing condition:

El día está frío (the day is cold).

Está nublado (It’s cloudy).

  • with a gerund to form progressive tenses. In Spanish, a gerund is an invariable verb form which ends in –ndo for all verb groups. It is formed by dropping the infinitive endings and adding –ando (AR verbs) and –iendo (ER and IR verbs) to the stem. Examples: 

Estamos pasado las vacaciones en Mallorca (We are spending our holidays on Mallorca).

Estábamos durmiendo cuando llegaron mis padres (We were sleeping when my parent arrived).

SER vs ESTAR with adjectives

Some adjectives convey an entirely different meaning depending on which verb they are used with. Here you have some examples, but click in the link to learn more:

Los niños están listos (The children are ready).

Los niños están listos (The children are clever).

Carlota está feliz (Carlota is happy).

Carlota es feliz (Carlota is a happy person).

Lucas está orgulloso (Lucas is proud).

Lucas es orgulloso (Lucas is conceited).

Ramón está callado (Ramón is quiet).

Ramón es callado (Ramón is introverted).

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