Ser and Estar simplified!

Many of my students, including the more advanced learners, struggle with the two verbs meaning “to be” in Spanish and when to use each one. The topic of “Ser versus Estar” is clearly difficult given that whole chapters and even books have been written on the subject! Ser and Estar is a tricky matter especially considering that even Spanish people argue amongst themselves as to which verb should be used in certain contexts. Here are the main uses of each verb:

ser = to be [permanent characteristics]

soy (I am)
eres (you are) [singular]
es (he/she is)
somos (we are)
sois (you are) [plural]
son (they are)

When to use “ser”:

Ser is used to describe more permanent characteristics:

• Nationality and talking about where you are from:
Soy inglesa. I am English.
¿De dónde eres? Where are you from?

• Physical description or personality:
Juan es alto. Juan is tall.
Carmen es graciosa. Carmen is funny.
Los camareros son guapos. The waiters are good-looking.

• Hour, day, date:
¿Qué hora es? What is the time?
Son las tres. It is three o’clock.
Es la una. It is one o’clock.
Hoy es jueves. Today is Thursday.
Es el diez de enero. It is the 10th January.

• To say where an event is being held:
La fiesta es en la casa de Ramón. The party is in Ramón’s house.
Los conciertos son en la plaza mayor. The concerts are in the main square.

• To say what something is made of:
La chaqueta es de cuero. The jacket is made of leather.
Las casas son de madera. The houses are (made) of wood.

• To describe your occupation:
¿Cuál es tu trabajo? What is your job?
Soy médico. I am a doctor?

• To express who something belongs to:
El coche es de mi padre. The car is my Dad’s.
¿De quién es el libro? Whose book is it?

• To explain relationships with one another:
Roberto es mi hermano. Roberto is my brother.
Son los padres de Isabel. They are Isabel’s parents.

• Ser is used with impersonal expressions:
Es importante hablar otros idiomas. It is important to speak other languages.
Es necesario estudiar mucho. It is necessary to study a lot.

Estar = to be [location / temporary states]

estoy (I am)
estás (you are) [singular]
está (he/she is)
estamos (we are)
estáis (you are) [plural]
están (they are)

When to use “estar”:

• Location: to describe where something is located.
¿Dónde está María? Where is María?
Buenos Aires está en Argentina. Buenos Aires is in Argentina.
El libro está en el estante. The book is on the shelf.

• Temporary states:
¿Cómo estás? How are you?
Estoy bien, gracias. I’m good, thanks.
El café está frío. The coffee is cold.
La puerta está abierta. The door is open.

• Used with the progressive tenses to describe an action in process:
¿Qué estás haciendo? What are you doing?
Estoy estudiando. I am studying.

• Idiomatic expressions:
Estar de acuerdo. To agree.
Estar de broma. To be joking.
Estar al caer. To be just around the corner.
Estar en todo. To be on top of everything.

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