Ser vs. Estar
Learning the differences between ser and estar, por and para, and the subjunctive and the indicative is often quite challenging for learners of Spanish. ¡Ánimo!
(Cheer up!) After reading this article, you'll have a good handle on the first of these tricky pairs, ser and estar.
Uses of Ser
Ser is used to talk about permanent or lasting attributes. If this general rule is too vague for you, think of the acronym DOCTOR, which stands for Descriptions, Occupations, Characteristics, Time, Origin, and Relationships. Let's take a look at each of the above categories individually.
Descriptions are the essential qualities that define a person or thing and probably won’t change anytime soon. These descriptions can be names, physical descriptions, nationalities, and even religions.
An occupation is what someone does for a living or as a hobby. Basically, if you're talking about how someone makes money or fills their time, you'll use ser.
Notice that the indefinite articles un, una, unos, and unas are not used when talking about occupations with ser.
Characteristics are personality descriptions of a person. This category is included to hammer home the point that ser is used to talk about descriptions.
Time can refer to days, dates, years, and the time on the clock.
The place a person or thing is from or the material something is made of can be considered an origin.
Personal relationships, such as family ties, friendship, and romantic relationships, are also talked about using ser.
Uses of Estar
Estar is used to indicate temporary states and locations. If that general rule doesn’t suffice, there are two acronyms that you can think of, PLACE and LoCo. PLACE stands for Position, Location, Action, Condition, and Emotion. LoCo stands for Locations and Conditions. Let's look at PLACE now.
Position refers to the physical position or posture a person or thing is in.
The location of someone or something describes where it is permanently, temporarily, or conceptually.
Exception! The location of an event or party is described using ser, not estar.
La fiesta es en mi casa. (The party is at my house.)
Estar is used to describe ongoing actions and is often followed by a present participle (such as lavando) or a past participle (such as muerto).
Intriguingly, death in Spanish is seen as an ongoing action, not a permanent state, so estar is used to talk about being dead.
Physical and mental conditions are described using estar. Things that are likely to vary over several hours, days, or even years can be fall into this category.
How a person is feeling at a certain moment is described using estar.
Meaning Changes With Ser and Estar Phrases
There are some words that can be used with both ser and estar to form verb phrases, and these take on different meanings depending on the verb. Here are some examples of these types of phrases.
|Ser Phrase||English||Estar Phrase||English|
|to be boring||to be bored|
|to be good||to be tasty/attractive|
|to be a tiring person||to be tired|
|to be serious||to be seriously ill|
|to be clever||to be ready|
|to be bad||to be ill|
|to be conceited or vain||to be proud|
|to be dark-skinned||to be tanned|
|to be pale-skinned||to be pale|
|to be heavy/to be boring||to be annoying|
|to be rich||to be tasty|
|to be safe||to be certain|
|to be green||to be unripe|
|to be old||to look old|
|to be sharp||to be alive|