Ser vs. Estar
One of the most stressful parts of learning Spanish for many language learners, other than the subjunctive and por vs. para, is knowing the difference between ser and estar. But it doesn't have to be stressful! While both of these verbs mean to be and are used all the time in daily communication, the following simple rules should help you to differentiate between the two. If you have any doubts on how to conjugate either verb (they're irregular verbs), check out the verb conjugations of ser and estar.
Uses of Ser
Ser is used to classify and identify 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.
For descriptions, think of what you would say if someone asked you How would you describe __? These are the essential qualities that define a person or thing and probably won’t change anytime soon. These descriptions can be names, physical descriptions, and even religions.
For occupations, think of what you would say if someone asked you What do you do for a living?
Notice that the indefinite articles un, una, unos, and unas are not used when describing an occupation with ser.
Characteristics are personality descriptions of a person. This category is included to hammer home to point that descriptions are talked about with ser.
Time includes days, dates, and hours. For hours, use es for one o’clock and son for all other hours.
The place a person is from or the material something is made from is an origin.
Personal relationships are also talked about with 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 is the physical position or posture a person or thing is in.
The location of someone or something describes where it is permanently, temporarily, actually, 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 using progressive tenses.
In Spanish, death is seen as an ongoing action, not a permanent state, so you use estar 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 conditions
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 tiresome||to act 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|