Ser and Estar can be confusing since they both can mean “to be;” however, there are some simple generalizations that can help you remember when to use one or the other. In general, Ser is used for Descriptions, Origins, and Time, or D.O.T. This article covers Time.

Using Ser with Time

Time can be days, dates, and hours.

  • Hoy es miércoles. (Today is Wednesday.)
  • Ayer fue mi cumpleaños. (Yesterday was my birthday.)
  • Ahora es la una y media. (Right now, it is one thirty.)
  • Eran las dos. (It was two o’clock.)

You only need to be able to count to 29 to be able to tell time in Spanish. When The time is less than 30 minutes, you state the time as you would in English using the formula Ser + la(s) + hour + y + minutes. Use es + la for times starting with one o’clock and son + las for all other hours.

  • Es la una y veinte. (It is one twenty.)
  • Son las tres y diez. (It is three ten.)
  • Son las nueve y veintinueve. (It is nine twenty nine.)
  • Son las diez y media. (It is ten thirty.)

To indicate the half hour in Spanish, use the word media, meaning half.

Once the clock ticks past 29 minutes, it is common to say how many minutes remain to the next hour. To do this, indicate the upcoming hour and the remaining minutes using the formula Ser + la(s) + hour + menos + minutes.

  • Son las diez menos veinte. (It is twenty minutes til ten./It is nine fourty.)
  • Es la una menos quince. (It is fifteen minutes til one./It is twelve fourty-five.)
  • Son las ocho menos cinco. (It is five minutes til eight./It is seven fifty-five.)

There are several time-related expressions that are commonly used in place of some numbers.

  • Es la una y cuarto. (It is one fifteen./It is a quarter after one.)
  • Son las cuatro y diez en punto. (It is four ten exactly.)
  • Son las nueve más o menos. (It is about nine o’clock.)
  • Salimos a las cinco. (We are leaving at five o’clock.)

Other useful time-related phrases:

  • Buenos días - Good morning
  • Buenas tardes - Good afternoon
  • Buenas noches - Good evening
  • ¿Qué hora es? - What time is it?
  • ¿Cuándo…? - When…?

A note on expressions of the state of affairs.

Some phrases that seem to deal with time will use the verb estar as they are indicating a state of where something stands.

  • ¿A qué día estamos? - What day is it? (Literally: What day are we at)?
  • ¿A cuántos estamos del mes? - What day of the month is it? (Literally: At which (day) are we up to in the month?)
  • Estamos a sábado. - Today is Saturday (Literally: We are at Saturday).

In such expressions the emphasis is on the state of affairs, similar (though not quite the same) as such expressions as, “How are we looking on time?” or “How are we doing for time?”  A decent analogy can be drawn by considering the etymology of the word estar which shares the same root as the English verb “to stand.”  Looking at it this way, one might reasonably assume that such expressions are similar to “Where do we stand for time?” or “How are we standing on time?” where the focus is more on a condition than telling an actual time.

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Category: verbs | Keywords: ser and estar