Ser and estar

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The Spanish verbs ser and estar both translate to to be in English, but are not used interchangeably. This is a short comparison of when to use each of these verbs in Spanish.

Uses of ser

Ser generally defines what the subject is or is not.

  • Professions
Soy albañil.— I'm a construction worker.
  • Permanent conditions
Esta ciudad es muy sucia.— This city is really dirty (A permanent condition, unlikely to change).
  • Non-permanent, but definitive conditions
Él es nuevo aquí.— He's new around here.
  • Permanent characteristics
Soy alto.— I'm tall.
El martillo es pesado.— The hammer is heavy.
  • Where someone is from
Soy de España.— I'm from Spain.
  • Telling time
Son las 4 de la tarde.— It's 4 PM.
  • Saying what the date is
Es el cuatro de octubre.— It's October 4th.
  • Saying what day of the week it is
Es martes.— It's Tuesday.
  • Nationalities
Ella es inglesa.— She's English.
La cámara es de Miguel.— The camera is Michael's.
  • What something is made of
La pared es de ladrillo.— The wall is made of/from brick.
  • Religion
Es católica.— She's Catholic.
  • Size & Length
El palo es largo.— The stick is long.
El bolígrafo es pequeño.— the pen is small.
Las rosas son rojas.— Roses are red.
  • To specify one of several objects (Don't confuse this with the location criteria below)
¿Cuál es la casa de Juan? Es la casa de la esquina.— Which house is Juan's? It's the house on the corner.
  • To specify where something takes place.
La fiesta es en casa de Juan.— The party is at Juan's house.
La fiesta será en casa de Juan.— The party is going to be at Juan's house.

Uses of estar

Estar generally describes the state or location of something.

  • Changeable conditions
La calle está sucia. - The street's really dirty. (It just rained and there's mud everywhere, not a permanent condition)
  • Changeable characteristics
Está enojado. - He's angry.
  • Location/position of people/things (Even if it's something permanent)
Está en la recámara. - It's in the bedroom.
Londres está en Inglaterra. - London is in England.
  • Temporary state of something
La luz está prendida. - The light is on.
La puerta está abierta. - The door's open.
Estoy caminando. - I'm walking.
Estuve trabajando. - I was working. (But I'm not anymore)
Estaba leyendo. - I was reading.

Cases where both estar or ser can be used

There are times when both estar or ser can be used, but convey different meanings. Here are a few examples:

Juan es aburrido (Juan is boring)Juan está aburrido (Juan is bored)
María es nerviosa (Mary is a nervous person)María está nerviosa (Mary is nervous (right now, but not always))
El mango es bueno (Mangoes are good)El mango está bueno (This mango tastes good or The mango is good (as in not rotten or spoiled))
Es buena (She's a good person)Está buena (She's hot)
Es verde (It's green in color)Está verde (It's green, It's not ripe)
Juan es listo (Juan is clever)Juan está listo (Juan is ready)

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