Ser vs Estar

Ser vs estar
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Spanish Verbs to Be

The Spanish verbs ser and estar both mean "to be"* and are a difficult grammar point for many students of Spanish.

Ser is from the Latin word esse, meaning "essence." Ser is also a noun that means "life" or "human being. Thus ser is used to describe the essence of a noun: inherent qualities, factual information, and permanent or long-term attributes that seldom if ever change.

Estar is from the Latin verb stāre, "to stand." Estar describes a noun’s current state of being: its temporary, changeable qualities. It focuses on the present: how the subject feels or appears today.

Ser vs Estar

Some general tendencies – click for explanations and examples.

SER   ESTAR
event location   people / place / thing location
personality   feeling and emotion
physical characteristic   physical condition
profession   temporary job
relationship   relationship status

 * nationality, origin, religion
 * ownership
 * purpose
 * recipient
 * time and date
 * what something is made of

   * price / currency fluctuations

It’s essential to understand the difference between these two verbs, because with many adjectives, the choice of ser or estar can impact meaning, describing something as either a permanent or a temporary state of being:

Soy contento.   I’m happy (I’m a happy person).
Estoy contento.   I’m happy (I feel happy right now).
    
Lupe es sana.   Lupe is healthy (she’s a healthy person in general).
Lupe está sana.   Lupe is healthy (she had been sick) / Lupe looks healthy (today).
    
Juan es guapo.   Juan is handsome (he’s a handsome man).
Juan está guapo.   Juan looks handsome (today).
    
Somos optimistas.   We are optimists.
Estámos optimistas.   We’re optimistic (at the moment).
   
Mi abuelo es viejo.   My grandfather is old.
Mi abuelo está viejo.   My grandfather looks old (today – maybe he’s tired).

In addition, some adjectives have distinctly different meanings depending on which verb they are used with: Ser vs estar with adjectives.

 Mnemonic: DOCTOR CLIF

 * Note: There are a number of idiomatic expressions in which the verb tener means "to be".

Spanish quizzes Ser vs estar Quizzes

Think you’ve got it? Test yourself on ser vs estar:

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If you have a Premium PwLS account, you can get even more practice with writing and dictation exercises:

Ser vs estar Writing Challenges

Ser vs estar Dictados

 Related lessons

Spanish lesson plans Spanish lesson plans

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Estar vs ser

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