Spanish Verbs to Be
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 stare, "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.
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).|
Mnemonic: DOCTOR CLIF
Some adjectives have distinctly different meanings depending on which verb they are used with.
* Note: There are a number of idiomatic expressions in which the verb tener means "to be".
Ser vs estar Quiz
Think you’ve got it? Test yourself on ser vs estar:
- Introduction to estar | ser
- Expressions: with estar | with ser
- Conjugations: estar | ser
- Most common Spanish verbs
- ¿Ser o Estar? (Worksheet, 6th-9th grade)
- Ser vs Estar (PPT, 6th-11th grade)
- Ser y Estar (PPT, 6th – higher ed)
- Which one fits: Ser or Estar? (Worksheet, 6th-8th grade)