Ser vs estar

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 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.

  estar ser
aburrido   bored boring
bueno   tasty good
cachondo   aroused sexy
cansado   tired tiresome
listo   ready smart/clever
rico   delicious rich
seguro   sure/certain safe

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

Spanish quizzes Ser vs estar Quiz

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