Ser/Estar – Verbs in Spanish Grammar

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What’s the difference between ser and estar?

The English verb be has two translations in Spanish grammar: ser and estar. Unfortunately for us, they are not interchangeable; we have to learn when to use each one.

Ser is used for qualities and characteristics, in the passive voice and in connection with adverbs of time.

Estar describes temporary conditions or states, locations, and actions happening at the moment of speaking (estar + gerundio).

Learn the difference between ser and estar with Lingolia then practise in the exercises.

How to conjugate ser and estar

The tables below show the conjugations of ser and estar in the important Spanish tenses.


Presente Pret. Imperfecto Pret. Indefinido Futuro
yo soy era fui seré
eres eras fuiste serás
él es era fue será
nos. somos éramos fuimos seremos
vos. sois erais fuisteis seréis
ellos son eran fueron serán


Presente Pret. Imperfecto Pret. Indefinido Futuro
yo estoy estaba estuve estaré
estás estabas estuviste estarás
él está estaba estuvo estará
nos. estamos estábamos estuvimos estaremos
vos. estáis estabais estuvisteis estaréis
ellos están estaban estuvieron estarán

When to use ser and estar

Knowing when to use ser and when to use estar can be tricky for English-speakers, as they both mean be.

Read on to learn the differences between the two.

When to use ser

The verb ser is used to describe the following:

  • inherent/identifying characteristics and physical appearance
    Félix y Raúl son altos.Félix and Raúl are tall.
    Antón es muy simpático.Antón is very nice.
  • identity, character traits and permanent qualities (nationality, religion etc.)
    Yo soy Santiago.I am Santiago.
    Este es el Teatro Real.This is the Teatro Real.
    Susana es de Venezuela.Susana is from Venezuela.
    La familia de Carlos es católica.Carlos’s family is Catholic.
  • personal relationships
    Tatiana y Sarai son mis hermanas.Tatiana and Sarai are my sisters.
    Estos son mis amigos.These are my friends.
    Elisa es mi exnovia.Elisa is my ex-girlfriend.
  • where/when something takes place
    El partido de fútbol es en Valencia.The football match is in Valencia.
    El partido es el miércoles.The match is on Wednesday.
  • information about day/date/season/time
    Hoy es domingo.Today is Sunday.
    Hoy es 1 de abril.Today is 1st April.
    Es primavera.It’s spring.
    ¿Qué hora es? Son las diez.What time is it? It’s 10 o’clock.
  • in the passive voice
    Las camas son hechas por Claudia.The beds are made by Claudia.
  • in connection with adverbs of time
    Aquí ya es de noche.Here it’s already nighttime.
  • with the preposition para, to indicate a recipient or a purpose
    Esa máquina es para Gabriel.This machine is for Gabriel.
    Esa máquina es para hacer zumos.This machine is for making juice.
  • information about price
    —¿Cuánto es?How much is it?
    Son 120 euros.It’s 120 euros.
  • material, possession/belonging, origin
    Ese anillo es de oro.This ring is made of gold.
    Ese anillo es de María.This ring belongs to María.
    Ese anillo es de Perú.This ring comes from Peru.
  • for professions (without an indefinite article)
    Juana es ingeniera.Juana is an engineer.
    Ramón es periodista.Ramon is a journalist.
    Estoy en paroI am unemployed.

When to use estar

The verb estar is used to describe the following:

  • temporary characteristics, including health
    Está triste.He/She is sad.
    Estoy enfermo.I'm sick.
  • appearance
    Mi abuela de 70 años está muy joven.My 70-year-old grandma looks young for her age.
    Alfredo está muy moreno.Alfredo is very suntanned.
  • marital status
    Estoy soltero.I’m single.
    Estoy prometido.I’m engaged.
    Estoy casado.I’m married.
    Estoy divorciado.I’m divorced.
    but: Soy viudo.I’m widowed.
  • location
    El estadio está en Valencia.The stadium is in Valencia.
    Los jugadores están en el hotel.The players are in the hotel.
  • day/date/season (but not time) in the 1st person plural with the prepositions a/en
    Estamos a domingo.Today is Sunday.
    Estamos a 1 de abril.Today is April 1st.
    Estamos en primavera.It’s spring.
    ¿A qué día estamos hoy?What day is today?
  • in connection with adverbs
    Está bien irse de vacaciones una vez al año.It’s good to go on holiday once a year.
  • with preposition de + noun, to express moods or situations
    Marco siempre está de buen humor.Marco is always in a good mood.
    Marisa está ahora de camarera en Ibiza.Marisa is working as a waitress in Ibiza.
    Mi hermana está de parto.My sister is in labour.
    Carla y Marina están de guardia este fin de semana.
  • information about price with the preposition a
    —¿A cuánto están las manzanas?How much are the apples?
    Están a 2 euros el kilo.They’re two euros a kilo.
  • to describe the way something has been produced
    fabricado + en/con + material: estar fabricado en oro be made of/fabricated in gold
    hecho + de/con + material: estar hecho de papelbe made of paper
    bañado + en + material: estar bañado en platabe silver plated
  • in the structure estar + gerundio to express actions happening at the moment of speaking
    Estamos cenando en el jardín.We’re having dinner in the garden.

To Note

Some adjectives have a different meaning depending on whether they are used with ser or with estar.

Lara es muy rica.Lara is very rich.
rica = rich
La tortilla está muy rica.The omelette is delicious.
rica = delicious

Adjectives with ser/estar

On the following pages, we’ve listed some important adjectives that are used with either ser or estar.