First of all, even though our blog is fairly new, we always appreciate the comments and emails that we have received from our students and blog-readers. We are always looking for great ideas and unique topics to write about to help people learn Spanish online. Of course, we’d love for our readers to try our conversational Spanish lessons for free – we’d still love to hear from you either way. Today we are going to discuss a typical, yet essential topic for Spanish students, which leave them asking: Exactly, what is the difference between ser and estar?
When you learn Spanish, I think one of the parts of speech is harder to learn the difference between “ser” and “estar”. In fact, we KNOW that it is difficult – even for some students in the advanced stage. Today we are going to attempt to help you understand the differences between the two verbs: “to be”.
In general we can say that the verb “ser” is used to describe situations, people, time, characteristics, and is used for descriptions. But to understand it a bit better, let’s study it rule by rule.
1. Characteristics: describes the physical, mental, emotional, and personality of people, things and places, such as: color, material (made of), and emotions (that describe someone’s more permanent personality traits). It’s like saying in English: “What’s he like?” You wouldn’t answer – “He is sad”- because that can and probably will change. You can say – “He is a funny guy” – Usually a funny guy today is a funny guy tomorrow, next week, and next month.
- Ana es amable con todos. Ana is kind to everyone. (generally, and always)
- Tú eres muy cariñoso. You are very affectionate. (generally, and always)
- Antigua es una ciudad muy interesante. Antigua is a very interesting city. (more permanent description)
- La mesa es de madera fina. The table is made of fine wood. (material)
- Mi casa es de color rojo. My house is red. (characteristic)
2. Descriptions: describes the essential qualities and physical of a person, place or thing.
- Ella es alta. She is tall.
- Los niños son muy inteligentes. The boys are very smart
- Ella es Cintia. She is Cynthia
- La ciudad es grande. The city is big.
3. Occupation: describes the profession or occupation of a person.
- Yo soy maestra de español. I am a Spanish teacher
- Él es arquitecto. He is an architect
- Mi padre es carpintero. My father is a carpenter
- Mi hermano es estudiante. My brother is a student
- Ellos son bomberos. They are firefighters.
- Tú eres doctor. You are a doctor.
4. Origin: describes where an object or person comes from.
- Ella es de Canadá. She is from Canada.
- Yo soy de Guatemala. I am from Guatemala.
- El libro es de España. The book is from Spain.
- Ellos son de Costa Rica. They are from Costa Rica.
- Las monedas son de la época colonial. The coins are from the colonial era.
5. Time: describes the time, day and date, either as something specific or to describe an event.
- ¿Qué hora es? Son las cinco de la mañana. What time is it? It’s five o’clock.
- La fiesta es el sábado. The party is Saturday.
- La clase es a las ocho de la mañana. The class is at eight o’clock.
- El concierto es a las ocho de la noche. The concert is at eight in the evening.
- Hoy es veinticinco de enero. Today is January 25.
6. Identification: Each person and the relationship between people.
- Él es el hermano de mi amiga. He is the brother of my friend.
- Ella es mi esposa. She is my wife.
- Nosotros somos los hijos de Adela. We are the children of Adela.
- ¿Quién es ella? Ella es mi hija. Who is she? She is my daughter.
7. Location: describe where events, such as meetings, concerts, parties, etc. (this is a tricky one, since your inclination may be to use estar!)
- La fiesta es en mi casa. The party is at my house.
- La reunión es en la escuela. The meeting is at school.
- La cena de acción de gracias es en la casa de mi mamá. The Thanksgiving dinner is at my mom’s house.
8. Possession: Describes who owns a thing or an object.
- La casa es de mi hermana. The house is my sister’s
- Este libro es de la maestra. The book is my teacher’s.
- El carro negro es mío. The black car is mine.
- La escuela es del gobierno. The school is the government’s (The government’s school).
9. Impersonal phrases:
- ¡Es bueno! It’s good!
- Aprender español es fácil. Learning Spanish is easy.
- ¡Es interesante! It’s interesting!
- No es lógico. It’s not logical.
In general we can say that the verb “estar” expresses the state or condition that is sometimes temporary. This includes: people and things, and also the location of people, things, and places. To better understand it better let’s study these expressions, and then compare them to the aforementioned examples of ser.
1. State or condition: expresses the state or condition in which a person is according to their mood or how they feel, as well as their physical and mental condition. This rule also applies to the state or condition that objects are.
- Yo estoy triste. I am sad
- Él está cansado por trabajar mucho. He is tired from working hard.
- Los estudiantes están preocupados por el examen. Students are worried about the test.
- El café está frio. The coffee is cold.
- Tú estás enferma. You are sick
- Los platos están rotos. The dishes are broken
2. Location: expresses the whereabouts of people, things and places. (But not events – see point #7 under Ser!) Whether on a temporary or permanent time (Another tricky one!)
- Ella está en la casa. She is in the house
- El banco está cerca de la escuela. The bank is near the school.
- Mis libros están sobre la mesa. My books are on the table.
- La ciudad de Tokio está en el Japón. Tokyo is in Japan.
Hope these help a bit. Don’t fret if you do not catch on right away. This rule really is all about practice, practice, practice, and rest assured – it will come to you in second nature one day – and then you can finally move past it!
If you are having confusion, need more examples – feel free to learn a comment, or better yet, talk to one of our Spanish teachers live!