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Ser vs Estar: When to Use Each Verb


Overview: In today’s, Spanish grammar lesson we will learn the difference between the verbs “ser” and “estar” as well as when to know which one you should use.
Who’s it for: People who are just beginning to learn Spanish, and want to learn the fundamentals of Spanish first.
Skill Level: Beginners

To be or not to be? One of the most famous lines from Shakespeare contains perhaps the most frequently used verb in any language: to be.

In Spanish, this can get extra confusing since there are two different verbs, “ser” and “estar”, which both mean “to be.”

Depending on what you are trying to say, either “ser” or “estar” is the correct verb that you should use, but they are never interchangeable. Spanish textbooks will provide you a long list of rules and exceptions that complicate this already seemingly complex language structure even more. In this video, we will introduce 3 simple rules, and easy ways to remember them, so that you can master the mother of all verbs: to be.

For the purpose of this lesson, we will work with the third person singular: he/ she/ it is.

The Spanish conjugation of to be in third person singular is:

ser => es

estar => está

The first rule of ser vs. estar is: for permanent stuff you use ser, for temporary stuff you use estar.

Example of permanent: “He is a human being.” He will always be a human being. So in this case you will use “ser” because he is a human being permanently. In Spanish, this is: “Él es humano.”

Example of temporary: “He is happy.” He is happy right now. He could be sad in the next moment, or he might have been angry moments before, therefore it is temporary. So in this case you will use “estar.” In Spanish this is: “Èl está feliz.”

*If you wanted to describe a person as a happy person in general, you would use the verb “ser” to describe him since you are referring to his personality, which is permanent.

The second rule for ser vs. estar is: locations always use estar.

For example: He is at the market = Él está en el mercado.

This makes sense, and follows the temporary/permanent rule. Where it can get confusing is with buildings. When describing a building’s location, you still use “estar”. To help you remember, you can try to think of buildings as temporary since they can technically be removed at any time.

Example: La biblioteca está allí.

The third rule of ser vs. estar: professions always use “ser”. This rule is a bit counterintuitive since we tend to switch up our jobs often these days however in Spanish, that’s just the rule.

Example: He is a doctor = Él es un doctor.

There you have it! Complicated Spanish grammar made easy. This won’t only serve you as a beginner; these simple rules will still be relevant when you are reading Spanish translations of Shakespeare’s work!