Spanish Grammar: the differences between Ser and Estar (to be)

“Ser y Estar” are two very important verbs in Spanish Grammar. For English speakers, learning the difference between these two can be tricky because both are translated as “to be”. But don’t worry! It’s easy to learn the difference between ser and estar.

As you probably know by now, the main difference between ser and estar that “ser” is usually used for permanent status and “estar” for a temporary one. For example:

“Alberto es feliz.” (Alberto is happy.) means that Alberto is happy (as in, he has a happy life.)

“Alberto está feliz.” (Alberto is happy.) means that Alberto is happy right now.

However, note that this rule does not apply to every case. Each verb has its specific uses and we are going to explain them all to you.

When to use Ser (and not Estar) in Spanish

Regarding “ser”, we can use this verb in four different cases:

  • to identify: “Tu eres muy guapa.” “Tu eres la hermana de Alberto” (You are very pretty. You are Alberto’s sister.)
  • origin: “Ellos son de Lisboa.” (They are from Lisbon.)
  • possession: “Este reloj es mio.” (This watch is mine.)
  • time: “Hoy es domingo.” (Today is sunday.)

When to use Estar (and not Ser) in Spanish

When it comes to “estar”, we use this verb in the following situations:

  • location: “José y Sara están en Oporto.” (José and Sara are in Porto.) As you can see, we use “estar” in this case, even though it might be something permanent. Spanish grammar can be tricky!
  • moods: “Él está feliz.” (He is happy.)
  • action in development (+gerund): “Yo estoy escribiendo.” (I am writing.)
  • result of an action (+participle): “La ventana está cerrada.” (The window is closed.)

These are the differences between ser and estar in Spanish. As you could see, they are very simple to understand and memorize. But it's very important for you to study these verbs, as they are probably the most commonly used verbs in the Spanish language!

Yes, if you are an English speaker, it may seem a little confusing at first, since you use the verb “to be” for every case mentioned above. Keep in mind that you have at your disposal our teachers and tutors, as well as all the study material you might need to help you practice this amazing language that is Spanish. ¡Buena suerte!

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