Verbs - Ser (to be) Estar (to be)
Free Spanish Lessons

  Verb Tenses  
    An introduction to verbs & personal pronouns  
    Verbs - Ser (to be) Estar (to be)  
    The present simple tense - regular verbs (I am)  
    The present simple tense - irregular verbs (I am)  
    The past simple tense - regular verbs (I was)  
    The past simple tense - irregular verbs (I was)  
    The imperfect tense - all verbs (I used to)  
    The future tense - all verbs (I will be)  
    The continuous tenses (I am going)  
    The perfect tenses - regular and irregular verbs  
    The conditional tense - regular and irregular verbs  
    The present subjunctive tense  
    The past subjunctive tense (If I were to)  
    The infinitive tense (verbs in their original forms - to be)  
    The imperative tense (command verbs - go / stay etc)  
    'Haber' with the conditional and past subjunctive tenses  
  More About Verbs  
    Reflexive verbs - Part 1  
    Reflexive verbs - Part 2  
    The 'Gerund' (the equivalent of forming 'ing...' verbs)  
    'Gustar' and similar verbs - A different way of using verbs  
Spain v Latin America
  All About Articles  
    Articles - definite / indefinite ('the' and 'a' in English)  
  All About Nouns  
    Nouns - Part 1 - (Masculine or feminine?)  
    Nouns - Part 2 - (Gender and forming plural nouns)  
  All About Adjectives  
    Adjectives - (Agreement and word order)  
    Adjectives - (Comparative and superlative)  
  All About Pronouns  
    Pronouns - object pronouns (direct / indirect)  
  Adjectives & Pronouns  
    Adjectives and Pronouns (demonstrative)  
    Adjectives and Pronouns (possessive)  
    Adjectives and pronouns (indefinite)  
  All About Adverbs  
    Adverbs - Part 1 - (words ending in -ly in English)  
    Adverbs - Part 2 - (Other forms / making comparisons)  
    An introduction to prepositions and relative pronouns  
    Prepositions - A comprehensive list with examples  
    Conjunctions - linking words  
  Questions & Negatives  
    Questions and negatives (question words)  

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Video Lessons
Summary of Lesson
Two verbs with only one meaning in English! An introduction to the concept and a comparison with the verb ‘hacer’ (to make / to do.)
When to use ‘ser’. A look at some of the most common situations where ‘ser’ and not ‘estar’ is used in conversation.
When to use ‘estar’. A look at some of the most common situations where ‘estar’ and not ‘ser’ is used in conversation.
A look at how ‘ser’ or ‘estar’ are used in the same types of sentence structures but where the meaning of the sentence changes depending on which verb is used.
Looking at how ‘ser’ and ‘estar’ are formed in various tenses. Both verbs are irregular! A closer look at how ‘ser’ is formed in the past simple (preterite), tense and how it compares to the verb ‘ir’ (to go.) It is the same!
  What you can learn from this lesson
Being able to adapt to the concept of having two verbs in Spanish that translate to only one verb in English and vice versa.
Having a sound grasp of when to use ‘ser’ in conversation and when to use ‘estar’.
Understanding how the use of either ‘ser’ or ‘estar’ in a sentence can alter the meaning of that sentence. Appreciating how subtle differences in meaning can significantly impact the translation of what is being said!
Being able to correctly conjugate the verbs ‘ser’ and ‘estar’ in various different tenses. Recognising when the verb ‘ir’ is being used in the past simple (preterite), tense and not ‘ser’ by the content of the sentence itself.
Spanish Complete Edition
Teach Me Spanish



The first part of this lesson introduces the concept of having two different verbs in Spanish which translate to only one verb in English.

ser to be
estar to be


Although this concept will at first seem strange to native speakers of English, the concept does also exist the other way around.


to do hacer
to make hacer


The verb ‘hacer’ in Spanish has two different meanings in English. This kind of concept is not really that unusual and of course there are rules and guidelines that can help us to learn and understand how and when to translate correctly.


For native speakers of English learning how and when to use the verbs ser and estar correctly often takes a lot of practice. This is not really because the grammatical guidelines telling us when to use ‘ser’ and when to use ‘estar’ are difficult to grasp. It is because native speakers of English are not used to having to distinguish between two very common verbs that mean the same thing in English!


The following is an example of how ‘ser’ and how ‘estar’ might be used differently in conversation.


(Yo) estoy en el mercado. I am (I’m) at the market.
(Yo) soy de Japon.  I am (I’m) from Japan .


In English yo estoy and yo soy mean the same thing; I am.


Of course it is not only the infinitive verbs ‘ser’ and ‘estar’ that are different. The formations of ‘ser’ and ‘estar’ are also different depending on what tense we are using and depending which personal pronoun we are referring to, (I, in the above example). So, how do we know when to use ‘ser’ and when to use estar’. This is looked at in parts two and three of the lesson.




This part of the lesson looks at some of the most common situations when ‘ser’ is used in conversation instead of ‘estar’. The following examples use the present simple tense to illustrate how ‘ser’ is used but of course the verb can be adapted to be used in any tense.


1)      When saying who we are and where we come from.


(Yo) soy Esteban. I’m Esteban.
¿De dónde eres?    Where are you from.
(Yo) soy de España. I’m from Spain.
Ellos son de México. They’re from Mexico.


2)      When describing what we do. Our professions.


¿Usted es un doctor ?  Are you a doctor ?
(Yo) soy carpintero. I’m a carpenter.
Nosotras somos bailarinas.  We are dancers.

3)      When describing the physical characteristics of somebody or something or when talking about qualities that are more permanent than temporary.


Diego no es gordo.  Diego isn’t fat.
Alicia es muy astuta.  Alicia is very smart.
Ellos son flacos.   They are thin.
Vosotros sois rubios. Your (all) fair skinned.
Nosotros somos de piel y hueso. We are made of skin and bone.
(Tú) eres joven y rico.  Your young and rich.


4)      With other adjectives that are normally used impersonally by referring to it or they.


Son interesantes. They’re interesting.
Es aburrido. Its boring.
Es muy cansado. Its very tiring.
Es increíble. It’s incredible.


5)      When telling the time and saying dates. Take a look at the ‘words list’ section of this website to learn more.


Son las cuatro y quince.  Its four fifteen.
Es medio día. Its midday.
Es el veinte de marzo. It’s the twentieth of March.
Los mejores días son los viernes.  The best days are Fridays.


6)      In calculations and asking how much.


¿Cuánto es? How much is it?
Es gratis. It’s free.
Es dos Euros. Its two Euros.
Dos más dos son cuatro. Two plus two is four.


7)      In sentences that convey possession.


¿De quién es esto?  Who’s is this?
Es mío. No es tuyo. Its mine not yours.
No es para mí.  Its not for me.


8)      When ser is followed directly by an infinitive verb in certain set phrases, or in question words or other set phrases.


Lo peor es gritar en mi oreja.   Its shouting thats the problem.
Es así.  Its like this / like that.
Es porque no quiero.  Its because I don’t want to.
Es acerca de mi madre. Its about my mother.
Es lo mismo.  Its the same.




This part of the lesson looks at some of the most common situations when ‘estar’ is used in conversation instead of ‘ser’. The following examples use the present simple tense to illustrate how ‘estar’ is used but of course the verb can be adapted to be used in any tense.


1)      When describing things in their physical positions.


Nosotros estamos en la cocina. We are in the kitchen.
¿Dónde están? Where are they?
¿Dónde está la casa? Where is the house?
(Yo) estoy aquí. I’m here.


2)      When forming continuous tenses and saying what we are doing.


¿Qué estás haciendo?  What are you doing?
(Yo) estoy leyendo. I’m reading.
Vosotros estáis comiendo. Your (all) eating.


3)      When describing how we are or when describing how we feel right now.


¿Cómo estás? How are you?
Estoy bien gracias.  I’m fine thanks.
¿Está usted de mal humor? Are you in a bad mood?
Estoy muy triste. I’m very sad.
Ella está muy feliz. She’s very happy.


4)      Often when placed directly in front of adjectives that take a past participle form (not in passive sentence structures), and which refer to things in a definite manner.


El baño está ocupado. The toilet is occupied.
Nosotros estamos cansados. We are tired.
La puerta está abierta.  The door is open.




The fourth part of the lesson looks at when both ‘ser’ and ‘estar’ could be used in the same sentence but where the meaning of the sentence changes depending on which verb is used.


Often one of the most difficult things about learning when to use ‘ser’ and when to use ‘estar’ is that sometimes both verbs can be used with the same adjectives. Another difficulty is that sometimes no logic can be applied to why one verb should be used over the other.


Deciding if something is permanent or temporary.


The meaning of some adjectives change depending on the context of what is being described. 


(Yo) soy enfermo or (Yo) soy un hombre enfermo. I’m sick, (meaning I am sick more permanently or it could refer to my character in general).
(Yo) estoy enfermo.

I’m sick, (meaning I am ill right now).


(Tú) eres cansado or (Tú) eres una persona cansada.

Your tired, (meaning in general, perhaps with life)!
(Tú) estás cansado. Your tired, (meaning right now).


Él es gordo. He’s fat, (meaning he is fat generally.)
Él está gordo.  He’s fat, (meaning perhaps because he has just eaten.)


Where the temporary permanent rule doesn’t always work.


Sometimes the guidelines don’t help when trying to decide whether ‘ser’ or ‘estar’ should be used.


Él está muerto.
Él es muerto.


Clearly the concept of being dead is quite permanent. Usually in such cases the verb ‘ser’ would be used but not in this case. Sometimes the decision whether to use ‘ser’ or ‘estar’ just has to be learnt and accepted without trying to apply any guideline or rule.




The last part of this lesson looks at how the verbs ‘ser’ and ‘estar’ are formed in different tenses. It also looks at how the verbs ‘ser’ and ‘ir’ are formed in the same way in the past simple (preterite), tense.


Both ‘ser’ and ‘estar’ are irregular verbs and therefore need to be learnt individually. Rather than defining here how each verb is formed in all tenses the best way to see and study them is to look at the ‘verb tables’ section of this website. The main point to remember is that it doesn’t matter what tense ‘ser’ and ‘estar’ are used in. The guidelines provided in parts 1 and 2 of the lesson can be applied to ‘ser’ and ‘estar’ in all tenses. Below are just a few examples.


Yo estuve cocinando. I was cooking.

Past simple (preterite tense)

‘Estar’ guideline 2 ­ using ‘estar’ when forming continuous tenses.


Él será el más alto de todos.  He will be the tallest of everyone.


Future tense

‘Ser’ guideline 3 ­ using ser when describing fairly permanent physical characteristics


Debería estar aquí. It should be here.


Conditional tense with should

‘Estar’ guideline 1 ­ using estar when referring to physical position.



‘Ser’ and ‘ir’ in the past simple (preterite), tense.


personal pronoun ser ir
  to be to go
yo fui fui
fuiste fuiste
él/ella/usted fue fue
nosotros/nosotras fuimos fuimos
vosotros/vosotras fuisteis fuisteis
ellos/ellas/ustedes fueron fueron


In the past simple (preterite), tense both ‘ser’ and ‘ir’ are formed in exactly the same way. This does not occur in any other tense with ‘ser’ and ‘ir’.


Although this might seem quite confusing at first you will soon realize that it is actually quite difficult to confuse which verb is being referred to in speech because of the context in which they are both used in. The following example shows how this works.


(Yo) fui a la tienda. I went to the shop NOT I was in the shop.




(Yo) estuve en la tienda.  I was in the shop.


In the first sentence it is not posible for ‘fui’ to mean ‘I was’ because the verb ‘ser’ is not used in these type of sentences. If ‘I was’ were to be the intended meaning then the verb ‘estar’ would have been used instead, as per the second sentence. (Guideline 1, physical position ­ ‘estar’ in part 3 of the lesson.)


That concludes this lesson on ‘ser’ and ‘estar’. If you have not done so already watch the actual video for this lesson and then try one of the associated quizzes to test your understanding.

Verbs - Ser (to be) Estar (to be)
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