The verbs ser and estar in Spanish: how and when to use them

Using the verbs ser or estar in Spanish is one of the most complex challenges that a student of this language can face. The difficulty usually lies in the fact that the student assumes the nature of the verb to be in English, which has only one verb form, while in Spanish the meaning of ser or estar is not the same. 

If you are one of those who struggle with its use, don't worry because we will explain all this to you right away. However remember that the best way for you to master it is to practice, practice and practice the Spanish language by living it!

When to use the verb ser

The verb ser is used when talking about permanent features of the person. Some examples would be the physical characteristics, nationality, political or religious beliefs of the person or family relationships. Let's look at an example using the present indicative: 

  • Luis y Carmen son hermanos. 
  • Pedro es un hombre alto.
  • Juan es católico.
  • Ana es española.

On the other hand, the date and time of events is also expressed with the verb ser

  •  La reunión es el viernes a las once de la mañana.

You shall also use the verb ser with prices

  • ¿Puede traerme la cuenta ? - Por supuesto, son € 8.20.

Professions are also characteristics of a person so they are expressed with the verb ser

  • Alejandro es un profesor.
  • María es una doctora.

Finally, the manufacturing materials of an object or the negative or positive qualities of a thing / person are also expressed with the verb ser

  • La puerta es de madera. 
  • El edificio es viejo. 
  • El chico joven es muy guapo.

When to use the verb estar

Now, while the verb ser is used to describe more or less stable characteristics or traits, the verb estar is used to speak of transitory states. We will start with the states of mind or health

  • Julia está contenta: It means that that particular day Julia is in a good mood. 
  • Julia es alegre: It means that Julia is a positive person who is generally in a good mood. 
  • Daniel está enfermo.

Second, the verb estar is used to talk about physical appearance when it is something transitory

  • Alicia está muy morena este verano: It is normal for Alicia's skin to lose color and pale in winter.

We continue with the marital status

  • Alberto está casado.

The location of a person or thing is also transitory. We are never in the same place: 

  • Cristina está en casa. 
  • Las gafas están sobre la mesa
  • Iván está en Sevilla: Which means that he is currently in Sevilla. Do not mistake the place from which a person was born or currently lives permanently - Iván es de Sevilla: He was born in Sevilla. 

Also, have in mind to use the verb estar on how something has been produced. Be careful, we are not just talking about the manufacturing material but how it has been made

  • El collar está hecho con mucha paciencia y amor.
  • Los muebles están hechos con materiales de primera calidad.

And we finish with the modal adverbs

  • Está bien hacer deporte al aire libre. 

Ser and estar are irregular verbs

Unfortunately, when it comes to conjugating the verbs ser and estar in Spanish, there is no choice but to use your memory. They do not respond to rules that are repeated as if it happens with regular verbs such as “amar”, for example. That is, in the case of the verbs ser or estar, the singular and plural person do not have a similar ending to help you learn them.

But there is a method that you can follow like making your own work frames. Write in the upper part the name of the verb tense you are studying and its equivalent in Spanish. Continue with the singular and plural person and repeat the list several times. You can also put examples next to the person of the verb you are conjugating to help you understand the context in which it is used.

The verbs ser and estar are among the most important in Spanish due to the amount of times they are use in a daily basis conversation, and that is why it is recommended that you learn them at the same time. Another trick is to group together verbs that have the same present, past, and participle forms.

And with this we have already made a general review of some tips and tricks to learn how to use the verbs ser or estar in Spanish. You just have to start practicing!