I have noticed that Spanish learners struggle a little when trying to decide whether to use “ser” or “estar” in a sentence. In this article, I will try to exemplify the use of both.
First of all, What do ser and estar mean?
Ser and estar mean “to be”.
Second: Ser and estar are infinitives. In other words, they are an impersonal form of the verb.
Notice that they end in “er” and “ar”; infinitives always end in “ar”, “er”, or “ir”.*
We have to know that ser and estar are not already conjugated.
Here you have the conjugation table for ser and estar in the present tense:
Existence and profession
Yo soy Geovanny de Costa Rica.
Ella es una secretaria.
She is a secretary.
“Ser” is used for existence and profession.
Also, think about it in this way: I am Geovanny today, and I will be Geovanny forever.
Here, “forever” is a key word. You use ser when something is extended or true for a very long period of time.
For example, if someone asks you: “What is the planet earth like?”
You can answer: “La tierra es redonda.”
The planet earth is round (or, at least it seems round, haha! And, it will be round for a long time, hopefully!).
Personality or physical traits
Ellos son altos.
They are tall.
They cannot be tall today and short tomorrow; that is why we use ser here.
Kim es muy simpática.
Kim is very nice.
Being nice is a normal part of Kim's personality. For this reason, we use ser.
What is a computer?
Una computadora es una herramienta tecnológica que uso para aprender idiomas.
A computer is a technological tool that I use to learn languages. You do too, right?
Time of day and time of the year
What time is it? ♪♪ It´s summer time…
Son las 10 am. Es temprano.
It’s 10 am. It’s early.
Es verano, vamos a la playa.
It is summer; let´s go to the beach.
Oh the beach…so peaceful and relaxing.
Friend: “I like that new shirt you have.”
Very fancy friend: “Do you like it? Es de cashmere. It is cashmere.”
Friend: “Oh, well excuse me miss ‘Cash’-mere!”
Think about facebook for this one.
I am happy.
I am decided.
I am excited.
All of them are just that: a status.
You might be happy now but angry tomorrow or in a hour. For this reason we use estar. I hope you are happy all the time, though.
So the phrase “Estoy feliz” could be confusing for some of you since “Soy feliz” is also a valid sentence. See the difference:
Estoy feliz (just for now)
Soy feliz (always, because of a person’s personality)
“Hey, where are you buddy?”
“I am in front of the computer.” Estoy en frente de la computadora.
“Are you watching the Ellen show?” Estás viendo Ellen?
“You got me.”
La ardilla está en la acera.
The squirrel is on the sidewalk.
In the first example, we use estar because “in front of” is a place. Secondly, the guy is watching Ellen at the moment, but later, he could watch be watching New Girl.
Who likes New Girl? Yeah nice show =) LOL!
In the second example, the squirrel was on the sidewalk but just for a moment: a status. As soon as she finished posing, she went to look for more food (haha!). This is why we use estar.
¿Ser o Estar?
To finish, you might find that the same sentence could use either ser or estar, so you have to think about the meaning of the adjective so that it makes sense:
Geovanny es vivo.
Geovanny is clever.
(He is clever today and tomorrow and so on, just as usual.)
Geovanny está vivo.
Geovanny is alive.
(This is a state.)
¡¡¡Pura vida!!! Happy learning!!!
*There are more uses. These are the ones I considered more important.
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