Image by Dave Hamter (CC by 2.0)
Ser and estar may be the most difficult verbs to learn in Spanish. It is particularly hard for Spanish learners to distinguish the difference between these two verbs. If you’re in this situation, please don’t be afraid anymore! In this article, I am going to give you some easy tips to remember so you will not confuse these two verbs..
First at all, familiarise yourselves with how these verbs work; this means knowing some specific grammar rules.
Second, practise these verbs. Make up sentences where ser and estar appear as much as possible. Write them on a piece of paper or if you haven’t got enough time, think them out loud while you are doing some household chores, for example. And finally, you’ll just have to keep on practising, practising, and practising.
To be honest, grammar rules are sometimes boring, but, they are extremely important for learning a language properly. So, read clear instances of their useage and then try to understand why and how they work in each way. But, don’t just memorize the rules because, most probably, they will slip completely from your mind. It’s better to study the verbs used in context.
Grammar rules for Spanish verb ser:
To identify people and things:
Ella es Carmen, mi jefa.
She’s Carmen, my manager.
Éste es el reloj que me regaló.
This is the watch he offered to me.
To express possession:
Ésta es mi hermana; se va mañana.
This is my sister; she’s leaving tomorrow.
Ésa es mi nueva casa; nos dan las llaves en marzo.
That’s my new house; we’ll get the keys in March.
To talk about nationality:
Es de España, nació en Madrid.
He’s from Spain; he was born in Madrid.
Ella es inglesa, de Londres.
She’s English, from London.
To talk about physical characteristics:
Pedro es muy alto, más que todos nosotros.
Pedro is very tall, taller than all of us.
Ella es rubia y tiene los ojos azules.
She’s blonde and has blue eyes.
To locate in time:
Son las cinco de la tarde.
It’s five o’clock.
Hoy es catorce de octubre.
Today is the fourteenth of October.
To express possibility:
Es posible que mañana gane la carrera.
He may win the race tomorrow.
Me temo que no es posible.
I’m afraid it’s not possible.
To give an opinion:
Ése vestido es precioso.
That dress is very beautiful.
El coche que te has comprador es carísimo.
The car you’ve bought is very expensive.
To express finality or usage:
El tren es para viajar más seguro.
Travelling by train is safer.
Estas botas son para ir a esquiar.
These boots are made for skiing.
To talk about professions and jobs:
Es profesora desde hace diez años.
She’s been a teacher for ten years now.
Los panaderos trabajan en las panaderías.
Bakers work in bakeries.
To talk about prices:
¿Cuánto es todo?
How much is it?
Son diez euros, señora.
It’s ten euros, madame.
Grammar rules for Spanish verb estar:
To talk about a place or location:
Madrid está en España.
Madrid is in Spain.
Mi cuñada está en casa.
My sister-in-law is at home.
Estar + preposition: to talk about feelings and situations.
Ana está de buen humor.
Ana is in a good mood.
Luis está en el hospital.
Luis is in the hospital.
There are some exceptions where you can use both ser and estar, but it depends on what you mean. There are some adjectives with which you can use both verbs, but you have to bear in mind that the meaning changes.
Pablo es muy bueno. Pablo is very gentle.
Pablo está muy bueno. Pablo is very hot.
Pedro es malo. Pedro is evil.
Pedro está malo. Pedro is ill.
Manuel es listo. Manuel is clever.
Manuel está listo. Manuel is ready.
Luis es rico. Luis is rich.
El pastel está rico. The pie is delicious.
El vestido es negro. The dress is black.
Juan está negro. Juan is very angry.
Don’t worry at all if you’re like Shakespeare's Hamlet wondering all the time “To be or not to be?” Should I say ser or estar? To find the right answer, remember:
1. Read the rules.
2. Analyse the examples.
3. Practise the verbs in sentences.
If you still have any doubts don’t despair. It’s absolutely normal. The secret is to carry on working on it and be patient. This way, you’ll be successful, for sure.