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Difference between "ser" and "estar" in Spanish

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The verbs "ser" and "estar" can be translated with "to be" in English. Below we explain how to use the two verbs.

Distinction between "ser" and "estar"

In general it can be said that "ser" refers to "innate" characteristics, while "estar" is often used to talk about states or transitory properties. Beside of that, "estar" is also used to describe geographical positions

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Usage and examples with "ser"

"Ser" refers to "innate" or permanent characteristics.

Personal information

For name, identity, origin, profession and religion the verb "ser" is used. 

  • Laura es alemana. - Laura is German. 
  • Es un actor famoso. - He is a famous actor. 

Unchangeable properties

You can use "ser" for unchangeable properties, such as character and appearance.

  • Estos zapatos son demasiado caros. - These shoes are too expensive.
  • Lena es muy guapa. - Lena is very pretty.

Impersonal expressions

For impersonal expressions you can use the verb "ser" in Spanish.

  • Es verdad. - It's true.
  • Es necesario que estudies mucho. - It is necessary that you study a lot.

Ownership relations

The place a person or a thing is from can be described with "ser". 

  • Este coche es del jefe. - This car belongs to the boss.
  • El libro es tuyo. - The book is yours. 

Material (ser + de)

With "ser" you can also talk about the material something is made of. 

  • La mesa es de madera. - The table is made of wood.
  • El jarrón es de vidrio. - The vase is made of glass. 


Time can refer to days, dates, years and the time of the day

  • Hoy es el 21 de enero. - Today is the 21st of January. 
  • Es muy tarde, ya son las dos. - It is very late, it is already two.  

Numbers and prices

You can use "ser" to express results

  • Diez y cinco son quince. - Ten and five are fifteen.
  • Son veinte euros.  - It's twenty Euros. 

Passive voice

You can form the passive voice with "ser" + participle.

  • La comida es preparada. - The food is prepared. 
  • El dinero es robado. - The money is robbed. 

Usage and examples with "estar"

"Estar" is often used to talk about states or transitory properties.

Geographical location 

The location of someone or something describes where it is permanently or transitory

  • Guatemala está en Centroamérica. - Guatemala is in Central America. 
  • Mis zapatos negros no están aquí. -  My black shoes are not here.

enlightenedException: The location of an event/party is described using "ser", not "estar". Example: La fiesta es en mi casa. - The party is in my house. 

Mood/conditions of a person

You can use "estar" to express a temporary mood or state of a person

  • Mi madre está enferma. - My mother is sick. 
  • Estamos muy cansados. - We are very tired. 

Properties of objects

"Estar" is also used to describe temporary and often subjective properties of objects

  • El té está caliente. - The tea is hot. 
  • Esta chaqueta está demasiado cara. - This jacket is too expensive.

Idiomatic expressions

"Estar" is used in many fixed idiomatic expressions.

  • Estoy a favor del viaje. -  I'm in favor of the trip. 
  • ¿Están de acuerdo? -  Do they agree?


To form ongoing actions you need "estar" + participle

  • Estoy leyendo un libro. - I am reading a book. 
  • Estamos trabajando. - We are working.

Meaning changes with "ser" and "estar"

There are some adjectives that can be used with both "ser" and "estar" to form sentences. The meaning depends of the verb. In the following table you can find some examples:

"ser" + adjectivetranslation"estar"+ adjectivetranslation
ser inteligente(to) be an intelligent personestar inteligente(to) be intelligent (special moment)
ser abierto/a(to) be open-mindedestar abierto/a(to) be open (e.g. door, window)
ser aburrido/a(to) be boring estar aburrido/a(to) be bored
ser enfermo/a(to) be chronically illestar enfermo/a(to) be temporarily ill 
ser bueno/a(to) be goodestar bueno/a(to) be attractive
ser cansado/a(to) be a tiring personestar cansado/a(to) be tired
ser malo/a(to) be badestar malo/a(to) be ill
ser rico/a(to) be richestar rico/a(to) be tasty
ser viejo/a(to) be oldestar viejo/a(to) look old


enlightened"Bien" and "mal" are only used in combination with "estar"! → "Está bien." - "It's okay."

In this lesson you learned how to use the verbs "ser" and "estar" correctly. Now test your knowledge in our free exercises. yes


  1. Let's practice "ser" and "estar"
  2. Exercise for using "ser" and "estar"
  3. Exercise about meaning changes with "ser" and "estar"

Let's practice "ser" and "estar"

Exercise for using "ser" and "estar"

Exercise about meaning changes with "ser" and "estar"

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