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Review Time: if you're not sure how to conjugate these two important verbs (they're irregular), check out the verb conjugation tables for ser and estar.

Uses of Ser

Ser is used to talk about permanent or lasting attributes. If this general rule is too vague for you, think of the acronym DOCTOR, which stands for Descriptions, Occupations, Characteristics, Time, Origin, and Relationships. Let's take a look at each of the above categories individually.

1. Descriptions

Descriptions are the essential qualities that define a person or thing and probably won’t change anytime soon. These descriptions can be names, physical descriptions, nationalities, and even religions.

Yosoyalta, morena, y delgada.
I am tall, dark-skinned, and thin.

2. Occupations

An occupation is what someone does for a living or as a hobby. Basically, if you're talking about how someone makes money or fills their time, you'll use ser.

Soyprofesora de español.
My father was a gardener.

3. Characteristics

Characteristics are personality descriptions of a person. This category is included to hammer home the point that ser is used to talk about descriptions.

Amaliaesinteligente, atrevida, y amable.
Amalia is intelligent, daring, and friendly.
Mi esposoesromántico y cariñoso.
My husband is romantic and caring.

4. Time

Time can refer to days, dates, years, and the time on the clock.

Yesterday was my birthday.
Right now it is one o’clock.
Sonlas cinco veinticinco.

5. Origin

The place a person or thing is from or the material something is made of can be considered an origin.

Este chocolateesde México.
This chocolate is from Mexico.
Las sillassonde madera.
The chairs are made of wood.

6. Relationships

Personal relationships, such as family ties, friendship, and romantic relationships, are also talked about using ser.

Marcos is my ex-boyfriend.

Uses of Estar

Estar is used to indicate temporary states and locations. If that general rule doesn’t suffice, there are two acronyms that you can think of, PLACE and LoCo. PLACE stands for Position, Location, Action, Condition, and Emotion. LoCo stands for Locations and Conditions. Let's look at PLACE now.

1. Position

Position refers to the physical position or posture a person or thing is in.

My grandmother is seated.
Estabaacostada cuando me llamaste.
I was lying down when you called me.

2. Location

The location of someone or something describes where it is permanently, temporarily, or conceptually.

El bañoestáa la derecha de la sala.
The bathroom is to the right of the living room.
Estamosen el café ahora yestaremosen el cine en 20 minutos.
We are at the café right now and we will be at the movie theater in 20 minutes.
Mi abueloestáen la luna.
My grandfather is out of it.

3. Actions

Estar is used to describe ongoing actions and is often followed by a present participle (such as lavando ) or a past participle (such as muerto ).

Estoylavando los platos sucios.
I am washing the dirty dishes.
Estamosleyendo los periódicos.
We are reading the newspapers.
Mi bisabueloestámuerto.
My great-grandfather is dead.

4. Conditions

Physical and mental conditions are described using estar. Things that are likely to vary over several hours, days, or even years can be fall into this category.

Estoytan cansada esta mañana.
I am so tired this morning.
Mis niñosestánenfermos hoy.
My children are sick today.
Mi padreestáun poco loco.
My father is a little crazy.

5. Emotions

How a person is feeling at a certain moment is described using estar.

Ellaestácontenta porque recibió unas flores de su novio.
She is happy because she got some flowers from her boyfriend.

Meaning Changes With Ser and Estar Phrases

There are some words that can be used with both ser and estar to form verb phrases, and these take on different meanings depending on the verb. Here are some examples of these types of phrases.

Ser PhraseEnglishEstar PhraseEnglish
to be boringto be bored
to be goodto be tasty/attractive
to be a tiring personto be tired
to be seriousto be seriously ill
to be cleverto be ready
to be badto be ill
to be conceited or vainto be proud
to be dark-skinnedto be tanned
to be pale-skinnedto be pale
to be heavy/to be boringto be annoying
to be richto be tasty
to be safeto be certain
to be greento be unripe
to be oldto look old
to be sharpto be alive
¿Lionel juega fútbol? - Sí,es buenoyes muy rico.
Lionel plays soccer? - Yes, he's good and he's very rich.
¿Está buenoel café? - Sí,está muy rico.
Is the coffee good? - Yes, it's quite tasty.
¡Quécansado eres! Ya deja de hablar de ti mismo.
How tiring you are! Stop talking about yourself already.
Siestás cansado, te puedes acostar en el sofá.
If you're tired, you can lay down on the couch.

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Tricky Pairs

Learning the differences between ser  and estar, por and para, and the subjunctive and the indicative is often quite challenging for learners of Spanish. ¡Ánimo!  (Cheer up!) After reading this article, you'll have a good handle on the first of these tricky pairs, ser and estar.

Find more on using ser with descriptions here!

Notice that the indefinite articles un , una , unos , and unas  are not used when talking about occupations with ser.

Find more on using ser with time here!

Find more on using ser with origins here!

Exception! The location of an event or party is described using ser, not estar.

La fiestaesen micasa.  (The party is at my house.)

Find more on using estar with locations here!

Intriguingly, death in Spanish is seen as an ongoing action, not a permanent state, so estar is used to talk about being dead.

Find more on using estar with conditions here!


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