Guide to know when to use ser and estar

One of the first problems any Spanish student faces is to distinguish when to use ser and estar.

The basic differences are not too complicated but this changes when we move up levels. I’m sure that you’ve asked yourself whether to use ser or estar in a sentence sometime.

Lots of languages don’t make a distinction between both so it’s just one verb to say what in Spanish we say in two. I’d love to tell you that there’s a super strict rule that you should learn to know whether to use ser and estar in Spanish but the truth is that there is no an “unerring” rule :S.

That’s why I’m going to talk about when to use ser and estar in this post and I’m going to give you some rules that could help you to start using these two verbs.

At the end of the post, you’ll be able to download a free guide with some exercises to practice. Let’s do this!

Video lesson to know when to use ser and estar

When to use ser and estar and how to use it

I remember very well that English class in which I was learning the verb to be: conjugation table on the blackboard and my teacher’s excellent pronunciation. I asked myself: What in the world do the verb to be mean in Spanish? My teacher’s answer: “ser or estar”. Yay! Two verbs that are one in English, that was amazing!

But this didn’t last long when it was my turn to be a teacher and I had to teach how the verb to be in Spanish could mean ser and estar. A flood of questions as “when to use use ser and when estar?”, and “why do I use estar in this sentence if according to X rule I should use ser?” were constantly asked.

And I’m sure it’s what’s happening to you right now.

I’ve seen many students lose it because of ser and estar and that’s why I’d like to offer you a basic usage guide so you can learn from the beginning how to communicate with these two verbs. These are guiding rules so don’t obsess over this topic too much, alright? Before starting to list the rules, I have to tell you that:

  1. The basic uses for ser and estar are clear and they usually don’t cause confusion
  2. Pay attention to the adjectives. Why? Some of them are only used with estar, others only with ser. There are also adjectives that can be used with both verbs but change their meaning. [I’ve created an adjective list used only with estar in the guide you can download ;)]

When to use ser and estar

Now I’m going to show you the rules you can follow to use these verbs with examples.

When to use ser

You need to use SER when you want to say your name. Here are some examples:

  • ¡Hola! Soy Sara
  • Este es Manuel
  • Ella es Laura

Use ser when you want to talk about the nationality:

  • Laura es colombiana
  • Ellos son de Argentina
  • Mi madre es de Perú y mi padre es estadounidense

You must also use SER to talk about professions:

  • Sara es profesora
  • Ignacio es arquitecto
  • Mis tíos son jueces

When you want to describe physical characteristics, you also need to use the verb SER. Loot at the examples:

  • María es morena
  • Jorge es muy alto
  • Juan y Carlos son fuertes, delgados y rubios
  • Eres blanca de piel, pero tus ojos son muy negros

To talk about the total price of a purchase or an article price, we use SER:

  • ¿Cuánto es el paquete de arroz y la coca cola? Son dos euros
  • La camiseta y el pantalón son sesenta euros
  • ¿Cuánto es? Son veinticinco euros

To talk about the total price of a purchase or an article price, we use SER:

  • ¿Cuánto es el paquete de arroz y la coca cola? Son dos euros
  • La camiseta y el pantalón son sesenta euros
  • ¿Cuánto es? Son veinticinco euros

You need to use SER when you want to express where and when an event takes place. BUT BE CAREFUL! Only an event. Look at the examples:

  • ¿Dónde es la clase? La clase es en el aula
  • ¿Cuándo es la boda? La boda es en marzo
  • ¿Dónde son los bautizos? Son en la iglesia

When to use estar

Use ESTAR when you want to express where someone or something is. Here are some examples:

  • ¿Dónde está Paula? Paula está en el trabajo
  • ¿Dónde están mis llaves? Las llaves están en el cajón
  • El supermercado está en la calle principal

When you want to talk about how you feel emotionally and physically or when you want to express your feelings, you need to use ESTAR:

  • ¿Cómo estás hoy? Estoy más contenta que ayer
  • María está deprimida
  • Mis hijos están enfadados
  • Juan está hoy muy cansado
  • Creo que estoy enferma

You also need to use ESTAR when you want to talk about the job you have in a particular moment or when you want to talk about your life situation in this moment. I’ll show you some examples so you can see it clearly:

  • Mi marido está de mecánico en un taller de coches
  • Ahora estoy de vacaciones en Miami
  • Mis hermanas están de diseñadoras en una empresa textil
  • Estamos en el paro

When the adverbs BIEN and MAL are used it’s necessary to use ESTAR (always):

  • El piso está muy bien situado
  • Pablo está mal, está bastante deprimido
  • Tu examen está muy bien

To ask and say the date you can use SER and ESTAR, although the ways to ask and express the date vary. Look at this:

How to use estar to say the date:

  • ¿A qué (día) estamos hoy? Hoy estamos a (día) 5
  • Hoy estamos a miércoles

How to use ser to say the date:

  • ¿Qué día es hoy? Hoy es día 5
  • Hoy es miércoles

I’ve created a comparative table and an infographic to show you how to use SER or ESTAR and what the difference is between one verb and the other. In this post entitled “estar present tense” you can know more about the verb estar.

Comparative table:

SER ESTAR
Names and nationalities

Soy española

To tell where something or someone is

Estoy en la escuela

To express where an event takes place

La clase es en la escuela

To express our feelings/mood

¿Estás deprimida ?

To tell your profession

Es mecánico

To express our physical condition in a particular moment

Están cansados

To describe the appearance (looks)

Somos altas

To tell your job or life situation

Está de mecánico en un taller de coches

To express the price

Son cuatro euros

With the adverbs bien and mal

Los ejercicios están bien

To ask and express the time

¿Qué hora es ?

To ask and tell the date

¿A qué estamos hoy ?

Guide to practice SER and ESTAR

I want to help you to better understand these two verbs that drive everyone crazy. I have created this guide so you can see in a real way how to use SER or ESTAR. You’ll find:

  1. The basic uses with examples
  2. Real-life use
  3. Some exercises to practice
  4. Adjective list only used with ESTAR

This guide is available in PDF format so it’s compatible with the vast majority of devices. You can download it for free below. Please, feel free to leave a comment!

[thrive_2step id=’6148′]GET YOUR GUIDE TO KNOW HOW TO USE SER AND ESTAR [/thrive_2step]

Imagen post: flaticon