Ser & Estar: When to Be Is Not to Be


Did you know that speaking Spanish may make you question the nature of your existence? OK, you might think “that already happens to me in [INSERT LEAST FAVOURITE LECTURE HERE]”, but learning Spanish can make you do this in a positive way and actually make you see the world in a different light.


So, as part of our Language Bites series, we recorded a short discussion between two of the teachers at the Languages Service, Greg (that’s me) and Dani.

Let’s look at some of the examples that you can hear in the recording and some other useful things.

For these kinds of things you should use ser: 

Facts, nationalities, jobs, physical characteristics, personality – SER

Esto es muy útil       –     This is very useful

Soy inglés   –     I’m English

¿Es mi profesora de español?    –     Is she my Spanish teacher?

Somos muy fuertes    –     We’re very strong

Son muy inteligentes     –      They’re very intelligent

Ser o no ser: esa es la cuestión    –      To be or not to be, that is the question

Location of physical things – ESTAR

Generally, when you’re talking about where something is, estar is the verb you need.

Laura no está   –   Laura’s not here

El supermercado está enfrente de este edificio –  The supermarket is opposite this building

¿Dónde está mi profesor de español?  –   Where is my Spanish teacher?

Present continuous – ESTAR

Estoy escuchando  –   I’m listening

¿Qué estás viendo?   –   What are you watching?

To form the present continuous in Spanish, you always use estar, never ser.

Feelings & things that are true now, but might not be in the future – ESTAR

Está enferma    –   She’s ill

Estoy de acuerdo contigo   –   I agree with you

¿Estás enfadado?  –   Are you angry?

Careful: some adjectives change meaning when combined with ser or estar

¡Qué guapo eres!    –   You’re so handsome!

¡Qué guapo estás!  –     You look really smart!

Es lista   –     She’s clever

Está lista   –     She’s ready

This should give you a good idea to start with, although sometimes the difference can be quite subtle. After twenty years of trying, I’m still trying to work out what Enrique Bunbury means when he says that he “está entre dos tierras”. Let’s see if you can help me out – send your answers on a postcard (or comment below…)


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