When to Use Ser and Estar: Understanding the Two ‘To Be’s in Spanish

The two forms of “to be” in Spanish are Ser and Estar. Unlike English, Spanish has two forms of the verb “to be”. “To be” is the really common verb that lets us say that “he is in the hot air balloon”, “they are fantastic socks”, or “I am a snappy dresser”.

Before we go on to shed more light on the two forms of the verb to be, here’s an idea of what ser and estar mean. Simply put, ser is used to talk about permanent states, while estar is used to talk about temporary conditions. In English, you would use the verb “to be” for both, but in Spanish, they have somewhat different meanings. 

Now that you have a basic idea of what they mean, let’s look at some examples to better understand.

What Is ‘Ser‘?

The verb ser is used to express permanent conditions and describe what something is in Spanish. The following are some of the most common uses for ser:

  • To identify something or someone
  • To show fundamental qualities and characteristics
  • To talk about nationality or place of origin
  • To speak about professions or occupations
  • To share a religious or political affiliation
  • To tell the hour, day, or date
  • To address possession
  • To describe the material something is made of
  • To know the relationship between one person and another

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What Is ‘Estar’?

The verb, estar in Spanish expresses how a person, concept, or object finds itself in a place, time, or situation. It can also reveal their mood, health, ongoing actions, opinions, and feelings. It is the how rather than the what. Here are a few uses of the word, estar:

  • To indicate location and time
  • To express conditions and states
  • To use progressive tenses (-ing)
  • To use various idiomatic expressions

How To Use ser To Introduce Yourself In Spanish

In Spanish, ser is your go-to verb for talking about the essentials in introductions, including your name, profession, and origins. But here’s a tip: The Yo in “Yo soy” (I am) isn’t always necessary. That’s because, in Spanish, the first-person verb conjugation of soy makes the subject clear. As a result, Spanish speakers usually drop the Yo.

If you are meeting someone for the first time? Start with “Soy [insert name]” (I’m…) to start things off on a first-name basis. You can then follow up with “Soy [insert profession]” and/or “Soy de [insert country or city]” (I’m from…) to share a bit of who you are.

Remember that you can include Yo if you want to stress the statement to show confidence or assert a part of your identity with pride. It’s the equivalent of saying “I am American” instead of “I’m American” in English.

Now you know how to introduce yourself, let’s explore the conjugations of ser and estar.

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Understanding Ser: Variations in conjugation

For those of us with English as our first language, understanding some Spanish conjugations can be tasking. Not to worry, we’ll start by showing you the conjugation of the verb ser, and then we’ll go deeper into explaining the verb estar.

As ser is an irregular verb, it doesn’t follow a comprehensive pattern to form all its tenses, as you can see in its indicative form in the present tense:

Ser conjugation


  • Yo soy (I am).
  • Tú eres (You are).
  • Él es (He is).
  • Ella es (She is).
  • Usted es (You are) – formal.

READ ALSO: When to Use ‘Me’ or ‘I’: Easy Tips for Correct Usage for Writers


  • Nosotros somos (We are) – masculine or mixed gender.
  • Nosotras somos (We are) – feminine.
  • Vosotros sois (You all are) – masculine or mixed gender, informal, used mainly in Spain.
  • Vosotras sois (You all are) – feminine, informal, used mainly in Spain.
  • Ellos son (They are) – masculine or mixed gender.
  • Ellas son (They are) – feminine.
  • Ustedes son (You all are) – formal, or informal in Latin America.

As you can see, one of the main differences between Spanish and English is that “you” can be written as tú (second-person singular) or vosotros (second-person plural) – this is the same for the verb estar.

Let’s look at a few examples of each conjugation in the present tense for a better understanding of the verb ser.

Soy: First-person singular

Yo soy un amigo honesto (I am an honest friend).

This describes or identifies a fundamental quality in the first-person singular. It’s a statement of a person’s permanent condition (as far as something can be permanent, but let’s not get too philosophical here!). 

Note: As we said earlier, the subject can be omitted in Spanish (another variation from English) since the Spanish grammar rules allow it. So, the above sentence could be written as “Soy un amigo honesto.” This can also occur in the following examples and tenses where the gender remains undefined. The reader or listener will understand the sentence by its context.

Eres: Second-person singular

Tú eres de Barcelona (You are from Barcelona).

This sentence refers to the person’s origin, another permanent condition – since your place of birth or origin doesn’t change throughout time. In English, we could use “you” to include more people (second-person plural). But, in Spanish, we only use eres to describe one person in particular.

Es: Third-person singular

Ella es doctora (She is a doctor).

He studied to become a teacher and may be working as a teacher. It’s a persistent condition of the person, even if she switches careers. Notice that the Spanish language specifies gender in these cases. Even if we omit the subject, the gender is still determined by her title: “Es doctora.”

Somos: First-person plural

Nosotros somos sus padres (We are their parents).

The sentence denotes the relationship between people. In this case, we’re specifically describing family members and how they are related, which is also a permanent condition. Traditionally, Spanish prioritizes the masculine gender when identifying elements made up of both masculine and feminine genders (padres, in this example) or a group with undetermined genders. To be more inclusive, individuals have begun replacing masculine and feminine nouns ending in “o” and “a” with the gender-neutral “e.”

Note: There are some cases in which we use estar to describe family relationships, such as marriage, separation, or divorce. An example appears further on in the article.

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Sois: Second-person plural

¡Vosotros sois los mejores! (You are the best!)

Vosotros (“you” plural) is used to recognize the quality or characteristics of a group of people. It’s also a permanent condition that will (hopefully) remain unchanged. As before, the masculine gender is used to identify an undetermined group of people. If the elements represented by “you” are all feminine genders, vosotros will change to vosotras.

Note: Using vosotros or vosotras in Latin America is very uncommon. Instead, they use the third-person plural (ustedes) with the corresponding verb form (ustedes son los mejores). Therefore, this tense is almost exclusive to Spain.

Son: Third-person plural

Son las tres de la tarde (It’s 3 PM)

As seen in this example, you can also use the verb ser to tell the hour. If you say, “It’s 1 PM” or “It’s 1 AM,” the plural will become singular because it is only one hour (Es la one de la tarde or Es la one de la madrugada).

Ser: Uses and examples

Knowing the difference between a permanent and a temporary condition is key to understanding the Spanish “to be” verbs. But there’s another tool you can draw on to help you remember when to use each verb. It’s something most Spanish beginners are taught right at the start of their language-learning journey. All you have to do is remember the acronyms DOCTOR and PLACE. The former refers to ser, and the latter relates to estar.

Let’s look at DOCTOR and ser first.

To recap, ser is used when discussing permanent states – about what something is – and this acronym is a useful trick to remind us what those permanent states are. It stands for Description, Occupation, Characteristic, Time, Origin, and Relation. It’s a popular and handy device for learning and remembering the uses of ser.

In the following examples, you’ll also see several new conjugations to familiarize yourself with different verb forms.


Used when describing people, animals, and objects.

  • For example: Este puente fue el más grande de Europa (This bridge was the largest in Europe).


To talk about a person’s profession. Remember that you don’t use un/una to talk about occupations in Spanish.

  • For example: Mi hijo será bombero (My son will be a firefighter).


Descriptions also include characteristics of someone’s personality and attributes.

  • For example: Mis compañeros de piso son extrovertidos (My roommates are extroverts).


If you want to talk about what time it is, use serSer is used in this instance because it is talking about what something is rather than how something is.

  • For example: Son las tres (It’s three o’clock).


We also use ser to talk about the origin or source of something or someone, including what something is made of.

  • For example: Sois de Argentina, ¿verdad? (You are from Argentina, right?)


Ser is used when you want to describe how people are related to each other.

  • For example: Andrea es la tía de Miguel (Andrea is Miguel’s aunt).

Decoding estar: Variations in conjugation

Estar also has the same meaning as the verb “to be” in English, so it’s essential to pinpoint the difference between estar and ser. Remember that estar refers primarily to how the object is and how it relates to a place or condition. Plus, its condition or location is temporary. Let’s take a look at the present tense of estar.

Estar conjugation


  • Yo estoy (I am).
  • Tú estás (You are).
  • Él está (He is).
  • Ella está (She is)
  • Usted está (You are) – formal.


  • Nosotros estamos (We are) – masculine or mixed gender.
  • Nosotras estamos (We are) – feminine.
  • Vosotros estáis (You all are) – masculine or mixed gender, informal, used mainly in Spain.
  • Vosotras estáis (You all are) – feminine, informal, used mainly in Spain.
  • Ellos están (They are) – masculine or mixed gender.
  • Ellas están (They are) – feminine.
  • Ustedes están (You all are) – formal, or informal in Latin America.

To get a better understanding of this verb, let’s look at some examples of each conjugation in the present tense.

Estoy: First-person singular

Estoy disponible esta tarde (I’m available this afternoon).

Since this is a temporary condition you find yourself in, you need to use estar. You will be available this afternoon (e.g., to work, travel, hang out). But you might not be available again at night or in the morning, and it is not something that will continue over time.

Estás: Second-person singular

¿Estás feliz o triste? (Are you happy or sad?)

Being happy, sad, or any other mood is temporary. You may not be a happy person all the time (that would be quite difficult!), so this is not a permanent attribute, as nationality, origin, or profession can be.

Está: Third-person singular

Ella está comiendo pizza (She is eating pizza).

When describing an action that’s happening at this very moment in Spanish, you use estar plus the verb in its continuous form. For example, “Ella está comiendo pizza” directly translates to “She is eating pizza,” and it captures the action as it’s taking place.

Note: This differs from how we use the continuous form in English, where we can say “What are you doing this weekend?” to discuss future plans. But in Spanish, you don’t use estar plus the continuous verb form for the future. Instead, you use the present simple. So, you’d ask, “¿Qué haces este fin de semana?” which translates to “What are you doing this weekend?”

Estamos: First-person plural

Nosotros estamos lejos de mi casa (We are far from my house).

We are referring to our current physical location. Even if it sounds permanent in some other cases, our location is always subject to change. Therefore, we need to use estar.

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Estáis: Second-person plural

Estáis casados (You are married).

This is one of the most common errors beginners make, and it can be confusing at first. Even though you need to use ser to express most family relationships, being married, separated, or divorced is always a temporary condition when it comes to Spanish grammar rules.

Están: Third-person plural

Ellos están muy elegantes hoy (They are very elegant today).

They can try to be elegant every day, but this example implies that they are especially elegant today, so it is a temporary condition. If you wish to say that they are very elegant all the time, you could use ser as in the following example: “Ellos son muy elegantes.”

Understanding estar: Uses and examples

Estar is used when you talk about temporary states – about how something is.

You can remember what those temporary states are with the acronym PLACE, which stands for Position, Location, Action, Condition, and Emotion.


In Spanish, estar is used to express where something is or its position.

  • For example: Él está cerca de la fiesta de cumpleaños (He is near the birthday party).


We use estar to talk about the place something or someone is in, even if it’s permanent.

  • For example: Ahora mismo, está en el parque (Right now, she is in the park).


When using the gerund in Spanish, you need to use estar. You can use it for the past, present, or future.

  • For example: Mi gato está caminando por el cuarto (My cat is walking around the room).


As opposed to permanent characteristics and personality traits, estar is used to refer to a physical or emotional condition that is changeable.

  • For example Tus padres estaban hambrientos ese día (Your parents were hungry that day).


Estar is used to express emotional states.

  • For example: Tu profesora estuvo preocupada por ti (Your teacher was worried about you).

FAQs On When to Use Ser and Estar

How do ser and estar differ when describing physical appearance and other characteristics?

These two Spanish verbs both describe conditions, but they’re used in different ways. For unchanging characteristics, such as someone’s height or the color of an apple, use ser. For example, “Él es un hombre guapo” (He’s a handsome man) or “La manzana es verde” (The apple is green). These are permanent traits. On the other hand, estar is used to describe a temporary state. Therefore, if someone looks particularly good today, you could say, “Él está muy guapo esta noche” (He is very handsome tonight), or if an apple isn’t ripe yet, “La manzana está verde” (The apple is unripe).

Do we use ser or estar for times, dates, and seasons?

Ser is the verb of choice for times, dates, and seasons. Although these periods change, the word ser represents fixed points in time. For instance, “Hoy es lunes” (Today is Monday), “Es la una” (It is one o’clock), and “Es verano” (It is summer).



  • preply.com – Ser vs. estar: Understanding Spanish “to be” verbs
  • baselang.com – A Guide to the Differences Between the Spanish Verbs Ser and Estar

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