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Ser Vs Estar: Get It Right Every Time

Tackling the language of Spanish means securing the differences between the verbs “ser” and “estar”. In English, the verb is literally translated as “to be” but since the meaning is divided into two separate Spanish words, it’s necessary to know which form to use with which meaning.

 

In this article, I’m going to introduce you to the “ser vs estar” battle and how to use each of them correctly in separate situations.

 

Ser Vs Estar: When to Use Ser

Ser Vs Estar: Get It Right Every Time

To define when to use “ser”, we look at the situation that you’re translating. You use “ser” to replace “to be” when you are talking about attributes that aren’t likely to change.

 

To use “ser”, think of the acronym “D.O.C.T.O.R.” In these situations, you should use the word “ser”. D.O.C.T.O.R. stands for: Description, Occupation, Characteristic, Time, Origin, and Relationships.

 

Descriptions

These are the permanent qualities that are used to describe a person. They include but are not limited to names, nationalities, and descriptions of physique.

Some examples of “ser” in this way are:

 

“Yo soy Adriana.”

“Ramon es Americano.”

“Tú eres bajo y gordo.”

 

Occupations

To describe what someone does for work or for a hobby, you should use “ser”. Although it might not be a job, it might be what you identify yourself as or would normally introduce yourself as.

Some examples of “ser” in this way are:

“Soy entrenadora de fútbol.”

“Ustedes son estudiantes.”

“Mi madre es médica.”

 

Characteristics

When you use “ser” in this situation, you are describing someone’s personality.

Some examples of “ser” in this way are:

 

“Emily es guapa y deportista.”

“Mi perro es amable y enérgico.”

“Mi esposo es romántico y cariñoso.”

 

Time

You can use the word “ser” when you are referring to characteristics involving time like days, years, time of the day, and dates, like birthdays, etc.

Some examples of “ser” in this way are:

 

“Hoy es lunes.”

“Ayer fue Navidad.”

“Ahora es el cinco.”

 

Origin

When you are using “ser”, you can talk about where a person comes from or where something was made.

Some examples of “ser” in this way are:

 

“Este pastel es de Perú.”

“La mesa es de madera.”

“Tu anillo es de plata.”

 

Relationships

You can also use “ser” when talking about how one person is related to another or what their relationship or tie is in families, friendships, etc.

Some examples of “ser” in this way are:

 

“Abby es mi abuela.”

“Julio es mi marido.”

“Roberta es mi hermana.”

 

Ser Vs Estar: When to Use Estar

Ser Vs Estar: Get It Right Every Time

To define when to use “estar”, we are looking at the situation that is used for describing a state of being. It is not describing something permanent, like “ser” but describing something that is most likely to change or is only there for a little while.

 

To use “estar”, normally you will be talking about an emotional, physical or mental state that isn’t part of your natural and normal characteristics. This word will be used in cases of the acronym “P.L.A.C.E.”, it stands for: Position, Location, Action, Condition, and Emotion.

 

Before we get into the acronym, the summary of what it stands for would be describing feelings, moods, emotions, physical conditions, appearances, a person’s civil state, the location of people and things, and the present progressive tense (which is “-ing” in English).

 

We know it’s a lot to remember, so, to help, here is the P.L.A.C.E acronym:

 

Position

When using “estar“ in this form, you will be referring to where a person or thing is at physically. It can also to refer to how it is positioned (hence the acronym).

Some examples of “estar” in this way are:

 

“Mi hermano está sentada.”

“Yo estoy en cima de la mesa.”

 

Location

When using “estar“ during this circumstance, you will be describing where a person or the thing is at on a physical map or in accordance with your surroundings. It can also refer to when describing where something is permanent, temporarily or conceptually located.

Some examples of “estar” in this way are:

 

“La cucina está a tu izquierda”

“Estoy en la escuela ahora.”

“Los perros estan debajo del sofá.”

 

There are exceptions to the rule with events, however, so be careful with those!

 

Actions

This is where we get into the English translation of talking about the present progressive tense, where is where you use “-ing” at the end of a verb. When you are speaking in Spanish, however, you will be using the conjugated form of “estar” relative to the subject and then use the present participle of another verb, such as “hablando”.

Some examples of “estar” in this way are:

 

“Estamos bailando esta noche.”

“Estás comiendo en un restaurante.”

“Ella está estudiando.”

 

Conditions

Depending on what we’re talking about according to the situation, using the word “estar” can describe physical and mental conditions. These situations, unlike the ones with “ser”, where they will not change, such as you will most likely always be “gracioso”, today and tomorrow, will change after a little while. Whether you are at the dentist’s office, (hopefully you won’t be there forever) or at a university for a couple of years. Situations that are going to change use the word “estar“.

Some examples of “estar” in this way are:

 

“Estás tan cansada esta mañana.

“Mi novio está enfermo hoy.”

“Tu perro está un poco confudido.”

 

Emotions

Last but not least, this situation which is used with “estar“ is to describe how a person is feeling at any time. The thing to remember here, is that with emotions, just as you know, they aren’t likely to last very long.

Some examples of “estar” in this way are:

 

“Estoy triste porque obtuve una mala nota.”

“El está aburrido porque no tiene tarea.”

 

Ser Vs Estar: Get It Right Every Time

 

I hope that this article has helped you conquer the differences between “ser” and “estar”, so the next time you have to speak Spanish and choose one of them in your sentence, you’ll feel much more confident in knowing that you have chosen the correct one.

 

***

Adriana Rodrigues is a Peruvian-American who has had experience playing professional soccer and working while speaking Spanish In addition to Spanish, she knows German, Portuguese, and English.

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