As you embark on the journey of learning Spanish, you’ll find that there are some definite roadblocks in the way. One common question is “what’s the difference between ser and estar?” Both words translate into English as “to be” and that makes it more confusing, since they’re not actually interchangeable.

The simplest way to tell the difference is that ser is used to refer to a permanent state and estar is for temporary ones. Let’s go into this with a bit more detail.

How to Use Ser

Ser is for permanent states, so things like:

  • Origins
  • Jobs
  • Nationalities
  • Relationships
  • Possession
  • Dates
  • Times
  • Materials
  • Defining qualities

These are things that don’t change. For example, if you’re Canadian, you say, “Soy canadiense.” Other examples include:

“El es un bombero.”

“Ellos son católicos.”

“El vaso es azul.”

“La casa es grande.”

Can you come up with any other examples that might work?

How to Use Estar

Since estar is used for temporary states, you will use it for:

  • Temporary conditions
  • Emotions
  • Progressive tense (where you would use -ing in English)
  • Geographic location
  • Physical locations

Think about when things are temporary and use the verb in those sentences. For example, “Ella esta feliz.” The following examples will give you a better idea of how to use estar.

“Estoy en la cocina.”

“El gato esta comiendo.”

“Ella esta triste.”

Which Verb to Use?

The absolute best way to learn how to use these verbs is to simply practice. As you watch videos or listen to Spanish speakers, you should notice which verb is being used and in which context.

Here are a few sentences to consider:

My car is green. 

Mi carro es verde.

In this case, you would use “ser” since the color is a permanent characteristic.

The little girl is crying.

La nena está llorando.

Here, you use “estar” because it’s a progressive verb. She’s crying, but it’s not a permanent condition.

Do you have any other verbs or phrases that are tough to understand in Spanish?


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