To be or not to be… It’s not the right question when it’s Spanish what you’re learning. One of the most used verb in english, to be, has two different translations possible in Spanish. And it’s the hardest one to understand for almost every Spanish learner. In this post, we will try to make that understanding work a little bit easier.
What is the difference between ser and estar?
Ser doesn’t change, at least in a short period of time:
Soy español (I’m Spanish)
Soy rubio (I’m blonde)
El coche es azul (The car is blue)
El edificio es alto (The building is tall)
Pablo es profesor (Pablo is a teacher)
The car can be painted, but it was made blue. Or I can change the color of my hair, but I was born blonde. Generally, we use ser for descriptions.
But what can change, goes with estar: feelings, locations or situations that might change sooner or later.
Estoy enfermo (I’m sick)
El coche está roto (The car is broken)
Estoy en Barcelona (I’m in Barcelona)
Pedro está enfadado (Pedro is angry)
Now I feel sick, but I’ll feel better in a couple of days. Or in this moment I’m in Barcelona, but I’ll fly to San Sebastian for the weekend.
There are some adjectives that can be used both ways:
Mi hermana es guapa / mi hermana está guapa
My sister is good looking / my sister looks pretty
She might be ugly but looks great on that dress.
Juan es listo / Juan está listo
Juan is smart / Juan is ready
With death comes an exception. You are dead or alive, no one can change death, but in spanish is with estar:
Está muerto / está vivo
With marriage, other exception: When you are married, you can change it. But if your couple dies…
Está casada (She is married)
Es viuda (She is a widow)
You can use it both ways though:
Es viuda / está viuda
Some other exceptions
Time goes with SER
Son las 8 pm
Hoy es jueves
Es verano / estamos en invierno
Es de noche
Temporary thing that doesn’t change
La fiesta es en mi casa (The party is in my house)
A party has an end, the situation is temporary, but the location won’t change.