If you haven’t already heard of Ser and Estar, they are the dreaded verbs in Spanish which mean ‘to be’. I used to really struggle with these two verbs, but they’re actually very easy to understand and get your head around.
It is very important to know these verbs and when they are to be used as you will use at least one of them in almost every sentence, although you may not realise it yet.
Why are there two ways of saying to be?
Great question, in English we only have one way of saying to be. However, in Spanish, there are two. Why? I don’t know. This very simple method will cover you in most use cases, Ser is for more permanent things and Estar is for more temporary things. You’ll see what I mean in the next paragraph.
When do I use Ser?
- Physical description
- Nationality, gender, race and origin
- What things are made of
When do I use Estar?
- Locations of people and things, but not events
- Feelings, emotions and moods
- Physical conditions/appearances
- Relationship status and civil state (married, single, divorced, dead, alive)
I guess it’s time for some examples. If you’ve seen the ‘Introducing yourself in Spanish’ post, then you will notice that we used the word ‘Soy’ to say ‘I am’. The word ‘Soy’ is derived from the verb ‘Ser’ or ‘To Be’. By following the above rules, here are some example uses of the two verbs.
Soy Connor y estoy cansado
I’m Connor and I’m tired
Estoy en el restaurante
I am in the restaurant
Soy Español y soy ingeniero
I’m Spanish and I’m an engineer
Are you tired?
We are angry!
We are cousins
You see? When you’re tired, you’re not going to be tired forever. When you’re in the restaurant, you’re not going to be there forever either, so we use Estar. We use Ser to say things like ‘Somos primos‘ or ‘We are cousins’ because we will always be cousins, that isn’t going to change, the same as ‘Soy Español’ or ‘I’m Spanish’ because our nationality isn’t going to change.
An exception to this rule is your profession. People change professions and jobs quite frequently, but my favourite way of looking at this exception is to think back 1000 years. If you were a blacksmith, you were always a blacksmith, you didn’t suddenly become a chef or a tennis player. I know that rule may sound silly and isn’t necessarily true, but it has helped me remember.
Something else you need to get used to is that sometimes, in certain sentences, both verbs can be used but will have two different meanings. The simplest and most common way to portray this is with an apple.
La manzana es verde.
The apple is green (the colour of the apple is green)
La manzana está verde
The apple is green (meaning, the apple isn’t ripe yet, it is still green)
Thank-you for reading,
I hope this has helped some of you.