HomeLanguage EducationLanguage LearningSer vs. Estar: The Definitive Guide to Learning the Difference  - Rosetta...

Ser vs. Estar: The Definitive Guide to Learning the Difference  – Rosetta Stone

To be or to be? That’s literally what you’re asking when you ask “ser or estar?” The question doesn’t quite make sense, but don’t worry—you’re not the first to ask it. Ser and estar are two of the most common Spanish verbs, but are also two of the most confusing verbs for most beginner Spanish learners. 

In fact, even linguists and experienced Spanish speakers debate about whether to use ser or estar in certain situations. 

Although both ser and estar mean “to be” in Spanish, they aren’t used interchangeably. It’s very likely that the meaning of a sentence will change drastically depending on which verb you use. Learning how to use ser or estar correctly isn’t just proper grammar—it’s necessary for effective communication.

And to help you confidently communicate in Spanish, this guide will give you everything you need to know about these two tricky verbs. And with enough practice, you’ll be able to understand the difference between ser and estar and use them correctly in your everyday conversations

Let’s dive into some useful and easy rules to follow for learning ser and estar

Table of contents

Ser vs. estar: What’s the difference? 

Both ser and estar mean “to be” in Spanish, but the two verbs are used differently. The biggest difference between ser and estar is: 

  • Ser is used to talk about what something is. It’s used for permanent conditions or characteristics that are unlikely to change.
  • Estar is used to talk about how something is. It’s used for temporary states or qualities. 

We’ll talk more about the different situations where you use ser and estar later. First, let’s take a look at why you need to know how to use the two verbs correctly. 

Why is it important to learn the difference between ser and estar

Although they technically both mean the same thing, it’s important to know when to use ser or estar to accurately say what you mean. Using the wrong form of “to be” can alter the meaning of your words and lead to confusion. 

Compare how the meaning of aburrido/a changes depending on whether you use ser or estar

  • Ser: Sofía es aburrida. = Sofia is boring. 

The use of ser suggests that Sofia is always boring. Being boring is a permanent part of their personality trait and it describes what they are. Sorry, Sofia. 

  • Estar: Sofía está aburrida. = Sofia is bored.

The use of estar suggests that Sofia is feeling bored right now. It describes how they are temporarily, as their mood can change at any time. 

If you ask us, there’s a very big difference between noticing that your date is bored and calling them boring.

How to conjugate ser and estar 

Before we dive any further into the two verbs, here’s a refresher on how to conjugate ser and estar. Note that both verbs have irregular conjugations

Conjugation of ser in the present, preterite, and future tenses

Present Preterite  Future
soy fui seré

you (informal)
eres fuiste serás
él, ella, usted
he, she, you (formal)
es fue será
somos fuimos seremos
vosotros, vosotras
you all (informal, Spain only)
sois fuisteis seréis
ellos, ellas, ustedes
they, you all (formal)
son fueron serán

>>Learn how to conjugate the most common -ER verbs here!

Conjugation of estar in the present, preterite, and future tenses

Present Preterite  Future
estoy estuve estaré

you (informal)
estás estuviste estarás
él, ella, usted
he, she, you (formal)
está estuvo estará
estamos estuvimos estaremos
vosotros, vosotras
you all (informal, Spain only)
estáis estuvisteis estaréis
ellos, ellas, ustedes
they, you all (formal)
están estuvieron estarán

>>Learn how to conjugate the most common -AR verbs here!

When to use ser: List of situations and examples  

Now, let’s take a closer look at the most common and universally accepted situations to use ser. To make it easier to remember, you can use the acronym “DOCTOR,” which stands for:

  • Description
  • Occupation
  • Characteristic
  • Time
  • Origin
  • Relationship

1. Description

Use ser when describing people, places, and things. 


  • Brasil es un país fantástico. = Brazil is a fantastic country. 
  • ¿Ustedes son budistas? = Are you all Buddhists?

2. Occupation

Talk about professions using ser. Although it’s common for people to change professions, we use ser to talk about occupations since our jobs are often tied to our identities. 


  • Eres un buen médico. = You are a good doctor. 
  • Somos estudiantes. = We are students.

3. Characteristic 

When you use ser to talk about someone’s characteristics, you are implying that these traits are generally always true or permanent. 


  • Somos felices. = We are happy. 
  • Ella es muy bonita. = She is very pretty. 

4. Time

Use ser when referring to time, dates, and events.


  • Es domingo 11 de enero. = It’s Sunday, January 11. 
  • Son las dos! Es la hora de almorzar. = It’s two o’clock! It’s time for lunch. 

Bonus: Learn how to say the months of the year and the dates of the week in Spanish. 

5. Origin

Use ser to talk about nationality and where people are from. 


  • Soy de Madrid. = I’m from Madrid. 
  • ¿Eres de Argentina? = Are you from Argentina?

6. Relationship

Use ser to describe a relationship between people or ownership of something.  


  • Stephanie y Tiffany son mejores amigas. = Stephanie and Tiffany are best friends. 
  • Esta es la computadora de Max. = This is Max’s computer. 

When to use estar: List of situations and examples 

Here are the most common and universally accepted situations to use estar. To make it easier to remember, you can use the acronym “DECAL,” which stands for: 

  • Death
  • Emotion
  • Condition
  • Action
  • Location

1. Death

Although being dead is a permanent trait, we always use estar to talk about dead things or people. This can be confusing for beginners, but it makes more sense when you consider that in Spanish culture, people believe that a person’s spirit lives on after they die.


  • Mis plantas están muertas. = My plants are dead. 
  • El pájaro está muerto. = The bird is dead. 

2. Emotion

Use estar to express emotional states that won’t last forever. 


  • Estás triste hoy. ¿Qué te pasa? = You are sad today. What’s the matter?
  • Estoy nervioso por el examen. = I am nervous about the exam.

3. Condition

If you use estar to describe physical states and characteristics, you’re implying that these conditions are temporary and changeable. 


  • Mi madre está enferma. = My mom is sick. 
  • Estamos cansados porque hemos caminado más de tres horas. = We are tired because we’ve walked for more than three hours.

4. Action 

Use estar to describe actions that are happening in the moment of speaking. It’s happening right now, but it’s not something that will continue forever. 


  • Estoy escribiendo. = I am writing. 
  • Mi perro está ladrando al gato. = My dog is barking at the cat. 

5. Location

Always use estar to talk about where someone or something is. 


  • Estamos en la oficina de correos. = We are at the post office.
  • Ella está en el avión ahora mismo. = She is on the plane right now. 

Common mistakes with ser and estar

Using ser vs. estar for locations and events

Choosing between ser and estar for locations can often be confusing for beginner learners. 

We always use estar to describe where something or someone is located. 


  • Daniel está en la fiesta. = Daniel is at the party. 
  • El gato no está en casa. = The cat is not at home. 

However, we use ser to describe where planned events are taking place. 


  • El concierto es en el parque. = The concert is in the park.
  • La boda es en Suiza. = The wedding is in Switzerland. 

Using ser vs. estar for the weather

Both ser and estar can be used to talk about the weather. However, the context changes depending on which verb you use. 

When you want to express how the weather is like at a specific moment in time, use estar


  • Está nubaldo. = It is cloudy.  
  • Está lloviendo. = It is raining. 

When you want to describe the weather more generally, you can use ser


  • Alaska es helado. = Alaska is a cold place. 
  • El verano es caluroso. = Summer is hot. 

Using ser vs. estar with adjectives 

As we saw earlier with aburrido/a, sometimes the meaning of an adjective can change depending on whether you use ser or estar. Here are some other commonly confused expressions: 

1. Listo/a

Ser listo/a means to be smart, while estar listo/a means to be ready. 


  • Colin es muy listo. = Colin is very smart. 
  • Zoey está lista. = Zoey is ready. 

2. Bueno/a

Ser bueno/a means to possess good quality, while estar bueno/a means good-looking when describing people or good-tasting when describing food. 


  • Mi hijo es bueno. = My son is a good person. 
  • Ella está muy buena. = She is good-looking. 
  • Este churro está bueno. = This churro is good-tasting. 

3. Orgulloso/a

Ser orgulloso/a means to be arrogant, while estar orgulloso/a means to be proud.


  • Ese chico es demasiado orgulloso. = That boy is too arrogant. 
  • Estoy orgullosa de mi trabajo. = I am proud of my work. 

How to better learn ser vs. estar

Instead of memorizing all the mnemonic devices and lists of when the two verbs are used, the best way to learn the difference between ser and estar is to practice using them in your daily life. Exposing yourself to the language and the culture as much as possible can help you pick up Spanish and its nuances naturally. 

And luckily, Rosetta Stone helps you immerse yourself in Spanish from the comfort of your couch! Through bite-sized lessons, real-world conversations, and real-time pronunciation feedback, you’ll be speaking like a native from the very first lesson. 

Visit rosettastone.com or download the Rosetta Stone app today to start learning Spanish better. 

Rizwan Ahmed
Rizwan Ahmed
AuditStudent.com, founded by Rizwan Ahmed, is an educational platform dedicated to empowering students and professionals in the all fields of life. Discover comprehensive resources and expert guidance to excel in the dynamic education industry.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Recent Comments