Versión Original

To Be (ser) or To Be (estar)… That is the question

The A1 level extensive course students have come accross the great dilema of the Spanish language: SER or ESTAR (to be).

They looked so surprised and puzzled after reading a small text in Spanish in which a girl describes and locates the place where she was on holidays!

They could not understand why she would write “las playas son fantásticas” (the beaches are amazing) and “estoy un poco cansada” (I am a bit tired), “la playa es fantástica, pero está llena de gente” (the beach is great, but it is crowded).


“Why are there two different verbs to say the same in English? There is no difference. How can I know when to use es and when está?”

As Alejandro Sanz said : “No es lo mismo ser que estar, es distinto.” (It’s not the same ser and estar, it’s different.”

Singing and listening to the song was not enough to convince the helpless student that they were different. I went straight to the explanation:

Ser and estar are two different verbs like any other verb: Is “to eat” different from “to have breakfast? Is “to go” different from “to come”? Is “To say” different from “to talk”? Therefore, ser is different from estar  that is why we have and need both of them.

SER: We use it to define, identify. It is the “essence”.

Hoy es lunes. Today is Monday. “Today” cannot be Tuesday in the present tense!
Yo soy española (I am Spanish)
Esto es una mesa (This is a table)
Marta es simpática (Marta is nice)


ESTAR: We use it to express a physical or mood “state”. Saying  “state” is like saying nothing. We cannot use the defined word on the defimition as we would still not understand. A state is a situation that results from doing something.

One can say “now I am, before I wasn’t”. It is like a light switch:

“ON” Estoy cansada (I am tired) (I am tired now)
“OFF” No estoy cansada (I am not tired) (I wasn’t tired before)

After running: I am tired (estoy cansada)
Before running: I am not tired (no estoy cansada)

Bad news: I am sad (estoy triste)
Good news: I am happy (estoy contenta)

We also use it for position = localisation

9:00h: I am on the subway (Estoy en el metro)
21:00h: I am at home (Estoy en casa)
Now: I am here (estoy aquí)


For geographical matters we always keep the switch on ON position.

La Sagrada Familia está en Barcelona (The Sagrada Familia is in Barcelona) Now and forever!

But that is not the definition:

La Sagrada Familia es una basílica, es grande, es bonita… (the Sagrada Familia is a church, it is big, it is beautiful…) ¡¡pero no es Barcelona!! (But it is not Barcelona!) Barcelona is Barcelona and the  Sagrada Familia is the Sagrada Familia.


After introducing SER/ESTAR, the students were still perplexed because they were learning something completely new for them, but I think (and I hope) that they understood that it is NOT the same. In order to know if they really got it we will have to wait a little longer… until they start talking and explaining things in Spanish and they will need to use SER/ESTAR.



2 Responses

  1. cristina

    Algunas palabras funcionan con SER y con ESTAR, por ejemplo, SER GUAPO/A y ESTAR GUAPO/A ¿podéis explicar la diferencia?

  2. Version Original

    SER GUAPO/A es una descripción de una identidad, por ejemplo:para mí, mi novio ES guapo…pero si mi novio/a no es guapo pero hoy se ha vestido especialmente elegante y con unos colores maravillosos , entonces, él NO es guapo pero hoy, con esa ropa, ESTÁ MUY GUAPO!

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