Grammar & Vocabulary

Ser & Estar

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«Mi tío es piloto». / PUBLIC DOMAIN

The way most people think about ser and estar is the following: we use ser with permanent attributes and professions and estar with non-permanent attributes and location. In reality, it would be better to say that ser implies identity, while estar implies status, condition or location.

So here is a more realistic analysis of the general uses of ser and estar:

SER

– For personal characteristics (physical or non-physical) and defining characteristics of things or people, we generally use ser:

El perro es grande. Tu tío es muy alto. La casa es roja. Mi hija es muy simpática.

Here are some common attributes that typically go with ser:

CARACTERÍSTICAS FÍSICAS (physical characteristics)

Alto/bajo – tall/short
Gordo/delgado – fat/slim
Fuerte (N)/débil (N) strong/weak

BELLEZA (beauty)

Guapo (for people only) handsome/pretty
Feo – ugly
Bonito – beautiful (for people or things)
Hermoso – beautiful (for people or things)

EDAD (age)

Joven (N) young
Viejo – old

Examples:

Juan es un poco gordo.
María es muy hermosa.
Yo soy alto y fuerte.

Pablo es joven y guapo.
Nosotros somos jóvenes y delgados.

CARACTERÍSTICAS PERSONALES (personal characteristics)

Simpático – nice
Antipático – unfriendly
Inteligente (N) smart
Tonto – dumb
Rico – rich
Pobre (N) poor
Alegre (N) joyful
Culto – educated/cultivated
Elegante (N) – elegant, refined
Educado – polite, well-mannered
Maleducado – rude, bad-mannered

Examples:

David es muy rico y muy educado.
Julia es muy elegante y alegre.
¿Tu tía es simpática o antipática?

– For professions, we generally use ser—even if they may not always be permanent, professions are considered to be part of people’s identity.

Here are some of them:

PROFESIONES (professions)                    

Abogado – lawyer
Actor/Actriz – actor/actress
Arquitecto (N) – architect
Bombero (N) – firefighter
Camarero, Mesero – waiter/waitress
Cantante (N) – singer
Cartero (N) – mailman/mailwoman
Científico – scientist
Cocinero – cook/chef
Contable (N) – accountant
Dependiente – salesman at a store
Doctor – doctor
Economista (N) – economist
Enfermero – nurse
Escritor – writer
Estudiante (N) – student
Ingeniero (N) – engineer
Juez (N) – judge
Modelo (N) – model
Periodista (N) – journalist
Piloto (N) – pilot
Pintor – painter
Político – politician
Policía (N) – policeman/policewoman
Profesor – teacher, instructor, professor
Psicólogo – psychologist
Psiquiatra (N) – psychiatrist
Recepcionista (N) – receptionist
Secretario – secretary
Taxista (N) – taxi driver
Veterinario – vet

Examples:

Pedro es dependiente.
Mi hermano es estudiante en NYU.
Yo no soy cocinero, soy cantante.

ESTAR

– For people’s moods, or for condition/status of things or people, we generally use estar:  

Mi padre está muy cansado. Ella está triste. Estoy preocupado.

Here are some attributes that typically go with estar:

ESTADOS DE ÁNIMO / ESTADOS FÍSICOS (moods/physical states)

Feliz (N) – happy
Triste (N) – sad
Cansado – tired
Enojado – angry
Aburrido – bored
Enfermo – sick
Nervioso – nervous
Emocionado – excited
Ocupado – busy
Preocupado – worried
Relajado – relaxed

Examples:

Estoy muy feliz, pero un poco cansado.
Tu hermana está preocupada.
Ella siempre está muy aburrida los domingos.

– Also, for location, we always use estar. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about permanent or non-permanent locations; every time that we use the preposition en, we have to use estar.

Examples:
Estoy en Nueva York de vacaciones.
Queens está en Nueva York.

HOWEVER:

With some specific attributes, we can choose to use either ser or estar, depending on what we mean:

María está feliz means she is happy now; it is her “current condition.”
María es feliz means being happy is part of her identity; we are making it a defining trait.

This is commonly done with feliz, guapo, hermoso, gordo, delgado, fuerte, débil, viejo, alegre, and nervioso. A special case would be aburrido: estar aburrido means being bored, while ser aburrido means being boring.

As you can see, only certain, random attributes can go with either verb. Unfortunately, there is no specific, logical rule that tells us which adjectives can work with both ser and estar (why can we say “Juan está viejo,” but we can’t say “Juan está joven”? Nobody knows…)

Practice:
-Option 1: Write 10 sentences using ser and 10 sentences using estar.
-Option 2: Try to explain how ser and estar work to a friend/relative who’s learning Spanish.

1 comment on “Ser & Estar

  1. Pingback: Ser/Estar Quiz – La Eñe

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