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Spanish Matters - a blog in English and Spanish for those learning the language

This blog is entitled "Spanish Matters", because it does! Matter, that is. If you have committed to living in Spain, you should also make a commitment to learn some Spanish. So this is a blog about matters Spanish, as well as promoting the notion that Spanish does indeed matter. The blog contains articles in both English and Spanish. Don Pablo hopes it will be helpful to those learning the language.

"To be or not to be? That is the question". 2. SER or ESTAR
Sunday, December 25, 2022 @ 11:12 AM

Indeed. SER or ESTAR? Which to use? And when?

In the second in his series of articles about particular difficulties encountered by English-speaking learners of Spanish, Don Pablo tackles the problem that is the verb "to be".



The two verbs for TO BE in Spanish are not interchangeable. So, when do you use SER and when ESTAR?

As a broad general rule, SER is used to describe permanent or inherent characteristics, whereas ESTAR is used to indicate a temporary, transient or accidental state and position or location.


Let’s be more specific and look at some examples:

El hielo es frío.

El azúcar es dulce.

Ese hombre es muy grande.

Estas flores son muy bonitas.


Esta sopa está muy fría.

Mi café está muy dulce.

Las patatas fritas están muy calientes.



La chica es muy guapa.

La chica está muy guapa hoy.


SER is also used:

a) to denote origin, ownership or the material from which something is made:

Sus padres son de Ronda. 

El coche es suyo.

La silla es de madera.


b) to indicate nationality, religion, rank and profession:

Es inglés.

Ella es católica.

Rubén es capitán.

Paco es carpintero.


c) when the predicate is a noun, pronoun or infinitive:

Mañana será otro día.

Algo es algo.

Trabajar bien es lo que importa.


d) with past participles to form the passive:

ser quemado vivo

ser declarado vencedor

El asesino fue condenado a muerte.


e) in impersonal expressions and expressions of time:

Es lógico que .....

Es evidente que .....

Ya son las once.

Es hora de cenar.


ESTAR is also used:

f) to indicate position:

Madrid está en el centro de España.

Tus amigos están en la playa.

"Estuvimos en el Bar Encuentro."


g) to form continuous tenses:

Está lloviendo a cántaros.

Los jóvenes están bailando.


h) some idiomatic expressions:

estar de acuerdo

Está bien.

¿A cuánto están las fresas?


Phew! Did you get all that?



© Don Pablo



A Manual of Modern Spanish, Harmer & Norton (UTP 1935)

Advanced Spanish Course, K Mason (Pergamon 1967)


Tags: accidental, Don Pablo,, estar, expression, Harmer, idiomatic, impersonal, inherent, location, Mason, Norton, not to be, permanent, position, question, Spanish, Spanish Matters, temporarary, time, to be, to be or not to be, transient 

Like 1


vickya said:
Saturday, December 31, 2022 @ 10:59 AM

Madrid está en el centro de España.

Tus amigos están en la playa.

I seemed to see here ser is for integral, something is always this but estar a condition, temporary, so surely Madrid es in el centro de Espana?

Martin said:
Saturday, December 31, 2022 @ 1:47 PM

No expert but location is estar so maybe it is correct.

No expert and still learning

Don Pablo said:
Sunday, January 1, 2023 @ 1:15 AM

Hi, folks. This is why SER v ESTAR is so tricky. I see what you are saying, Vicky, but languages are not always logical. When we're talking about location it's ESTAR.
Madrid es la capital de España. BUT Madrid está en el centro del país.

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