The Conjugations & Contexts of SER and ESTAR (to be)

In this lesson, we’ll cover the difference between ser and estar. We’ll learn their conjugations and the contexts in which to use them. This lesson also includes a ser and estar quiz to assist your comprehension of these two fundamental verbs of the Spanish language.

am, are and is are the conjugations of the verb to be. It’s the most important, most-commonly used verb in all of English. It’s challenging to learn because am, are and is don’t look or sound anything like each other. Nor do they look or sound like to be. In Spanish, the complexity of this verb is not due to its conjugations, but rather, the fact that it’s expressed by two different verbs; ser and estar.

The Difference Between ser and estar

ser is the most commonly-spoken verb in the Spanish language. ser implies being in a permanent sense to express things that are not likely to change. Our identity, origin and characteristics all fall under this category;

I am Joseph

You are tall

She is from Texas

On the other hand, estar expresses temporary situations such as how a person feels at a given moment or where something or someone is located. Unlike ser, estar expresses conditions that *are* likely to change.

I am tired

You are at work.

Contexts of estar

  • To express the location and/or position of people, places and things.
  • To express the temporary conditions (states, feelings, moods) of people, places and things.

Let’s focus first on estar. We’ll cover ser down below.

Conjugations of estar

The form of estar you use will depend on the subject of your sentence. In the same way that am follows I, are follows you and is follows he, estar has a corresponding conjugation for all of the subject pronouns. Here they are:

yo estoy I am nosotros estamos we are
estás you are ustedes están you are (plural)

él está

ella está

usted está

he is

she is

you are (formal)

ellos están

ellas están

 

they are

they are

 

Keep in mind that the subject of a sentence is not necessarily the person who’s talking. But rather, it’s the person(s) or thing(s) they are talking about. For example:

Yo estoy en el apartamento. I am at the apartment.
estás en el jardín. You are in the garden.
El documento no está en la mesa. The document is not on the table.
estás nerviosa. You are nervous.
¿Cómo está Anna? How is Anna?
La ventana está abierta. The window is open.

I may be the one speaking the above sentences. But only in the first example am *I* the subject. The other sentences are about someone or something else. Therefore, I must use the corresponding conjugation for those different subjects.

ESTAR conjugation quiz

Choose the correct form of estar for the following sentences.

 

Adjectives Frequently-Used with ESTAR

Since estar is generally used to express temporary locations and conditions, the adjectives that are commonly used with estar often describe a person’s feelings or momentary status. The following list includes several of these adjectives. Notice that adjectives like “tall,” “short,” “smart” and “funny” are not on this list. That’s because those adjectives are more descriptive of a person’s characteristics or permanent qualities. Therefore, these “more-permanent” adjectives are commonly expressed with ser.

Also, notice that most of the adjectives have a masculine form (ending in “o”) and a feminine form (ending in “a”). The form of the adjective you use will depend on the gender of whomever you’re describing. Only a few of the adjectives like bien, disponible and triste are “gender neutral.”

aburrido, a bored
avergonzado, a embarrassed
bien well / ok / fine
cansado, a tired
cierto, a certain
confundido, a confused
contento, a happy / content
disponible available
emocionado, a excited
enfermo, a sick / ill
enojado, a upset / angry
estresado, a stressed (out)
frustrado, a frustrated
furioso, a furious
listo, a ready
nervioso, a nervous
ocupado, a busy
preocupado, a worried
preparado, a prepared
relajado, a relaxed
satisfecho, a satisfied
seguro, a sure
triste sad

Think about it…any person can experience any one of the above conditions in a given day. We all get tired, busy and sick sometimes, regardless of what kind of person we are. That’s why these adjectives are usually expressed with estar, the more temporary way to express to be in Spanish.

Opposite Adjectives Frequently-Used with ESTAR

Again, here’s another round of common adjectives that are usually expressed with estar. Most of these words describe things more often than they describe people. Nonetheless, the gender of the adjective should be the same as the gender of the thing it describes. An open book (libro m.), for example, is abierto. An open door (puerta f.), on the other hand, is abierta.

abierto, a
cerrado, a
open
closed
limpio, a
sucio, a
clean
dirty
muerto, a
vivo, a
dead
alive
mojado, a
seco, a
wet
dry
sentado, a
de pie
seated
standing          .
ordenado, a
desordenado, a
neat
messy
frío, a
caliente
cold
hot
prendido, a
apagado, a
on
off

Adjective Agreement

Another layer of complexity to Spanish adjectives is that they must be “in agreement” with the number of people or things they are describing, in addition to their gender. As a result, there are 4 variations for most adjectives. For example, here are the 4 forms of the adjective wet;

mojado

singular
masculine

mojados

plural
masculine

mojada

singular
feminine

mojadas

plural
feminine

This is just one example of the complex rules of Spanish grammar which we discussed in another post (link). In contrast, there are no variations of English adjectives. They’re always the same, regardless of who or how many people or things they’re describing.

The dog is wet.
Charlie is wet.
Charlie and the dog are wet.
The window is wet.

Let’s make sure you understand this concept by taking another quiz. Simply choose the correct adjective from the multiple choice options.

Adjective Agreement Quiz

ser…o no ser (to be…or not to be)

ser is the most important and commonly used verb in the Spanish language. Although the verbs ser and estar both translate to English as to be, serstands in contrast to estar as it implies that a situation is more permanent or unlikely to change. Here are the conjugations of ser;

yo soy I am nosotros somos we are
eres you are ustedes son you are (plural)

él es

ella es

usted es

he is

she is

you are (formal)

ellos son

ellas son

 

they are

they are

 

Here are some of the more common contexts in which ser is used.

Expressing Identity

(Yo) soy Veronica.
¿Quién es ese hombre?
Esa no es un lapiz. Es una pluma.
I’m Veronica.
Who is that guy?
That is not a pencil. It’s a pen.

Stating Relationships

Miguel y Raul son mis hermanos.
¿Quién es tu novia?
(Nosotros) somos buenos amigos.
(Yo) soy el hijo del Sr. Williams.
Miguel and Raul are my brothers.
Who is your girlfriend?
We’re good friends.
I’m Mr. Williams’ son.

Expressing Characteristics & Descriptions

This includes personalities, features and qualities that are unlikely to change.

(Yo) soy responsable y diligente.
(Tú) eres muy amable y generoso.
¿Cómo es tu padre?
Los tacos de Taco Shack son enormes.
I’m responsible and diligent.
You’re very kind and generous.
What is your father like?
Taco Shack’s tacos are enormous.

Indicating Nationalities, Ethnicities & Origins

¿De dónde eres/es usted?
Soy Mexicano pero no soy de México.
Mi coche es Japonés.
Las manzanas son de Washington.
Where are you from?
I’m Mexican but I’m not from Mexico.
My car is Japanese.
The apples are from Washington.

Stating Material, Natural Color & Calculations

Las camisas son de seda y algodón.
El cielo es azul. La hierba es verde.
Dos y dos son cuatro.
The shirts are made of silk and cotton
The sky is blue. The grass is green.
2+2=4

Stating Occupations

No job lasts forever. In other words, occupations are not permanent. Nonetheless, ser is used to express a person’s occupation.

Soy maestro.
Miguel es ingeniero.
Los Sres. Jones son abogados.
I’m a teacher.
Miguel’s an engineer.
Mr. & Mrs. Jones are lawyers.

Expressing Possession

El libro rojo es mío.
¿De quién es ese dinero?
Estas son las ideas de Roberto.
The red book is mine.
Whose money is that?
These are Robert’s ideas.

Stating Time, Dates & Days of the Week

¿Qué hora es?
Son las siete y mieda de la noche.
¿Qué día es?
Es el lunes.
¿Cuál es la fecha hoy?
Es el diecinueve de agosto.
What time is it?
It’s 7:30pm.
What day is it?
It’s Monday.
What is the date today?
It’s the 19th of August.

“It is” + (adjective) + (verb)

Es bueno aprender nuevas cosas.
¿Por qué es difícil pronunciar la palabra?
¿Es necesario decir “yo”?
Es imposible terminar el trabajo.
It’s good to learn new things.
Why is it difficult to pronounce the word?
Is it necessary to say “yo”?
It’s impossible to finish the work.

SER conjugation quiz

Choose the correct form of ser for the following sentences.

Adjectives Frequently-Used with SER

The adjectives which commonly accompany the verb ser will describe an object’s inherent qualities rather than it’s temporary condition. Estar, for example, is used to say that a door is open, closed, clean or dirty. However, we’ll use ser to say that the door is big, heavy, wooden, etc.

bueno, a
malo, a
good
bad
pesado, a
lijero, a
heavy
light (weight)
nuevo, a
viejo, a
new
old
largo, a
corto, a
long
short
posible
imposible
possible
impossible
interesante
aburrido, a
interesting
boring
complicado, a
sencillo, a
complicated
simple
bonito, a
feo, a
nice / pretty
ugly
fácil
difícil
easy
difficult
duro, a
suave
hard
soft
caro, a
barato, a
expensive
inexpensive
grande
pequeño, a
big
small

More Adjectives Frequently-Used with SER

The adjectives on the above list are often used to describe things. The adjectives on the following list are typically used to describe people. They describe who a person is…what they’re like…rather than their moods or feelings.

alto, a
bajo, a
tall
short
jóven
viejo, a
young
old
gordo, a
flaco, a
fat
thin
rico, a
pobre
rich
poor
trabajador, a
perezoso, a
hard-working
lazy
simpático, a
antipático, a
nice / friendly
rude
responsable
irresponsable
responsible
irresponsible
amable
maleducado, a
kind / friendly
rude
inteligente
tonto, a
smart
dumb
paciente
impaciente
patient
impatient
generoso, a
tacaño, a
generous
stingy
fuerte
débil
strong
weak

Adjective Agreement Quiz

ser and estar quiz

Here we are at the end of the lesson. All we have left is the following ser and estar quiz. The quizzes above used only estar or only ser. The following quiz includes both verbs. Your challenge for most of the sentences is to determine which verb and which conjugation is appropriate for the sentence.