As you may already know, there are two verbs in Spanish that express “to be”; estar and ser. The next logical question thing to know is when to use estar and when to use ser. Let’s answer this question generally and then we’ll elaborate with examples. There’s an estar conjugation chart down below…and also a couple of quizzes if you’re up for it.
When to Use ESTAR
- to express the location of people, places and things
- to express the temporary status or condition (including feelings and positions) of people and things
- in progressive (action) sentences in which something “is happening” or someone “is doing” something
When to Use SER
- expressing characteristics of people, places and things that are not likely to change
- stating someone’s nationality, ethnicity, religion, occupation or identity
- stating the origin, material, quality or natural color of something
- expressing possession
- telling time or dates.
In English, we use the infinitive to be and its conjugations (am, are, is) for all of the situations listed above. In Spanish, however, that work is divided between ser and estar. While ser handles the more permanent situations, estar covers the more temporary situations.
Here’s another lesson you may find helpful. It’s an in-depth study of SER and ESTAR with examples and quizzes;
ESTAR Conjugation Chart
(mobile users, view in landscape mode to view the whole chart)
|yo estoy||I am||nosotros estamos||we are|
|tú estás||you are||ustedes están||you are (plural)|
you are (formal)
Not as Simple as Temporary vs Permanent
Teachers often answer the when to use estar question by saying that it’s for temporary situations. This is generally true. This quick answer, however, can be a little misleading. There are plenty of times when you’ll use estar for situations that are pretty permanent.
Paris está en Francia.
Is Paris in France only temporarily? Certainly not! It’s always been in France and always will be. This example perfectly underscores the importance of relying on the contexts of estar instead of considering the permanence of the situation.
The very first context we listed above is that estar is for when you’re expressing location. That location may be temporary (I am in France / Yo estoy en Francia) or it may be permanent (Paris is in France / Paris está en Francia). In both cases, however, you are expressing location. Therefore, estar is the correct verb to use…not ser. Let’s make that point very clear;
Use ESTAR to express the location of a person, place or thing…even if that location is permanent.
Know the Adjectives Frequently Used with ESTAR
The second context we listed above is when you’re expressing the temporary status or condition (including feelings and positions) of people and things. These sentences are going to include an estar + adjective combination, which is very common.
Again, however, thinking in terms of temporary vs permanent can lead to confusion. If you want to say that someone is crazy (loco) or married (casado) or alive (vivo) or dead (muerto), you might spend too much time wondering whether or not these are temporary conditions (in which you should use estar) or permanent conditions (in which you should use ser).
Hmm…I’m married…but am I temporarily married or permanently married??
The answer to this question is this; you’re thinking too much!
The key to preventing all these questions and all the confusion is to simply know which verbs go with estar and which ones go with ser. Click here to view a separate post which includes a long list of estar adjectives.
Just so you know, all the adjectives listed above (loco, casado, vivo, muerto) go with estar, not ser.
Why? Well honestly…it doesn’t matter why. That’s just the way it is. I think that being dead is a pretty permanent condition. Nonetheless, if you want to say that “Charlie is dead,” you say “Charlie está muerto” and that’s all there is to it. Don’t overthink it.
The Progressive Tenses
Progressive sentences are action sentences in which something “is happening” or that someone “is doing” something. If it’s happening now or if the person is doing it now, that’s the present progressive tense. If it was happening or if someone was doing it in the past, that’s the past progressive tense. And if it will be happening or if someone will be doing it in the future, that’s the future progressive tense.
Regardless of whether it’s past, present or future, the sentence will have an estar + gerund combination.
In English, a gerund is the form of a verb that ends with “ing.”
In Spanish, the gerund form of verbs usually ends with either “ando” or “iendo”. Let’s look at a few examples. “AR verbs” like explicar, prestar and trabajar will end with “ando.”
Yo estoy explicando los usos de estar.
(I am explaining the uses of estar.)
Tú estás prestando atención.
(You are paying attention.)
José no está trabajando.
(José is not working.)
ER and IR verbs like aprender, correr and describir will end with “iendo” in most cases;
Nosotros estamos aprendiendo algo nuevo.
(We are learning something new.)
Ustedes están corriendo muy rápido.
(Y’all are running very fast.)
Carlos y Anita están describiendo el problema.
(Carlos and Anita are describing the problem.)
Do you want to give it a try? Here’s a 10-question quiz in which you’ll need to fill in the blank with the correct gerund form;I just completed an exercise in which I learned the three contexts in which to use the verb ESTAR. | LESSON: When to Use ESTAR Click To Tweet