What’s the difference between Ser and Estar

If you’ve taken Spanish lessons before, you probably know that “Ser” and “Estar”, both mean “to be” in English. There are a few rules in order to use each of the verbs in your conversations. But, before we go into the grammar part, let’s look at the conjugations of each one:


The “permanent” and “nonpermanent” concept
A lot of books will teach you that “ser” is used for permanent actions and “estar” is used for non-permanent actions or something like that. I don’t really agree 100% with this concept. While it is true that you can apply this formula in many cases, it will just make it confusing for many other uses. Here’s the way I teach “ser” and “estar“:

Use SER to describe something (color, size, shape, the material something is made of, etc.) or someone (name, place of origin, nationality, occupation, personality, political or religious affiliation, physical appearance, etc.)

Description of something:
El carro es rojo, grande y caro.The car is red, big and expensive.
La mesa es de plástico.The table is made out of plastic.

Description of someone (this is who you are):
Mario es de Veracruz y es maestro.Mario is from Veracruz and is a teacher.
Luis es alto, delgado e inteligente.Luis is tall, slim and smart.
Juan es honesto y es colombiano.Juan is honest and he is Colombian.

Use ESTAR to express the location or the condition (or sensation) of something or someone:

Juan está en Colombia.Juan is in Colombia.
María y Elena están en la escuela.María and Elena are at school.
Luis está cansado.Luis is tired. (Condition or sensation)
Mario está enfermo.Mario is sick. (Condition)

Based on the context, both verbs can be used in some cases:
Yo soy feliz.I’m a happy person. (This is who you are)
Yo estoy feliz.I’m happy. (This is your condition or sensation right now, not your personality)

Yo soy de México.I’m from Mexico. (You’re describing your place of origin)
Yo estoy en México.I’m in Mexico. (This is where you are/location)

ESTAR happens to be used in many expressions that won’t translate literally into English, but mean something. Here are just a few examples:

Estoy de acuerdo con Luis.I agree with Luis.
Estoy de buen humor.I’m in a good mood.
¡Estás en todo!You have a finger in everything!
Estoy por terminar.I’m about to finish.

Ser & Estar Basic Quiz

The questions are based on the mini lesson above. So, go over it, then take the quiz below. You can re- take it as many times as you need. There's a comment box at the bottom in case you want to make a comment or ask a question. Have fun!
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