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WHY SPANISH HAS SER AND ESTAR & HOW NOT TO MAKE MISTAKES 

By Bettina Castro

 

Essence vs State 

If you're an English speaker trying to learn Spanish, you know how difficult it is to understand the uses of ser and estar. Maybe you've been speaking Spanish for years and still don't know why these verbs are different.

 

But where do these verbs come from? Mostly they come from one verb, the latin Esse. Later on, this verb was influenced by Sedere, (to be seated) and Stare (to be standing). 

Esse and Stare evolved and separated but maintaining their influence among each other. Ser moved towards permanence that could be related to the influence given by sedere (being seated) and estar was modified towards a state of non-permanence that could be related to be standing, but always maintaining that correlation with ser. It is for that reason that permanence is what most differentiates ser from estar and that is why most people learn that ser is permanent and estar is temporary.  

This explanation is somewhat useful as it always seems to work, but it leaves us confused when we encounter phrases like the following: 

Michael Jackson está muerto. – Michel Jackson is dead. 

Londres está en Inglaterra. – London is in England. 

El plato está roto. - The plate is broken. 

Son las dos y media. - It is half past two. 

Esos chicos son turistas. - Those guys are tourists. 

El concierto de Bad Bunny es en el estadio. - Bad Bunny's concert is at the stadium. 

The first three phases being permanent and the last three being temporary. These are not exceptions, but actual uses of ser y estar.  

Ser is about the essence of things and people, it defines their attributes, and uses adjectives that express their qualities. 

Uses: 

Name – First thing we use to describe people or things. We name them. 

Profession – It's what we do, how we present ourselves to society or how we are perceived. That's why being a tourist is ser because that's how people see us outside our hometown. 

Nationality – It is our origen, where we come from. 

Religion - or any group to which we belong or are a part of. It's about how we want to be perceived as (it includes fandoms, political parties, philosophical views, sport teams, etc.) 

Character and Physical Adjectives – What a person is like. 

Relationships - how we perceive other people in relation to ourselves and vice versa. E.g. Ella es mi madre, yo soy su hijo. (She is my mother; I am her son) 

Material, Color, Size and Origin – This is used to describe things. 

Events – The place of an event is part of the event. A house party is not the same as a club party. That’s why in the example is written “El concierto de Bad Bunny es en el estadio.” 

Hours and Dates – Every hour and every day are unique. If I say today is Monday, I'm saying the name of this day. The same thing applies to hours. 

 

The verb estar expresses a certain state through which people or things go through.  

Uses: 

Temporal adjectives (state of health, state of mind, weather, etc.) 

Estar is about states, everything that we go through but not necessarily something that would define us.   

That´s why we say estoy vivo (I'm alive) because I'm going through life, I am not life. 

Place or Location - A specific point in space doesn't define people or things, it only helps us locate them. 

Marital status – It is a state.  

Present progressive – We use the verb estar because it's talking about what is currently going on, it does not define anything. 

Having Ser y Estar in Spanish is one of the things that makes the language so unique and beautiful, and with a little bit of help you'll be trained to use them as a native. ¡Ánimo! 

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