How to Use Spanish Verbs SER and ESTAR

In the Spanish language there are 2 verbs – ESTAR and SER – which both mean TO BE in English. Moreover, in some cases it is used another verb – HAY.

And since the verb to be is the most frequently used verb in all languages, you should learn properly the difference between ESTAR and SER and the rules how to use them. Even though it might seem confusing in the start, you will soon find out that it isn’t that difficult. If you are curious about the use of these verbs, just keep reading.

How to conjugate SER and ESTAR?

Pronombre SER
Yo Soy
Eres
El, ella, usted Es
Nosotros, nosotras Somos
Vosotros, vosotras Sois
Ellos, ellas, ustedes Son
Pronombre ESTAR
Yo Estoy
Estás
El, ella, usted Están
Nosotros, nosotras Estamos
Vosotros, vosotras Estáis
Ellos, ellas, ustedes Están

And how to conjugate HAY?

Hay is the third person singular of verb HABER. But, fortunately, to express TO BE by verb haber it is used only HAY so you don’t have to conjugate anything.

estar-o-haber
Picture to describe the difference between Hay and Estar.

The difference between SER and ESTAR

Basically, we can say that the verb SER is used for passive and ESTAR for active sentences. That means that SER we use when we say what something is or when we talk about somebody’s character. Verb ESTAR is used when we talk about what we do or how we feel at the moment.

Sometimes the difference is so big that a mistake would change the whole meaning:

Yo estoy aburrido. (I am bored.)/ Yo soy aburrido. (I am boring.)

Yo estoy feliz. (I am happy.)/ Yo soy feliz. (I am lucky.)

Ella está callada. (She is quiet.)/ Ella es callada. (She is introverted.)

Él no está listo. (He is not ready.)/ Él no es listo. (He is not clever.)

¿Estás seguro? (Are you sure?.) / ¿Eres seguro? (Are you confident?)

Lo está claro. (That is clear.)/ Lo es claro. (It is bright.)

Now you can see that the used verb can change the meaning of the sentence and therefore you should go through the rules. You will discover that it is not that big deal in the end!

When to use SER?

To describe something that is given.

  • Árboles son verdes. Trees are green.
  • El cielo es azul. The sky is blue.
  • Él es de Mardid. He is from Madrid.
  • Ella es rubia. She is blonde.
  • Yo soy muy alto. I am very tall.

When we talk about basic facts

  • Madrid es la capital de España. Madrid is the capital of Spain.
  • El Nilo es el río más largo en el mundo. The Nile is the longest river in the world.

When we speak about possession

  • El coche es mío. The car is mine.
  • El gato es de Marcus. The cat is from Marcus.

To express the time – this might be tricky because somebody can say that time is not permanent and is rather temporary. But when you are asked about the time you always use SER!

  • Son las dos horas. It is two o’clock.
  • Es la medianoche. Is midnight.
  • Hoy es Lunes. Today is Monday.

When we use ESTAR

To describe our feeling or mood

  • Yo estoy cansado. I am tired.
  • Yo estoy enferma. I am ill.
  • Estoy ríendome. I am laughing.
  • Nosotros estamos borachos. We are drunk.

To indicate location! If you want to describe where something is, where are you or any building, you always use ESTAR.

  • Mi amigo está en Chile. My friend is in Chile.
  • Ellos están de vacaciones. They are on holiday.
  • Yo estoy en la casa. I am at home.
  • La escuela está al lado de la officina de correos. The school is next to the post office.
  • El baňo está en el fondo del corredor. The bathroom is at the end of the corridor.

BUT as I mentioned there is one more verb – HAY

This one is also used in connection with location.  BUT you use it only if you are not certain or specific about the place. That means that you use it when you ask somebody if there is something nearby, but you don’t really know if it is there or it is not. Another use is when you say that somewhere is something but you are not specific:

  • ¿Hay una gasoline aquí cerca? Is there any gas station near?
  • En Barcelona hay muchos parques. There are many parks in Barcelona.
  • ¿Cuántos perros hay en el jardín? How many dogs are in the garden?

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