Difference Between Ser and Estar: Special Hacks

Difference Between Ser and Estar: Special Hacks

Does Spanish ever seem confusing and strange? I can imagine and even some rudimentary grammar concepts are vastly different than other languages like English. One of the most important and unique Spanish grammar concepts is the Difference Between Ser and Estar. Both verbs mean to be but some cases require you to use ser, while estar is appropriate in other cases. Many beginners get very confused with this concept and need to distinguish when to use which verb. In this post, I will go over the conjugations of each verb along with practical applications of both.


Before diving in on when to use Ser, you must learn how to conjugate this verb. This verb has a tricky conjugation which fortunately becomes easier with experience.

An acronym that helped me distinguish when to use ser, was DOCTOR or  Description, Occupation, Characteristic, Time, Origin, and Relationship.

1. Description

For description, think of what you would say if someone asked you “What´s he like?” These are the essential qualities that define a person and probably won´t change. They can be a name or a physical description.

  • Yo soy Dalton. (I am Dalton.)
  • Yo soy alto, y fuerte. (I am tall and strong.)

2. Occupation

Occupations are seen as life-long careers and are percieved as permanent.

  • Soy un maestro de ciencias. (I am a Science teacher.)
  • Ellos son  amigos. (They are friends.)
  • Mi padre era dentista. (My father was a dentist.)

3. Characteristic

Characteristics describe people’s personalities and can be summed up in the phrase “what is she like”?” This is an important difference Between Ser and Estar.

  • Juan es inteligente, y generoso. (Juan is intelligent and generous.)
  • Mi esposa es romántica. (My wife is romantic.)

4. Time

This includes dates, days and hours. With hours use es for 1 o’clock and son for the remaining hours.

  • Hoy es martes. (Today is Tuesday.)
  • Ayer fue mi cumpleaños. (Yesterday was my birthday.)
  • Es la una y veinte. (it´s one twemty.)
  • Son las cinco y media. (It´s five thirty.)

5. Origin

Since the composition of a material or a  person’s origin is not going to change  we use ser for origin.

  • Mateo es de España. (Celia is from Spain.)
  • Mi anillo es de plata. (My ring is silver.)

6. Relationship

Despite the status of a relationship which also includes religion, ser is always used.

  • Reid es mi padre. (Reid is my dad.)
  • Juan es judío. (Juan is Jewish.)


Luckily, one Difference Between Ser and Estar  is that estar has an easier conjugation. In the table below, I have highlighted the irregular endings in red for each pronoun. Generally, Estar is used with temporary states and locations. If this isn’t sufficient, use the acronym PLACE, or Position, Location, Action, Condition, and Emotion.

1. Position

Position is the physical location or posture a person or object is in.

  • Mi abuelo está sentado. (My grandfather is seated.)
  • Yo estaba de pie cuando me dijiste. (I was standing up when you told me.)

2. Location

The location of a person or object includes permanent, temporary, actual, or conceptual descriptions.

  • El baño está a la izquierda de la calle. (The bathroom is to the left of the street.)
  • Estamos en el café ahora . (We are at the café right now.)

Watch Out (Tengan Cuidado!)

The location of a party is described using SER. Not ESTAR!

  • La fiesta es en la casa blanca. (The party is at the white house.)

3. Action

Estar is used to describe an ongoing action using the present progressive tense.

  • Estoy haciendo la tarea. (I am doing the homework.)
  • Estamos leyendo los libros. (We are reading the books.)
  • Mi abuelo está muerto. (My grandfather is dead.)

Death is Ongoing Action

In Spanish, death is seen as ongoing, so you should use the verb estar and not ser.

4. Condition

Physical and mental conditions are described using estar.

  • Estoy tan cansado ahora. (I am so tired now.)
  • Mis niños están enfermos hoy. (My children are sick today.)
  • Hoy, Mi madre está muy feliz . (Today, My mother is very happy.)

5. Emotion

How a person is feeling at a certain moment is described using estar.

  • Estoy confundido. (I am confused.)
  • Ella está contenta porque recibió unos anillos de su amigo. (She is happy because she received some rings from her friend.)

I hope this has been a useful guide and you understand the difference between ser and estar. Feel free to test your skills here! What other ser and estar tips have helped you? Please post below!

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