One of the most difficult things of learning Spanish is that there are two verbs that are the equivalent of the verb “to be”, these two verbs are “ser” and “estar“. The uses of these two verbs is quite a complex thing that could be the subject of a whole thesis and still there would be unexplained nuances left.
The good news is that I’m going to give you the answer. I’ll explain you what you need to know in order to have a very good understanding of how these two verbs are used.
- First difference: condition vs. essence
Look at these sentences:
1. This apple is green, it hasn’t fall from the tree yet.
2. This apple is green and the other is red.
As you can see this two sentences have different meanings even though they use the same words. The first sentence talks about the condition of the apple, it’s green, it’s not ripe but when the time passes the apple will no longer be green but ripe. Whereas in sentence number two, the verb is talking about an essential characteristic of the apple, its color is green and this color won’t change with the time.
In Spanish we use “estar” to express the condition, something that is variable or might change with time, whereas we use “ser” with the essential characteristics.
1. Esta manzana está verde, aún no ha caído del árbol.
2. Esta manzana es verde y la otra es roja.
One thing you can do to know which verb you should use in Spanish is ask “how that thing is?” or “what something is?”. If you use the the first question then you need to use “estar“, if you use the second, then you need to use “ser“.
- Second difference: express origin, location and “take place”
Look at these sentences:
– Pierce Brosnan is Irish.
– Pierce Brosnan es irlandés.
– The Blarney Stone is in Ireland.
– La piedra de Blarney está en Irlanda.
– The Leperchaun party is in the Irish forests.
– La fiesta de los Leperchaun es en los bosques irlandeses.
The first sentence express origin, where someone or something comes from we use “ser“, to express location, where someone or something is placed / located we use “estar” and to express where something takes place we use “ser“.
- Other differences and review
– Esto es un ordenador portátil.
– This is laptop.
- To say the nationality or place of origin and the profession.
– Mi novio es suizo y es médico.
– My boyfriend is swiss and is a doctor.
- To talk about the essential characteristics of a thing, person or place.
– Esta ciudad es muy grande, tiene una superficie de 1.500 km2.
– This city is very big, the surface is 1.500 Km2.
- To say the time and a period of time.
– Son las 4 de la mañana. ¡Déjame dormir!
– It’s 4 am. Let me sleep!
- To talk about where a event takes place.
– La conferencia de antropología es en la Universidad de Durham.
– The anthropology lecture takes place is Durham University.
- To locate things, places or people.
– La Torre Eiffel está en París.
– The Eiffel Tower is in Paris.
- To talk about a physical state or a state of mind.
– Mi jefe está muy gordo y su mujer está muy contenta.
– My boss is very fat and his wife is very happy.
- Indicate the result of an action or process.
– La comida que has preparado está muy sabrosa.
– The food you prepared is very tasty.
- + gerondif: to express an action in course, developing.
– Estoy estudiando español para mi examen.
– I’m studying Spanish for my exam.
- Before “bien” and “mal”.
– Estoy mal, me duele la cabeza. ¿Y tú cómo estás? Yo estoy bien.
– I feel bad, I have a headache. ¿And how are you? I am fine.
- + de : to talk about a temporary job.
– Estoy de cajera en un supermercado hasta que encuentre trabajo en un banco.
– I am working as a cashier in a supermarket until I find a job in a bank.
- with 1st person of plural: situarnos en el tiempo to place us in the time
– Estamos a lunes.
– It’s Monday.