¡Hola! ¡Te doy la bienvenida a Spring Spanish! (Welcome to Spring Spanish!)
Yo soy Mariana (I am Mariana), I’m one of the teachers at Spring Spanish y estoy muy emocionada por ello (and I am very excited about it). Did you notice that I just said “I am” in two different ways in Spanish? Soy Mariana (I’m Mariana) and estoy emocionada (I am excited). Two different verbs as an equivalent of “to be” might seem confusing, I know! But this challenge can definitely be tackled. Keep reading to find out how!
To be or not to be?
After all, that has always been the question, right? So, yes, the English verb “to be” may be expressed in two different ways in Spanish: with the verb ser and the verb estar. Although that might seem difficult, there are very clear-cut rules as to when to use which.
In general, ser is used when talking about permanent traits or qualities, while estar is used when talking about emotions or states, which —we could say— are temporary.
Now, which are deemed to be permanent traits or qualities? Well, those that identify someone or something, such as nationality, occupation, character, religion, shape, size, or material.
Ser – Talking about permanent traits or qualities
To tell someone where you are originally from, you may say:
- Soy estadounidense or Soy de Estados Unidos (I’m from the US)
- Soy canadiense or Soy de Canadá (I’m Canadian or I’m from Canada)
- Soy costarricense or Soy de Costa Rica (I’m Costarican or I’m from Costa Rica)
If you want to talk about your job in Spanish, you may say:
- Soy abogada (si eres mujer / if you are a woman) or Soy abogado (si eres hombre / if you are a man) (I’m a lawyer)
- Soy empresaria (I’m a businesswoman) or Soy empresario (I’m a businessman)
- Soy mamá (I’m a mom) or Soy papá — we all agree that being a mom or a dad is a full-time job, right?
- Personal traits
If you want to describe yourself, you could say:
- Soy morena (I’m brunette) or Soy rubia (I’m blonde)
- Soy organizada (I’m an organized person) or Soy desorganizada (I’m a disorganized person)
- Soy introvertida (I’m an introvert) or Soy extrovertida (I’m an extrovert)
Notice how all the traits I just mentioned end with an A. That’s because yo soy mujer (I am a woman), pero si eres hombre (but if you are a man), in general, the adjectives you use when talking about yourself should end with an O.
So, how would you describe yourself? ¿Eres mujer u hombre? (Are you a woman or a man?) ¿De dónde eres? (Where are you from?) ¿Eres callada o eres parlanchín? (Are you a quiet person or a talkative one?) Tell me in the comments below!
Now, if you want to talk about how you are feeling or where you are located, then you should use estar because a person’s emotions, mood, location, or state are, generally speaking, temporary.
Estar – Talking about emotions, mood, state, or location
Usually, when you meet or run into someone, after saying hola, which means “hi” or “hello”, the other person might ask you: ¿cómo estás? (how are you?). You could be feeling happy, sad, tired, or bored. How should you express this in Spanish?
Well, you could say:
- Estoy bien (I’m fine)
- Estoy cansada (I’m tired)
- Estoy emocionada (I’m excited)
- Estoy triste (I’m sad)
- Estoy enferma (I’m ill)
Now, let’s say you are to meet with a friend at a mall, but they can’t find you. So, they call you and ask ¿dónde estás? (where are you?) What should you respond?
It depends on where you actually are:
- If you are stuck in traffic, you should say: Estoy atorada en el tráfico.
- If you are still at home, you should say: Estoy en mi casa.
- If you are already waiting for them at the restaurant, you should say: Estoy en el restaurante.
These are all temporary locations, right? Hopefully, unless there’s a COVID-19 pandemic, you won’t be stuck at home forever and you won’t live day and night at a restaurant. If you live in Mexico City, chances are you’ll be stuck in traffic most of the time, but again, it won’t be forever.
The conjugation of ser & estar
So far, we’ve talked about ourselves, in the first person singular. You might have noticed a pattern: Soy estadounidense, estoy en el restaurante. Bingo! Both ser and estar have a similar ending. Let’s focus on these conjugations for now as they are the ones that will allow you to talk about yourself.
In the meantime, remember: ser is used to talk about permanent traits, while estar is used to talk about temporary ones, such as emotions or location.
Talking about the time – use ser
Now, there’s one exception to this rule:
Although you could say time is temporary because it goes by, in Spanish we use the verb ser to talk about it.
- ¿Qué hora es? or ¿Qué horas son? (What time is it?)
- Es la una y media (It’s 1:30) or Son las tres y media (It’s 3:30).
So, since one is singular, you say es, which is the conjugation of ser in the third person singular, while son corresponds to the third person plural —because three is plural.
Mixing ser & estar might be embarrassing
I suggest you learn this by heart. Otherwise, you could embarrass yourself a bit. For instance, if you say soy aburrido, you’re not saying I’m bored, instead, you’re saying that you are boring. To express your boredom, say Estoy aburrido (or aburrida, if you are a woman).
Similarly, if you say soy borracho, you won’t be saying that you are tipsy, but that you are a drunkard. Unless you are a drunkard, you should say Estoy borracho, because being drunk is temporary, right?
Muy bien, now you know the rules to use ser and estar correctly! Yay! And the good news is that after a while, you won’t even think about these rules because questions and phrases like “¿dónde estás?“, “¿qué hora es?”, “estoy bien“, “estoy en mi casa“, “soy abogada” will just roll off your tongue because those are chunks that never change in Spanish. So, after hearing them and saying them often, they’ll come naturally and automatically!
FREE Spanish Training
If you want to keep on learning, you should know that we have a whole series of Spanish beginner videos, so feel free to check out the other videos from me and the other Spring Spanish teachers on our channel!
Now, if you're ready to take it a step further and get serious about learning Spanish, you should sign up to the free Spanish training that’s available on our website. By doing so, you’ll discover the method we use to teach students to speak fluent Spanish — this method consists in teaching students chunks, like the ones I mentioned before. If you're interested, just click on the link in the description box below to sign up!