The Difference Between Ser and Estar

[ Disclaimer: I am learning Spanish, so I can’t guarantee the quality of this page. However, this has helped me work through my textbook, so I thought I’d share. If you see any mistakes, please let me know in the comments! ]

Difference Between Ser and Estar

What’s the difference between ser and estar? Ser – to be. Estoy – to be. Why, Spanish? Why? Not that I should really complain as an English speaker.

There are a lot of ways to use “to be” in English, so trying to figure out when to use which Spanish verb can be a challenge. That’s why I created an acronym for “ser”: DOT PORN. #dontjudge. Here it is:

D Describe nouns
O Occupation
T Time (and Date)
P Possession
O Origin
R Relationship
N Nationality

Then, there are three main cases when you would use estar.

Emotional, Mental, or Physical Condition
Present Progressive

This is mostly straightforward so I won’t explain everything, but here are some examples and translations for each category.

When to Use Ser – DOT PORN

D – Describe nouns

Example Translation
Mi hermana es joven. My sister is young.
Yo soy alto. I am tall.
Sus ojos son azules. His eyes are blue.
Mi gato es negro. My cat is black.

O – Occupation

Example Translation
Mi padre es abogado. My father is a lawyer.
Mis madres son deportistas. My mothers are athletes.
Nosotros somos escritores. We are writers.

T – Time and Date

Example Translation
Son las once. It’s 11 o’clock.
Es el catorce de junio. It is June 14th.

P – Possession

Example Translation
Esta es mi computadora. This is my computer.
Este es mi libro. This is my book.

O – Origin

Example Translation
Yo soy de New York. I’m from New York.
Ella es de California. She is from California.
Ellos son de Texas. They are from Texas.

R – Relationship

Example Translation
Ella es mi novia. She is my girlfriend
Este es tu primo. This is your cousin.

N – Nationality

Example Translation
Ella es mexicana. She is Mexican.
Ellos son franceses. They are French.
Somos coreanos. We are Korean.

When to Use Estar


Example Translation
El libro está en la cama. The book is on the bed.
La biblioteca está a la derecha de la escuela. The library is to the right of the school.
Ella está en Canadá. She is in Canada.

Emotional, Mental, or Physical Condition

This one is a little trickier. What’s the difference between a description and a condition? I like to think of a description as something that’s more long-term while a condition is something that’s more temporary.

For example, a tall person will always be tall. An intelligent person generally stays intelligent and a boring person generally stays boring. Because these are descriptions of people, we would use “ser.”

A person who is bored, however, is not always bored. Same with being sick or nervous. These are all conditions, so we would use “estar.”

Some adjectives, like “aburrido,” can be used with both ser and estar, but the meaning will change slightly.

Example Translation
Ella está aburrida. (estar)
Ella es aburrida. (ser)
She is bored.
She is boring.
Yo estoy cansada. I am tired.
Ellos están enojados. They are angry.

Present Progressive

The present progressive describes actions in progress. In English, it’s used when something is happening, not when something happens. For example, “I am walking” as opposed to “I walk,” or “He is working” versus “He works.”

Example Translation
Estoy caminando. I’m walking.
Está trabajando. He is working.
Estamos nadando. We are swimming.

So there you have it: the difference between ser and estar! Let me know if it helped!

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