6 Tips to Tackle Ser vs. Estar
Most Spanish language learners want to pull their hair out when deciding whether to use ser or estar. Like por and para, ser and estar can be very tricky for learners. Serand estar both mean “to be” and are used frequently in daily Spanish communication. While it can be confusing, we have some tricks from ser and estar experts – aka Spanish teachers – that will alleviate the headache and make you more confident when differentiating between the two.
If you need a refresher on the specific differences between ser and estar, check outthis article.
1. Use ser for permanence and estar for transience.
This first tip is the guiding rule for figuring out when to use ser and estar. As you may already know, the main difference between ser and estar is that ser refers to more permanent traits of someone or something, while estar refers to transient conditions.
Example: María es alta, delgada y rubia. (Maria is tall, thin, and blonde.)
Explanation: Physical traits that should not, under normal circumstances, change.
Example: Sandra está confundida porque no sabe cómo llegar al restaurante. (Sandra is confused because she doesn’t know how to get to the restaurant.)
Explanation: Sandra is confused right now while finding her way to the restaurant, but she won’t be confused tomorrow.
2. Ser and estar have the power to change a word’s meaning.
There are some words whose meaning is radically affected by choosing ser or estar.
“When we use ser, we separate the meaning from anything to do with time and duration. We could imagine it as a simple “=” sign. Estar establishes the possession of an attribute for a period of time.” Using estar implies that something could stop or change, over time. reference
Example: La nieve es blanca. (The snow is white.) reference
Explanation: Here, the speaker is equating whiteness with snow.
Example: La nieve está blanca. (The snow is white.) reference
Explanation: While the speaker still emphasizes the snow is white, he/she focuses on the possibility of change, such as the snow becoming dirty.