The principal difference is that SER is used in situations that are more permanent - "soy americano" - "I am American". ESTAR is used in situations that are more temporary or changing - "estoy con calor" - "I am hot". As you can see, one is a quite permanent state, while the other is only temporary.
Ser vs estar are similar in meaning, otherwise they wouldn’t be translated as the same verb in English. However, in Spanish, it’s crucial to know to differentiate them because they express distinct ideas that can change the whole meaning of a sentence.
The Spanish Verb Ser
Ser expresses permanent states, the “essence of things,” or the stuff that makes something what it is. You use ser when you want to express who you are, what you do (for a living), and your nationality. In all these cases, you’re describing your permanent qualities as a person that aren’t likely to change.
So, how do you know when to use ser? I’ve written before about the subject and you can read this thorough guide about the uses for these two verbs. Here, I’ll just mention all the situations when you have to use ser:
6. Event location
The Spanish Verb Estar
On the other hand, estar expresses temporary states, qualities, conditions, or locations that are meant to change whether soon or eventually. If, for instance, you want to say where you are or how you feel, you will use estar.
Use estar in the following situations:
1. Ongoing Actions
4. Physical Position
5. Physical and Mental Conditions
7. Variable Price
There are also phrases which can change their meaning depending on whether you use SER or ESTAR. These are highlighted in the table below. Note that the change in meaning is quite dramatic so make sure you use SER or ESTAR correctly when using these phrases!
Quiz Activity No. 1: Difference between "Ser & Estar" by Easy Spanish
In this video by Easy Spanish you will see the differences between Ser and Estar in Spanish. Take notes of the information you consider important and listen carefully to identify the uses and the pronunciation. Press PLAY when you are ready. Try this short exercise to understand the different uses of SER and ESTAR. Complete the sentences with the correct verb and form.
1. El agua ______(estar/ser) fría.
2. Yo ______(estar/ser) Juan. Yo _______ (estar/ser) mexicano.
3. Yo ________ (estar/ser) en la ciudad de Mexico.
4. Este lugar ______ (estar/ser) muy lindo.
5. Yo estoy ______ (estar/ser) caminando.
6. Los árboles _______ (estar/ser) verdes, el cielo es azul.
7. Las señoras _______(estar/ser) platicando.
8. Esta ____________ (estar/ser) una escultura.
9. Ese ______ (estar/ser) un restaurante.
10. Yo _______(estar/ser) muy feliz.
11. Los coches ______________(estar/ser) pasando.
12. EL ambiente en la calle ________(estar/ser) muy ruidoso.
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Hasta la vista
The Español Latino Team.