Ser and Estar

95. The verbs ser and estar are irregular.

Present Indicative
ser, to be estar, to be
soy, I am, etc. estoy, I am
eres estás
es está
somos estamos
sois estáis
son están

 

Past Descriptive Indicative
era, I was, etc. estaba, I was, etc.
eras  (regular)
era  
éramos  
erais  
eran  

Past Absolute Indicative
fuí, I was, etc. (like the past absolute of ir, 87) estuve, I was
  estuviste
  estuvo
  estuvimos
  estuvisteis
  estuvieron
   

96. Meaning of ser and estar. Ser and estar, usually translated by 'to be,' are never synonymous. Primarily, ser is a copula, equivalent to a sign of equality, while estar (Latin stare, 'to stand') expresses position in space or time. It follows, therefore, that:

1. Ser expresses what is permanent or inherent, while estar expresses what is temporary or accidental.

2. Ser expresses qualities, while estar expresses conditions.
La leche es de color blanco y la tinta es de color negro. Milk is of white color and ink is black color.
Ella es pálida. She is pale (of pale color).
Ella está pálida. She looks pale (now).
Es borracho. He is a drunkard.
Está borracho. He is drunk.
La noche estaba muy bonita. The night was very beautiful.
El hombre es pequeño. The man is small (of small stature).
La niña está todavía pequeña. The little girl is still small (temporarily).
El hielo es frío. Ice is cold (a cold commodity).
El café está frío ahora. The coffee is cold now.
La cocina es grande. The kitchen is large.
La cocina está limpia. The kitchen is clean.
El libro es francés. The book is French.
El libro está sobre la mesa. The book is on the table.
Las rosas son hermosas. Roses are beautiful.
Las rosas están secas. The roses are dry (have become dry).

a. Ownership and origin are always expressed by ser.
La casa es de mi padre. The house is my father's.
¿De quién son los libros? To whom do the books belong?
Mi amigo es de España. My friend is from spain.
La carta era de Madrid. The letter was from Madrid.
El reloj es de oro. The watch is of gold.

b. When the predicate is a noun, ser is likewise used.
Mi tío es médico. My uncle is a physician.
La vaca es un animal doméstico. The cow is a domestic animal.

c. The location of a person or thing, whether permanent or temporary, is expressed by estar.
La universidad está cerca de Palo Alto. The university is near Palo Alto.
La casa está en al campo. The house is in the country.
El río de Misuri está en los Estados Unidos.
The Missouri river is in the United States.

d. Some adjectives have one meaning when used with ser and another meaning when used with estar, ser indicating character and estar indicating health.

ser bueno, to be good. estar bueno, to be well (in good health)
ser malo, to be bad. estar malo, to be ill.

e. Estar is also frequently used with the present participle to form the progressive tenses (435). In most cases the Spanish progressive and absolute tenses are interchangeable.
Estoy hablando (o hablo). I am talking.
¿Qué está diciendo? What is he saying?
Estábamos estudiando. We were studying.