The same as preterite vs imperfect or subjuntive, native English speakers studying Spanish struggle with the use of ser and estar.
In order to help you, here I put together the general concepts of these two verbs and some common sentences using ser and estar that you shouldn’t confuse.
Differences Between Ser and Estar
Native English speakers studying Spanish have problems with SER and ESTAR because these verbs correspond to one unique verb in English: to be.
To make things more difficult, sometimes the meaning of a sentence completely change according to which of these verbs are used.
- La mujer es mayor vs la mujer está mayor.
- Él es aburrido vs él está aburrido.
- Ser borracho vs estar borracho.
- Eres bueno vs estás bueno.
- Soy listo vs estoy listo.
Would you know how to explain the differences between these sentences??? One thing that will help you to answer this question is to keep in mind that the verb SER describes an inherit or intrinsic attribute, while the verb ESTAR informs about a characteristic that is induced. Also, knowing that SER is used to indicate a permanence and ESTAR has a more temporary meaning can help. However, sometimes it is complicated than this.
Sentences You Shouldn’t Get Confused With
Going back to the examples. Let’s think about what I just mentioned in order to find out the meaning of the sentences:
LA MUJER ES MAYOR VS LA MUJER ESTÁ MAYOR. → THE WOMAN IS OLD VS THE WOMAN FEELS OLD.
We use “ser mayor” when you are at advance age. However, if you feel old is because maybe you do not take care of yourself and you end up feeling older than what you really are. Once you start taking care of yourself, that feeling will be gone. In this case we use: “estar mayor”.
ÉL ES ABURRIDO VS ÉL ESTÁ ABURRIDO. → HE IS BORING VS HE IS BORED.
“Él es aburrido” because it is in his genes, it is his personality, he does not know how to have fun. On the other hand, “él está aburrido” because the movie is boring, but after the movie he will no longer be bored.
SER BORRACHO VS ESTAR BORRACHO. → TO BE DRUNKARD VS TO BE DRUNK.
If “eres un borracho” that means you have a problem with alcohol, you always drink. However, you may “estar borracho” one night because you had too much to drink, but the next day you will be fine, except for the big hangover you will probably have.
ERES BUENO VS ESTÁS BUENO. → YOU ARE A GOOD PERSON VS YOU ARE HOT!
If “eres bueno” you are a good person and do good things because it is a trait you were born with. On the other hand, “estás bueno” if you are a good looking guy. In addition, you can feel better after being sick and you may say “estoy bueno“.
SOY LISTO VS ESTOY LISTO. → I AM SMART VS I AM READY.
“Soy listo” because I was born with that attribute. But when I say “estoy listo” that means I am ready to go somewhere or do something.
Ser and estar are very important verbs in Spanish and are used in everyday situations. Knowing the difference between them will help you a lot in order to not mess up with sentences like the ones just seen. Therefore, try to learn the differences, and before choosing ser or estar think twice, you may end up saying something inappropriate sometimes.