Although all the verbs are important when you are learning a new language, the verb ‘to be’ is essential since it allows you to talk about some specific characteristics such as profession, nationality and physical characteristics. Even though this sounds easy when it comes about Spanish the verb ‘to be’ becomes ‘Ser’ and ‘Estar’. Despite this verbs are the equivalent of ‘to be’, they can’t be used interchangeably. As a result, many new Spanish speakers have troubles identifying when to use one or the other. In this article, we are going to talk in-depth about when to use ‘Ser’ in Spanish. And even though grammar rules are important, we are going to focus on common situations where native Spanish speakers use the verb ‘Ser’. By the end of this, you will feel more comfortable using the verb ‘Ser’.
When to use ‘Ser’: the most common uses
When new Spanish speakers study the verb ‘Ser’, one of the first things they learn is that this verb is used to talk about nationality and to describe permanent characteristics. Although ‘Ser’ has a sense of permanence, the truth is that you don’t have time to philosophize about the temporary nature of things. And to do things more complicated, there are some situations where this permanent state is not very clear. As a result, the best way to master the verb ‘Ser’ is to get familiar with the situations and contexts where you can use it without thinking too much about temporary and permanent things.. Keep in mind that many native speakers don’t know Spanish grammar rules and yet they are able to talk their language. The following list will show you the most common uses of the verb ‘Ser’.
1. Talking about Your Origin or Nationality
One of the most common uses of ‘Ser’ is to talk about your or somebody else’s’ nationality or origin. Although this is simple, you have to keep some things in mind when using this verb in Spanish:
- The Nationality adjective has to agree in number and gender with the subject.
- Even though origin and nationality are very similar, you need to use different structures when using one or the other.
So let’s see some examples. Pay attention to the gender and the number.
Yo soy mexicana y mis primos son colombianos I’m Mexican and my cousins are colombians
Even though using a nationality adjective is an easy way to talk about your origin, you can also use the following structure:
Ser (conjugated) +de + country
Soy de México y mis primos son de Colombia I’m from Mexico and my cousins are from Colombia
This previous structure is very useful when you want to talk about your origin or when you need to be more specific and talk about your city or hometown. Actually, when talking among each other, native Spanish speakers use ‘Ser de’.
Yo soy de Guadalajara, ¿y tú? I’m from Guadalara and you?
It’s up to you and up to the context using one structure or the other. Remember that ‘Ser de’ is used to emphasize on your country or to be more specific and mention your city of origin.
2. Identifying or Introducing Somebody
One of the most common situations, when we need to use ‘Ser’, is to identify a person or to introduce somebody. Let’s see some examples so you have a better idea of this situation.
Ese señor de allá es un director famoso That man over there is a famous movie director
Mira, esa es la maestra más estricta de la escuela Look, that is the most strict teacher in the school
¿No son los muchachos que vimos en el bar? Are those the boys that we saw in the bar?
As you can see from the previous examples, the situation is very simple: identifying consist of giving a friend or another person references about somebody else.
Just as in English, in Spanish, we have a formal verb to introduce somebody (te presento a…). However, when talking among friends or in informal contexts, native Spanish speakers only use the verb ‘Ser’.
Ellos son Arturo y Julián These are Arturo and Julián
Ella es mi mamá y este es mi hermano This my mom and this one is my brother
3. What Do You Do for a Living? Talking about your Profession
When it comes about when to use ‘Ser’, one of the most common situations is to talk about your profession or the thing you do for a living. However, in my particular experience as a Spanish teacher, this is one of the contexts that students argue that’s not permanent. And they are right, you are not going to be a student forever or there’s a chance you change your profession. As a result, this is a good example of why you shouldn’t always think about temporary and permanent states. Rather focus on learning the situations or contexts where you can use this verb.
Ser (conjugated) + profession
Mi hermano es estudiante My brother is a student
Fui enfermera durante 10 años, ahora soy ama de casa I’m a writer and my husband is a doctor
As mentioned before, your profession can change with time. However, you still need to use ‘Ser’ in this situation. Check this example:
Fui enfermera durante 10 años, ahora soy ama de casa I was a nurse for 10 years, now I’m a homemaker
Notice that you use ‘Ser’ in its past form to talk about your old profession and ‘Ser’ in its present form to talk about the current profession.
4. Mine or Yours? Expressing Possession
Although there are many ways to talk about possesions in Spanish, one common way to it is by using the verb ‘Ser’. When using the verb ‘Ser’ in this situation, you are kind of identifying the object and its owner. Remember that there are many ways to talk about possesions in Spanish.
El libro rojo es mío The reed book is mine
Esas zapatillas son mías Those high heels are mine
Don’t forget that in Spanish the noun and the verb must agree in number. Furthermore, the adjective and in this case the possessive pronoun has to agree in both number and gender. Notice that the previous examples were based on your possessions. However, when talking about somebody else’s possessions you have two options. You either use a possessive pronoun or you use the following structure:
Object + Ser (conjugated) + de + person
Los lápices son de ella The pencils are hers
Esos son los zapatos de mi hermano Those are my brother’s shoes
5. Describing Somebody’s Physical Characteristics and Personality
When talking about a person’s physical characteristics and personality we always use ‘Ser’. Sometimes, new Spanish speakers use ‘Ser’ and ‘Estar’ interchangeably in this situation. However, we use ‘Ser’ to talk about inherent characteristics. Here are some of the most common physical characteristics that work with the verb ‘Ser’.
Constitution and Height
If you are to describe a person’s height or constitution, you need to do it with the verb ‘Ser’. Here are some examples.
Aurora es delgada y alta Aurora is thin and tall
Mi hermano es gordo y bajo My brother is fat and short
So why sometimes you can hear these sentences with the verb ‘Estar? Because they are talking about temporary states. In other words, you can say that your brother ‘está gordo’ to express that he has been eating a lot and he gained weight. However, in this case, his natural constitution is not fat.
Skin’s, Eyes’, Hair’s Color
This is another physical characteristic that we describe with the verb ‘Ser’. In order to do this, you must use the possessive pronouns.
Mi cabello es negro My hair is black
Los ojos de Eva son azules Eva’s eyes are blue
Los mexicanos son morenos Mexican people are dark
Describing a Person’s Personality
Just as we use ‘Ser’ to describe a person’s appareance, we also use it when we want to talk about their personality.
Tus papás son amables Your parents are nice
La vecina es muy enojona The neighbor is very grumpy
6. Describing an Object
Just as we use ‘Ser’ when describing a person’s physical characteristics or personality, we also use it to describe an object. The following are some of the most common characteristics that work with ‘Ser’.
Although you probably not going to be talking about materials and fabrics all the time, you should know that this another very common use of the verb ‘Ser’. So when you are in this situation, make sure to use the following structure.
Object + Ser (conjugated) + de + material/fabric
El anillo es de oro The ring is made of gold
La mesa es de madera The table is made of wood
Las camisas son de algodón The T-shirts are made of cotton
Even though you could translate word by word the English phrase ‘is made of’, in verbal Spanish, we use ‘ser de’ to talk about materials. Furthermore, be aware that if you translate word by word, you need to need to use the verb ‘Estar’. No matter what option you choose, both are correct.
Every time you want to describe an object’s shape or texture, you need to use the verb ‘Ser’. Even though this doesn’t seem very common for a conversation, keep in mind that being able to describe an object is very useful if you are learning a new language and you don’t know or don’t remember an object’s name.
La mesa es cuadrada The table is square
Es una tela suave y duradera It’s a soft and lost-lasting fabric
Although you may haven’t thought about it, talking about a thing’s size is pretty common in a conversation. So make sure, you use the right verb.
Tu casa es muy grande Your house is very big
Sus piernas son my largas Her legs are very long
Mi mochila es muy pequeña My backpack is very small
If you want to give an opinion about an object’s quality, you need to user ‘Ser’. For instance:
Esta marca es muy buena This brand is very good
Es un restaurante muy malo It’s a pretty bad restaurant
Mis tenis son muy duraderos My tennis shoes are very long-lasting
En ese restaurante las salsas son muy picantes In that restaurant the sauces are very spicy
Just you use ‘Ser’ to describe a person’s hair, eyes, and skin, you also use this verb to describe an object’s color.
Las plantas son verdes The plants are green
Tus cuadernos son morados Your notebooks are purple
7. Expressing How the Weather Is
Although the weather is something that is always changing, there are some general characteristics that always remain the same. For instance, in some countries, winter is always hot, or summer is hot and rainy. When talking about the weather in those general terms, we use ‘Ser’.
En México el clima es cálido In Mexico the weather is warm
El verano es lluvioso y el invierno no es muy frío The summer is rainy and winter is not very cold
There are some of the adjectives to describe the weather that works with ‘Ser’:
Notice that some of these adjectives can be used both with ‘Ser’ and ‘Estar’. However, as mentioned before, ‘Ser’ implies the general characteristics of a place’s weather. And if you use ‘Estar’ you are referring to that particular day. If you want to learn more about how to use ‘Estar’, the next post focuses only on the uses of this verb.
8. Talking about Somebody’s Ideology/Religion
Even though people can change their ideology or religion at some point in their life, in Spanish, we use the verb ‘Ser’ in this context.
Mis papás son católicos My parents are catholic
Andrea y Gerardo son socialistas Andrea and Gerardo are socialist
As mentioned before, people may change their beliefs. In those cases, the only thing you need to do is to conjugate the verb ‘Ser’ in its past form to talk about the old beliefs and ‘Ser’ in its present form to talk about the current ones.
Andrea y Gerardo eran socialistas, pero ahora son comunistas Andrea and Gerardo were socialist, but now they are communist
9. Talking about Your Family and Personal Relationships
When talking about the people you are related to, in Spanish, we use the verb ‘Ser’. After all, these bonds are something that not even time can change. Your brother is always going to be your brother and so on. Furthermore, if you think about it, talking about your family relationships is a way to identify someone. And as mentioned before, the verb ‘ser’ is used to introduce and identify people.
Mario y yo somos primos Mario and I are cousins
Mi tía es esa mujer que está alla My aunt is that women over there
Although a friendship or a courtship may end, we also use the verb ‘Ser’ to talk about those type of relationships. This is a very good example of why ‘Ser’ is not only used with permanent things.
Carolina es novia de Pedro Carolina is Pedro’s girlfriend
Mariana y Pamela son muy buenas amigas Mariana and Pamela are very good friends
Another key point to keep in mind is that ‘Ser’ is also used to talk about your marital status. For instance:
Paola es soltera Paola is single
Alberto es viudo Alberto is a widower
Martín es casado Martín is married
However, don’t be surprised if you listed native Spanish speakers using these previous marital statuses with ‘Estar’. In this case, the only difference is the way you see things: are you always going to be single? Or is a temporary state that is going to change?
10. When and When is The…? Talking about an Event
Another situation when native Spanish speakers use ‘Ser’ is when they are talking about where and when an event is going to take place. Although all the uses of ‘Ser’ enlisted here are pretty useful, you definitely don’t want to forget this one.
La boda será mañana The wedding will be tomorrow
El concierto de Pepe es en Guadalajara Pepe’s concert is in Guadalajara
Acuérdate que la fiesta es hoy a las 8 Don’t forget that the party is today at 8
Even though you may feel tempted to use ‘Estar’ to talk about where an event is going to be, keep in mind that for this type of context, we must use ‘Ser’. This the key: for talking about a person, building or object’s location you need to use ‘Estar’. However, if you are talking where an event or a show is going to take place, you want to use ‘Ser’.
11. Asking and Telling the Price
As you may know, in Spanish, there are many ways to ask about the price in Spanish. And most of the time we use the verb ‘Ser’ to build those questions.
- ¿Cuánto es? → How much is it?
- ¿Cuánto va a ser? → How much is it going to be?
- ¿Cuál es el precio de….? → What’s the price of…?
Of course, when answering, you also need to use the verb ‘Ser’.
Son doscientes pesos It’s two hundred peso
Take Note: Although prices change, these previous examples with ‘Ser’ imply that, to a certain extent, prices are stable. However, there are some cases where the prices or the value of things are more volatile (i.e. when talking about currencies). In these cases, we use ‘Estar’.
12. Explaining the Content or Subject of a Book or Movie
One topic that you can use to practice your Spanish or to make new friends is to talk about books, movies or TV shows. In Spanish, when we want to describe the content or the topic of a movie, book or TV show, we always use ‘Ser’.
Es una película de acción It’s an action movie
El libro es sobre la historia de Egipto The book is about Egypt’s history
We also use it to talk about genres. However, for those cases, you need to use the following structure:
El libro/La película + Ser (conjugated) + de + genre
La película es de terror It’s a horror movie
El libro es de ciencia ficción It’s a science-fiction book
Or if you want to sound more natural, you can say something like:
Es una película de terror It’s a horror movie
13. Saying the Date/Time & Talking about Historical Facts
Just as in English, in Spanish, we use the verb ‘Ser’ to tell the time and the date. However, when saying the time, don’t forget to use the singular and the plural form correctly.
Es la 1pm It’s 1 pm
Son las 10 en punto It’s 10 o’clock
And here are some examples of how you would talk about the date. Although you could use ‘Ser’ to say what day is, you can also use it to talk about a celebration.
Hoy es 10 de agosto Today is August 10
Mañana es día de las madres Tomorrow is Mother’s Day
En dos meses es mi cumpleaños My birthday is in two months
Given that ‘Ser’ is used to talk about the date, we also used to talk about historical facts or dates. Nevertheless, in these cases, you need to conjugate the verb in the past tense form since those events already occurred.
El descubrimiento de América fue en 1492 The Discovery of America was on 1492
Although many teachers define the verb ‘Ser’ as a verb that expresses permanency, the truth is that it has many other uses that new Spanish speakers could learn to feel more confident about this verb. In this post, we study when to use ‘Ser’ in Spanish and, in order to do so, we compiled 13 situations where we use ‘Ser’. Even though these contexts are going to give you a good hint, the best way to master this verb is practicing as much as you can.