This helpful spanish tip node is brought to you by the letter ll

Ser and Estar are two spanish verbs which both mean to be. For many people, such as myself, it is difficult to remember when to use which one. Though they both have the same meaning, they are used in different contexts. Remember that in English, this verb conjugates to is/are in the present tense (we are, they are, he is, etc). Even in english, this verb has different meanings, it just so happens that the same word is used. Take for example:

  • The dog is brown.
  • The dog is sick.

The first example indicates a basic characteristic of the dog, its color. The second, however, indicates its condition. In spanish, these different meanings each have their own verb:

In the first example, we use the verb ser because we are describing a basic condition of the dog which is fairly permanent (its color). In the second, we use estar because we are describing its condition, which is probably temporary.

Now, just so we all remember, let's review the present tense forms of these verbs


  • soy
  • eres
  • es
  • somos
  • sois
  • son


  • estoy
  • estás
  • está
  • estámos
  • estáis
  • están

Now that we know the conjugations, let's look more in depth at when to use each. Note that this is not complete, but should give you the general picture.



  • geographic or physical location
  • state or condition
  • progressive tense

Further rules

  • ser is always used when followed by a noun
  • the difference can change the meaning of an adjective (El profesor está abburido - the professor is bored, vs el profesor es aburrido - the professor is boring)

To try and help you remember, think of estar as being for temporary conditions (for example, health, mood, location are all things that will change) and ser for things that are more permanent (hair color, place of birth, etc).

Good luck, and happy conjugating!

The last time that I took Spanish was in 1998 so I can't claim any proficiency in the language. Even back in 1998, my biggest accomplishments in Spanish class included memorizing the words to and singing along with "A Una Cancion Para Mama" by Boyz II Men. However, my lack of retention for the language actually helps my case here.

One of the few things I remember from my days of high school Spanish is the way to determine whether to use ser or estar. My teacher gave us acronyms that I haven't been able to forget to this day. Although the guy was a bit crazy, his acronyms actually worked. Now, it is with great honor (or honour, if you prefer) that I pass them down to you. TINMOPE and CHEL.


  • Time
  • Identity
  • Nationality
  • Materials
  • Occupation
  • Physical/personality traits
  • Equates nouns

Estar: CHEL

  • Current state or condition
  • Health
  • Emotions/feelings
  • Location

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