Ser vs Estar vs Tener: All the Ways to Say 'I am' in Spanish (2023)

Ser vs Estar vs Tener: All the Ways to Say 'I am' in Spanish (1)

August 11, 2021 by Olga Put Spanish Grammar 0 comments

Ser, estar, tener” is one of my favorite topics when teaching. Why? Because it shows how the language we speak affects the way we think.

Ser vs estar, (and tener) present nuanced differences in meaning in Spanish that don’t exist in English, which simply translates these verbs (in many cases that I cover here) as “to be.”

Let’s explore some easy rules for understanding the usage of these verbs and by the end, the ser vs estar vs tener dilemma will become crystal clear!

Dialogues Using Ser, Estar, and Tener

Before we star, have a look at these easy dialogues:

Dialogue 1

—Mira esta foto, es mi abuela.
—¡Qué guapa es! ¿Cuántos años tiene?
—Sesenta y tres.
—¡Qué joven está!

“Look at this photo, it’s my grandmother.”
“She’s beautiful! How old is she?”
“How young she is!”

Dialogue 2

—¡Wow! Este carro es nuevo ¿no?
—Sí, solo tiene una semana. El tuyo también es nuevo ¿no?
—¡Qué va! Está nuevo, pero ya es viejo, tiene tres años.

“Wow! This car is new, right?”
“Yeah, it’s only a week old. Yours is new too, isn’t it?”
“No way! It’s new but it’s old, it’s three years old.”

As you can see, the bolded words above all translate into a conjugated form of “to be.”

From here on, we’ll cover the conjugation of the three verbs, then dive right into the rules of usage. After this lesson, it’s up to you to practice!

Conjugation of Ser, Estar, and Tener

The following conjugations are in the present simple tense for ser, estar, tener. Additionally, all examples are in this tense to promote comprehension before you move on to conjugating the verbs in other tenses.

All three verbs are irregular, although estar is only irregular in the first person singular.

Ser Conjugation – presente simple

Yo soyI am
Tú eresYou are
Él, ella, usted esHe, she, it is (fml. You are)
Nosotros somosWe are
Ustedes sonYou are
Ellos, ellas sonThey are

Estar Conjugation – presente simple

Yo estoyI am
Tú estásYou are
Él, ella, usted estáHe, she, it is (fml. You are)
Nosotros estamosWe are
Ustedes estánYou are
Ellos, ellas estánThey are

Tener Conjugation – presente simple

For the purposes of this lesson, the verb tener translates as “to be,” but it also means “to have.”

Yo tengoI am / I have
Tú tienesYou are / You have
Él, ella, usted tieneHe, she, it is (fml. You are) / He, she, it has (fml. You have)
Nosotros tenemosWe are / We have
Ustedes tienenYou are / You have
Ellos, ellas tienenThey are / They have

The Rules of Usage for Ser, Estar, and Tener

Ser vs Estar vs Tener: All the Ways to Say 'I am' in Spanish (2)

When to Use Ser

Ser expresses the attributes of a person or thing. When you use ser, you’re talking about characteristics that are a part of the essence of a person or thing: something unchangeable.

Let’s have a look at all the situations when you choose ser as your translation for “to be.”

1. To identify a person or thing

Use ser to express qualities or characteristics of a person or thing (in reference to personality, size, color, material, or look)

Mi casa es pequeña.
My house is small.

Mi hija es inteligente.
My daughter is smart.

Esta silla no es de plástico, es de madera.
This chair is not made of plastic, it’s made of wood.

¡Qué guapa es!
How beautiful she is!

Mi hermano es rico.
My brother is rich.

(Keep this use in mind as we’ll revisit it in the estar section.)

2. To talk about professions

When you discuss a person’s job, you also use ser.

Mi papá es maestro y mi mamá es doctora.
My dad is a teacher and my mom is a doctor.

Yo soy diseñadora de interiores.
I am an interior designer.

PRO TIP! Spanish professions don’t use an article (see other cases when not to use articles in Spanish).

3. To discuss nationality and origin

When you introduce yourself or another person,l use ser to say where you’re from.

Sus primos son peruanos.
His cousins are Peruvian.

Su abuela es mexicana.
His grandma is Mexican.

¿Eres español?
Are you Spanish?

4. To talk about dates and venues of celebrations

Do you want to say when and where your birthday is? Use ser.

¿Sabes dónde es la fiesta?
Do you know where the party is?

Mi cumpleaños es el sábado.
My birthday is on Saturday.

La boda es aquí pero el banquete en un pueblo al lado.
The wedding is here but the banquet is in a nearby town.

5. To discuss time

Use ser to talk about time, days of the week, and hours.

Hoy es miércoles.
Today is Wednesday.

Son las cinco.
It’s five o’clock.

Date prisa, es muy tarde.
Hurry up, it’s late.

6. To address possession

Ser also helps you to talk about possessions.

¿Esto es tuyo?
Is this yours?

Esta chaqueta es de Ana.
This is Ana’s jacket.

Las llaves son de Pedro.
The keys are Peter’s.

Ser vs Estar vs Tener: All the Ways to Say 'I am' in Spanish (3)

When to Use Estar

Think of estar as a status or condition. Estar expresses how a person or thing exists, finds itself in a place or situation, how it feels, or how it remains with stability in a place, situation or condition.

As you can see, estar refers to something that can change and that doesn’t belong to the nature of the person or thing.

Estar helps you say how you’re feeling, express a place that you’re at, or something that you’re currently doing.

And now, let’s see all the specific cases when you use estar to say “to be.”

1. To indicate location

Estar expresses the location of someone or something that is subject to change.

Mi tía está en Cancún de vacaciones.
My aunt is in Cancun.

Mi carro está en el taller.
My car is in the mechanical workshop.

¿Dónde están mis lentes?
Where are my glasses?

2. To express variable conditions or states

While ser expresses permanent qualities and characteristics, estar represents more variable and temporal states of being.

Mi mamá está enfadada conmigo.
My mom is mad at me.

Juan está de buen humor hoy.
Juan is in a good mood today.

Mi falda está sucia y rota.
My skirt is dirty and torn.

3. Using expressions with bien, mal, cerca, and lejos

There are also some expressions that go with estar:

Eso no está bien.
That is not right.

Está mal hablar así.
It’s wrong to talk like that.

Su casa está cerca pero la mía está lejos.
His house is near but mine is far.

4. To discuss your location in time

If you want to locate yourself in time, use estar.

Ya estamos a 23 de diciembre, cómo pasa el tiempo.
It’s already December 23, how time flies.

Ya estamos en verano.
We’re already in summer. / It’s summer already.

5. To express actions in gerund form (-ing)

Estar forms part of the present continuous tense in Spanish that expresses actions in progress.

Mi hermana está cocinando.
My sister is cooking.

Estoy viendo la tele.
I’m watching TV.

Ser vs Estar vs Tener: All the Ways to Say 'I am' in Spanish (4)

When to Use Tener

Tener means “to have,” or “to possess,” but it also translates as “to be” in specific cases. Use tener to express something that you physically possess or a way you feel at a certain point in time—that is, a feeling or a need you have.

1. To express physical needs and emotional states

Using the construction for this is tener + noun (such as: hambre, frío, calor, sed, miedo, and sueño), you can talk about feelings or emotional states you “have.”

Mamá, tengo hambre ¿vamos por una pizza?
Mom, I’m hungry, shall we go for a pizza?

¿Me das agua? Tengo sed.
Can I have some water? I’m thirsty.

Cierra la ventana, tengo frío.
Close the window, I’m cold.

Vaya clima, tengo muchísimo calor.
What a weather, I’m so hot.

Tengo miedo a las arañas.
I’m afraid of spiders.

Ya tengo sueño y ni siquiera son las nueve.
I’m already sleepy and it’s not even nine o’clock.

2. To express a person’s age

This use is probably the first that strikes you when learning Spanish. Use tener to talk about people’s ages, not ser.

Tengo veinte años.
I am twenty years old.

Mi esposo tiene treinta años.
My husband is thirty years old.

¡Los dos tenemos dieciocho!
We are both eighteen.

¿Ya tienes diez años?
You’re already ten?

Ser vs Estar vs Tener: All the Ways to Say 'I am' in Spanish (5)

Avoid These Common Mistakes Using Ser, Estar, and Tener

Apart from a common error like “yo soy veinte años,” there are other traps to watch out for while deciding whether to use ser, estar or tener.

Some cases exist when you can use both ser and estar with the same adjectives, but take note! The meaning can completely change depending on which verb you use.

This chart shows what I mean:

Change of Meaning – Ser vs Estar Chart

Get more details: Ser vs Estar: Using Adjectives With These Verbs

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Example Spanish Sentences

Mi hermano es bien aburrido. No me entretiene.
My brother is very boring. He doesn’t entertain me.

Mi hermano está aburrido. No tiene nada que hacer.
My brother is bored. He has nothing to do.

Este asunto es grave, tenemos que verlo más de cerca.
This is a serious matter, we need to take a closer look.

Mi tío está muy grave, no le quedan muchos días de vida.
My uncle’s condition is very serious, he doesn’t have many days left.

Juan es rico, tiene cinco casas y un yate.
Juan is rich, he has five houses and a yacht.

Mi comida está rica.
My food is good.

El lugar es seguro, podemos entrar.
The place is safe, we can go in.

No estoy segura, tengo que pensarlo.
I’m not sure, I have to think about it.

Ser vs Estar vs Tener – Multiple Choice Quiz

Ser vs Estar vs Tener: All the Ways to Say 'I am' in Spanish (7)

Now that you know the rules for ser, estar and tener, it’s time to put your knowledge to the test by choosing the correct options!

1. Las llaves ______ en mi bolso.

Correct! Wrong!

2. Mira, éste ______ Pedro.

Correct! Wrong!

3. ¿Tú no ______ calor?

Correct! Wrong!

4. Mis pies ______ fríos.

Correct! Wrong!

5. El Polo Norte ______ frío.

Correct! Wrong!

6. Mi hermano ______ doce años.

Correct! Wrong!

7. Mis orejas ______ sucias.

Correct! Wrong!

8. ______ sueño. Quiero ir a dormir.

Correct! Wrong!

9. No ______ cansada.

Correct! Wrong!

10. Buenos Aires ______ la capital de Argentina.

Correct! Wrong!

11. Mi hijo ______ muy alto.

Correct! Wrong!

12. La sopa ______ muy rica. Quiero más.

Correct! Wrong!

13. Los monos ______ unos animales muy inteligentes.

Correct! Wrong!

14. El perro ______ aullando.

Correct! Wrong!

15. ______ sed, me pasas la jarra, por favor.

Correct! Wrong!

Ser vs Estar vs Tener Quiz

Wow, you've mastered the use of ser vs estar vs tener in Spanish! Good job!

Ser vs Estar vs Tener: All the Ways to Say 'I am' in Spanish (8)

You've got a solid understanding of how to use ser vs estar vs tener in every tense and the quality of your Spanish conversations are exploding through the roof!

You've almost mastered ser vs estar vs tener in Spanish. Your consistent practice is leading to better results!

Ser vs Estar vs Tener: All the Ways to Say 'I am' in Spanish (9)

As you keep up your hard work and practice, you're starting to understand better how to use ser vs estar vs tener in different tenses and with different pronouns. For more study materials, keep up-to-date with our newest published blog posts at Homeschool Spanish Academy. *YOU'RE ALMOST THERE! You can do it!* Do you prefer learning with videos? Check out our YouTube channel Spanish Academy TV for the best Spanish learning content on the web!

Practice makes perfect! Keep on studying!

Ser vs Estar vs Tener: All the Ways to Say 'I am' in Spanish (10)

Your motivation to learn Spanish is an essential ingredient to success! If you're ready to take your Spanish to the next level and master the usage of ser vs estar vs tener, then join us for a free Spanish class with one of our friendly, certified, native Spanish-speaking teachers from Guatemala. Sign up today!

Practice Ser, Estar, and Tener in Spanish Conversation!

Now, it’s time to practice. One thing is to know the rules and the other is to apply them correctly in conversation with native speakers.

While it may take some time to memorize all the rules of usage, your best bet to mastering the topic of ser vs estar vs tener is to start using them in conversation as soon as possible. Start today by signing up for a free class with our certified Spanish-speaking teachers from Guatemala! They are eager to help you reach fluency faster.

Be better, be bilingual! Let your desire to learn Spanish catapult you to a new level of communication and—as an additional perk—improve your cognition and decision-making abilities. Challenge yourself to make the first move today!

Ready to learn more Spanish grammar? Check these out!

  • How To Use the Spanish Verb ‘Parecer’
  • Having Fun in Spanish Using the Verb ‘Divertirse’
  • How to Use the ‘Personal A’ in Spanish: Do’s and Don’ts
  • Hacer Conjugation: Free Spanish Lesson, Exercises, and PDF
  • How To Write Dates in Spanish
  • ‘Tener’ Subjunctive Mood: How To Use It the Right Way
  • Ser Conjugation: Free Spanish Lesson, Quiz, Exercises, and PDF
  • Spanish Preterite vs Imperfect: 25 Online Exercises to Practice Your Skills
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Olga Put

Freelance Writer at Homeschool Spanish Academy

I'm a Spanish philologist, teacher, and freelance writer with a Master's degree in Humanities from Madrid. I speak Polish, Spanish, and English fluently, and want to get better in Portuguese and German. A lover of literature, and Mexican spicy cuisine, I've lived in Poland, Spain, and Mexico and I'm currently living and teaching in Madeira, Portugal.

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