The 2 most essential Spanish verbs: ‘to be’ or... 'to be’? That is the question
Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 6:48PM
Jeanne Bielejeski in Irregular Spanish verbs, Ser and Estar, Spanish verb conjugation, Spanish verbs

“Ser” and “estar” are the two most essential and existential Spanish verbs because they both mean “to be.” When the verb “to be” is conjugated in English it becomes the familiar “am,” “is,” “are”; “was” and “were.” In English you only need to make sure the verb agrees with the subject. Hopefully, it’s pretty obvious when they don’t match up. Sentences like, “I is hungry” or “You was busy” just don’t sound right.

But in Spanish, communicating a state of being is far more complicated. Personally speaking, the Spanish verbs “ser” and “estar” put my dyslexic tendencies into overdrive. It reminds me of my surprising confusion between “left” and “right” (in English and Spanish). My husband teases me about it every time I’m driving and following directions, but I have come to accept my dyslexia between left and right. I eventually find my way.

Just because “ser” and “estar” are the two most basic Spanish verbs doesn’t make them easy. I make a lot of mistakes when I use these verbs. It's also something I have learned to accept. You will find as I have, that native speakers of Spanish are forgiving in this respect.

So let’s take a closer look at “ser” and “estar.” The following excerpts of The Spanish Verb Conjugator are the charts for each verb that include the present and past tenses. Side note: as with all the verb charts of the verb guide, the four additional simple verb tenses are found on the backside of every verb chart page.

The following excerpt, “Ser and Estar: Too Close for Comfort” is from the basics section of The Spanish Verb Conjugator. It describes when to use each verb with some examples in the present and the past tenses: (Note: I will review "ser" and "estar" in the past tenses, the preterit and imperfect, in the next post.)

Not only do you need to know how to conjugate each verb, but also how to apply the two different classifications of existence: temporary or permanent. I consider this distinction to be more subtle than definite, so that’s what makes it challenging. In the beginning, (or if you’re like me–most of the time) it’s a little mind boggling to distinguish between these subtleties at the same time you are choosing subjects, tenses, and conjugations. Give yourself some wiggle room here. This is a perfect time to have a strategy in place that will help you make decisions on the spot when you are choosing between “ser” and “estar.”

Some great examples of grammar strategies can be found on the following link from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) Spanish Grammar Strategies Web Project. (that’s a mouthful). This page offers some basic strategies that you could apply to help you learn how to choose “ser” or “estar.” Feel free to use them or maybe they will inspire you to create some strategies of your own.

University of Minnesota's Center for Advanced Research
on Language Acquisition (CARLA)
Spanish Grammar Strategies Web Project: Ser and Estar

In the next blog post I will highlight the quadruple challenge of not only choosing between “ser” and “estar” in the present tense, but doing so in the past with the preterit and the imperfect. Until then...hasta luego.


Article originally appeared on Free Spanish Verb Charts (
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