Unit 3: Introduction to the present tense and adjectives

3.4 Present Tense of SER and ESTAR

Spanish uses two basic verbs that mean “to be,” the infinitives of which are ser (of which you have seen the forms es and son) and estar (of which you have seen the forms está and están). Their complete conjugations follow:


Person Singular Plural
1st soy somos
2nd eres sois
3rd es son


Person Singular Plural
1st estoy estamos
2nd estás estáis
3rd está están

Ser is used to:

  • equate one thing to another
  • tell time
  • show possession and origin, and, with adjectives
  • to describe a condition that is viewed as the norm or is an inherent characteristic when used with adjectives
  • Spanish also uses it when “to be” means “to take place,” such as an event
El español es una lengua romance. Spanish is a Romance language.
Son las dos y media. It’s two thirty.
La casa es de los señores Cantú. The house is Mr. and Mrs. Cantú’s.
Ana es de Lanzarote; una de las Islas Canarias. Ana is from Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands.
El agua es calma. The water is calm.
La fiesta es mañana. The party is (takes place) tomorrow.

Estar is used to:

  • show location
  • to show conditions, changes from the norm, and to express appearance or surprise when used with adjectives.

In the latter usages, see how the translation may differ from a form of “to be.”

Los padres están en casa. The parents are at home.
Las ventanas están abiertas. The windows are open.
Ella está vieja. She looks (seems, appears) old.
¡La paella está rica! The paella tastes(is) delicious!

Although ser and estar do not usually present comprehension problems, it is useful to be aware of the nuances of possible translations that are not a form of “to be.”


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