Can you really simply break down the difference between estar and ser! I'm in my fourth year of spanish and i still don't really quite get it. Thank u.
ser is used for more permanent things, where el ser is “a being”:
- definition / identity [i.e. saying what something is like “it’s a clock” or “it’s a bed”]
- hair color
- nationality / to be from
- material [e.g. es de madera “it’s wooden”]
For ser there are two really specific things that you’d never use estar for and that’s
- telling time [e.g. es la una, son las dos, son las tres…]
- passive voice [e.g. fue escrito por “it was written by”]
With estar you’re talking more about temporary things, looks, moods, and things subject to change like positions. If it helps, think of “station”, “stationary”, “state”, and things like that.
For the basics people say “how you feel and where you are, that is when you use estar”
- mood, emotion, feeling
- illness, wellness
- alive and dead*
And the one big thing that ser is never used for that’s unique to estar is
- the progressive / gerund [e.g. está lloviendo “it is raining”]
*While most people are tempted to see vivo/a “alive” and muerto/a “dead” as something you’d use with ser, Spanish uses estar because it’s considered a condition of the body. You would however say es un muerto “it’s a dead body” as identification.
What can trip people up is whether you’re using ser or estar with emotions and how you’re trying to be understood. The meaning changes depending on what your intention is:
Es un día feliz. = It’s a happy day. / It’s a joyous day.
Es un día triste. = It’s a sad day. / It’s a miserable day.
Es feliz. = He/She is a happy person.
Está feliz. = He/She is happy (right now).
Es triste. = He/She is a sad person. / He/She/It’s miserable.
Está triste. = He/She is sad (right now).
Es genial. = It’s great.
Está genial = It looks great.
Es espantoso/a. = It’s awful.
Está espantoso/a. = It looks awful.
For words like triste, feliz, enojado/a and so on, you’re deciding on whether you’re talking about someone’s personality vs. their mood.
Using ser makes it sound like that emotion is just that person’s baseline, while estar is saying that the person is not always like that. If you said es triste you’re more or less saying that the person always is in a bad mood or isn’t feeling happy.
The same is true of enfermo/a where you’re normally saying estar enfermo/a “to be sick” which is to say that someone isn’t feeling well. When you use ser and enfermo/a you’re more saying that the person has a kind of mental illness… or in some cases you’re saying the person is a pervert or has a skewed world view or something like that.
When it’s mal/malo or bien/bueno it’s a question of “good” vs. “well”, and “bad” vs. “wrong”
ser bueno/a = to be good / to be nice, kind
estar bien = to be okay / to be well / to be right
ser malo/a = to be bad / to be mean
estar mal = to not be okay / to be ill / to be wrong
For some adjectives, ser is identification while estar is appearance.
It can be a bit weird because you might think you should use it for something like weight which changes easily, but Spanish tends to say something like es delgado/a “he/she is skinny”, while estar delgado/a is interpreted more as “to LOOK skinny”
And there are some expressions where the meanings are just totally different:
ser listo/a = to be smart, to be intelligent
estar listo/a = to be ready, to be prepared
ser rico/a = to be rich
estar rico/a = to be delicious
ser seguro/a = to be safe
estar seguro = to be sure, to be certain
ser verde = to be green (in color)
estar verde = to be unripe
ser confuso/a = to be confusing, to be perplexing
estar confuso/a = to be confused
ser mejor = to be better (than)
estar mejor = to be (feeling) better / to look improved
ser fatal = to be fatal, to be lethal
estar fatal = to look really tired / to look really sick
ser helado = to be ice cream [masculine only]
estar helado/a = to be icy cold
You also run into some weird sexual innuendos with caliente and frío so be careful there
ser caliente = to be horny, to always be in the mood for sex
estar caliente = to be aroused
estar caliente = to be warm to the touch [said of objects, skin, body temperature]
ser frío/a = to be frigid, to be unfriendly
estar frío/a = to be cold to the touch [said of objcts, skin, body temperature]
For weather, you’ll see hacer calor “it’s hot” or hace frío “it’s cold”
But you might see un día caluroso “a really hot day” or un día frío “a cold day” so it’s just about context.
In general, never refer to yourself as either caliente or frío/a unless you’re talking about your body temperature (and use estar), but even in that situation I’d add ¿tengo fiebre? “do I have a fever?” so there’d be context