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Grammar - Ser versus Estar

This Spanish Easy Review grammar quiz will test you on the verbs ser and estar. Spanish has three types of verbs that include ar verbs, er verbs and ir verbs. In addition, it has regular verbs and irregular verbs. This quiz will cover two irregular verbs but verbs that mean the same thing - sort of. The two verbs covered in this quiz are: ser and estar. Both verbs mean 'to be'.

Both verbs refer to a condition. The verb ser refers to a more permanent condition whereas the verb estar refers to a temporary condition. For example, if you were to say, 'I am a girl', that is a permanent condition so you would use the verb ser to describe what you are.

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If, on the other hand, you were to say, 'I am sad', being sad is most likely a temporary condition. In this case you would use the verb estar. So all you have to remember when using these two verbs is whether the condition is permanent or temporary. Now let’s look at how each verb is conjugated.

SER

Pronoun Present Tense English Meaning
yo soy I am
eres you are (familiar)
usted es you are (formal)
él es he is
ella es she is
nosotros/as somos we are (note the masculine and feminine forms)
vosotros/as sois you are (plural - familiar)
ustedes son you are (plural - formal)
ellos/ellas son they are (note the masculine and feminine forms)

ESTAR

Pronoun Present Tense English Meaning
yo estoy I am
estás you are (familiar)
usted está you are (formal)
él está he is
ella está she is
nosotros/as estamos we are (note the masculine and feminine forms)
vosotros/as estáis you are (plural - familiar)
ustedes están you are (plural - formal)
ellos/ellas están they are (note the masculine and feminine forms)

Pay close attention to the conjugation of the verb ser as it has no rules but is total memorization. Notice that the phonetic pronunciation of 'son' is not like sun but is like the word on with an 's' before it. However, somos is pronounced sō-oōs and sois is pronounced soy-ěs.

As ser is permanent and estar is temporary, you can be fooled if you do not pay attention. When writing, reading and/or speaking you have to think this through because some things can be both permanent and temporary depending on the context. For example, notice that these two sentences can have different meanings in English.

The apple is green. (Meaning the apple is not ripe. This condition is temporary.)

The apple is green. (Meaning the color of the apple is green. This condition is permanent.)

In the first case, the example speaks of the condition of the apple. The apple is green because it has not yet ripened and is not ready to eat. When the condition of the apple changes, that is, when it has ripened and it can be eaten, it will no longer be green, it will be ripe (red). The verb estar should be used here.

In the second case, the example speaks of the essential characteristics of the apple. The apple is green in color. This particular apple remains green even after it has ripened. In other words, it is a permanent condition for the apple to remain green. The verb ser should be used here.

Helpful Hints

The verb ser is used to tell the time and date, place of origin, occupation, nationality, religious and/or political affiliation, the material something is made of, possession, relationship of one person to another, certain impersonal expressions, where an event takes place and qualities. The verb estar is used to express geographical or physical location, temporary or changing conditions such as the weather, feelings, age, many idiomatic expressions and progressive tenses.

Now it is time to move on to the quiz section. Below you will see ten sentences where the verb 'to be' will be shown. From the answers given you must determine the correct conjugated verb and correct 'to be' that should be used in the context of the sentence. Don’t forget to think whether the situation calls for a permanent or temporary condition.

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  1. How ARE you? (unfamiliar classmate)
    One of the first things to note here is that when a verb is used in a sentence it is not always necessary to actually use the pronoun as it is understood in the conjugated verb. Now look at the pronoun here which is 'you' and 'you' refers to an unfamiliar classmate. That means the classmate is a formal person. Therefore, you are looking for the conjugated verb for the formal, singular 'you' which is usted. The first and last answers are the conjugated verb that goes with the singular, familiar 'you' i.e. tú so they are not correct. That leaves the second and third answers so now you need to determine whether age is permanent or temporary. As it is temporary the verb estar should be used making the second answer the correct conjugated, temporary 'to be' verb needed here.
  2. The pen IS red.
    Here you need to determine if the condition is a temporary or permanent condition. As the pen will always be red it is a permanent condition. Therefore, you can eliminate the third and last answers as they refer to a temporary condition. A pen is not a formal or informal person. Rather, it is an object. A singular object will take on the conjugated verb ending for he/she. An object is an 'it' which is 'lo' in Spanish. The second answer is the formal 'you' verb tense ending and is not correct. That leaves the first answer which does show the correct conjugated, permanent verb tense that is needed in this sentence.
  3. Paris IS in France.
    The first thing to determine is whether the condition is temporary or permanent. It is very likely that Paris will always be in France so we are looking at a permanent condition. However, do you remember your hints? When referring to a geographical location, the verb to use is estar. This means that the third and last answers can be eliminated. As Paris is only one object, it takes on the singular form of the verb for he/she/it. The second answer is Spanish for 'they are' and is not what we are looking for. The first answer, however, is the correct conjugated verb that is needed for this sentence.
  4. The Smiths ARE in Hawaii.
    First determine what the pronoun would be for 'the Smiths'. It would be they. Now look to see what the condition would be. As the Smiths can leave Hawaii at any time, the condition is temporary. This means that the first and second answers can be eliminated as they show a permanent condition. Now look for the correct conjugated ending. The third answer means 'we are', whereas the last answer means 'they are'.
  5. I AM an American.
    The first thing to determine is whether the condition is temporary or permanent. As this is stating someone’s nationality, it is a permanent condition. This means that the first and third answers can be eliminated. Now you need to determine the correct verb ending that will go with the pronoun 'I'. The second answer is the ending for plural 'they' and 'you' so it is not correct which leaves the third answer which is the correct conjugated, permanent verb for 'I am' in this sentence.
  6. We ARE young!
    The first thing to do is determine if the condition is temporary or permanent. As being young refers to age, age is a temporary condition. Therefore, the first and third answers can be eliminated. Now determine the correct conjugating ending that would go with the pronoun 'we'. The last answer is the ending for the plural, familiar form of 'you' so it is not correct. The second answer is the correct conjugated verb ending for 'we'. [As a side note here, there are some countries that would use somos in this instance but the more common way is to use estamos.]
  7. That IS his car.
    The first thing to determine is whether the condition is temporary or permanent. As a car can be sold you might think it is temporary but when an object is a possession it is looked at as being permanent. Therefore, you can now eliminate the third and last answers. As a car is an object it takes on the conjugated form of the verb that he/she would use. The second answer is the conjugated form that goes with the singular, formal 'you' and is not correct. The first answer, however, is the correct verb to be used here.
  8. 'ARE you hungry?' their mother asked.
    The first thing to determine is whether the condition is temporary or permanent. As we are talking about hunger, that is only a temporary condition. Therefore, the first and second answers can be eliminated. Next you need to determine the verb tense ending that goes with the pronoun. The pronoun 'you' refers to children (as it is their mother asking the question) and children is plural and, in this instance, as the children are clearly known by their mother, then they are familiar children. Therefore, you are looking for the plural, familiar ending for 'you'. The third answer is the ending for the plural, formal 'you' and for 'they' so it is not correct. Therefore, the last answer shows the correct conjugated, temporary form of the verb needed here.
  9. I AM excited!
    The first thing to determine is whether the condition discussed here is a temporary condition or a permanent condition. Being excited falls under a temporary condition. Therefore, the first and second answers can be eliminated. Now you need to see which verb shows the conjugated ending that goes with the pronoun 'I'. The last answer is the ending for singular, formal 'your', 'he' and 'she' so it is not correct. The third answer, however, shows the correct conjugated, temporary condition of the verb that is needed in this case.
  10. 'ARE you Italian?' Jimmy asked his grandparents.
    The first thing to determine is whether the condition is temporary or permanent. As we are talking about nationality here, that is a permanent condition. Therefore, the first and last answers can be eliminated. Next you need to determine the verb tense ending that goes with the pronoun. The pronoun 'you' refers to grandparents who are clearly familiar to Jimmy. Therefore the 'you' indicating his grandparents is the plural, familiar 'you'. The third answer is the ending for the plural, formal for 'you' so it is not correct. However, the second answer shows the correct conjugated, permanent, plural, familiar form of the verb needed here.

Author: Christine G. Broome

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