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Episode 78: Ser vs. Estar, Part 2

Updated: Nov 8, 2023

As an English speaker, one of the trickiest things to learn is when to use the Spanish verbs estar and ser. They both mean "to be," but are both used in very distinct ways . Last time, in Episode 77, we looked specifically at how and when to use ser, remembering the mnemonic SER + ¿SE TIENE? Today, we'll do a detailed look at when and how to use the verb estar. And we will continue our cultural tip mini-series on Bolivia! ¡Vámanos!


Just a quick note - if you would like more resources to help you with Ser vs. Estar and other Spanish grammar, check out the links in today's Show Notes! Full disclosure, some of them are Amazon affiliate links (For more information, see my Disclosure Policy), and I have clearly marked which ones. But they were invaluable in preparing for this episode series! So please enjoy! ^_^

Quick Recap on Using SER

In order to remember when and how to use ser, just remember SER + ¿SE TIENE?. So you have:

  1. S for SE for the Passive Voice in ¿SE TIENE?;

  2. E for Expresión for the expression ¿SE TIENE? to help you remember that you use it for possessives. (Is it had? Is it a possessive?); and

  3. R for Revelación.

    1. The revelation is in the acronym TIENE, for Time, Impersonal Expressions, Norms, and Event Locations.


So now let's focus on how to use estar! For this verb, we're going to use the mnemonic phrase, SÍ, Lo Está TIRAndo. To begin with, let's start with the first part of that phrase, .

The word here refers to Subjective Impressions. You use estar when you have statements that express the speaker's opinions about how something seems to them. It's a cool nuance within the Spanish language when using estar vs. ser this way.

For example, if you say, "Juanita está bella," you are saying that right now Juanita looks beautiful to you. If you were to say, "Juanita es bella", however, you are saying that she is a beautiful person all the time.

Or if you say that "Pedro está gordo", you are implying that Pedro looks fat to you right now, or "Pedro looks fat." Whereas if you use ser, "Pedro es gordo", then you are saying that Pedro is generally a fat person (rather than the idea that he looks like he's suddenly gained a lot of weight).


Next in our phrase, SÍ, Lo Está TIRAndo, we have Lo. This stands for Location. Whenever you are referencing the location of people or things, then you use the verb estar. (Remember, ser is only used in regards to location if it's to talk about where an event is being held. So when asking about something's location, if you can't phrase the sentence with the words, "where is X being held?", then you need to use estar.)

Some examples:

  • ¿Dónde está María? Where is María? Ella está en la escuela. She is in school.

  • ¿Dónde están los baños? Where are the bathrooms? Ve a la izquierda al final del pasillo. Go left at the end of the aisle.

  • Estoy en el cine. I am at the movies.

  • ¿Dónde está? Where is it? ¡Allí está! There it is!

Está TIRAndo

Next we have the phrase, está tirando. This is to remind you that you use estar to form the Present Progressive, or the Spanish equivalent of a gerund (a.k.a. -ing). You form this grammatical tense by conjugating the verb estar + gerund. While we won't focus too much on gerunds for this episode, the basic way to form one is by taking the infinitive verb, like nadar, removing the "ar" ending and adding "ando" to create "nadando". With -er and -ir verbs, you remove the ending and add "iendo" (although there are exceptions, which we won't go into here.)

Here are some examples:

  • Estoy nadando. I am swimming.

  • Él está durmiendo. He is sleeping.

  • Ella está leyendo. She is reading.

  • Ellos no lo están entendiendo. They are not understanding him.


Now we look at the word Tirando, and the first letter, T, stands for Temporary Conditions. This is where you have estar + adjective to describe things like emotions, changes to states of being, or observations that people have changed from their normal appearance or characteristics.

Let's first look at some examples of emotions (which, we all know, can be quite fleeting!):

  • ¿Cómo estás? How are you? Estoy feliz. I am happy.

  • ¿Por qué estáis tristes? Why are you all (y'all) sad?

  • Él está nervioso porque rompió el reloj de su padre. He's nervous because he broke his father's watch.

  • ¡Pobrecita! ¡Ella está enferma! Poor thing! She is sick!

Next, some examples of changed states of being or conditions. Note that these changes can be temporary or permanent.

  • Las puertas estaban cerradas. The doors were closed.

  • Las ventanas estaban muy abiertas. The windows were wide open.

  • ¿Dónde está Raúl? Where is Raúl? Él está muerto. He is dead. (Death is a harsh reality, but it is a change of being!)

  • Estoy casada con Luis. I am married to Luis. (Marriage is a change of state from singlehood, even though it is a more permanent state of being. But if you were to introduce Luis as your husband, you would express this as "Este es mi esposo, Luis. Note how you use ser in this case, as you are commenting on his relationship to you.)

And finally, changes in someone's or something's normal conditions.

  • Ella está pálida. She looks pale. (In that she doesn't normally look pale, but right now she is scared.)

  • No me gusta esta comida - ¡está fría! I don't like this food - it's cold!

  • ¿Qué piensas de Roberto? What do you think about Roberto? El está muy flaco. ¡No lo reconocí! He has gotten really skinny. I didn't recognize him! (You would use estar in this situation to highlight the change in his appearance from the last time you saw him.)


The next letter in Tirando is I, for Idiomatic Expressions. These are formed by combining estar with a preposition + noun. In Spanish, these idioms are called modismos. You've probably heard of several of them!

  • Estar de acuerdo (con)... To be in agreement (with)

  • Estar de buen/mal humor... To be in a good/bad mood

  • Estar de moda... To be in fashion

  • Estar sin empleo... To be without work, unemployed

  • Estar de prisa... To be in a hurry

  • Estar de vacaciones... To be on vacation

  • Estar de vicio... To be to die for (e.g., when something is really, really good, like a piece of chocolate. It's simply to die for! ¡Está de vicio!)

You can also use estar de + sustantivo to express that someone is doing something they normally don't do. For example, if you say that someone está de pintor, you are saying that they are not generally a painter, but for the moment they are painting/acting like a painter.

There are some expressions that involve using an infinitive verb instead of a noun. For example:

  • Estar para + infinitivo... To be about to do something (e.g., Estoy para salir. I'm about to go out.)

  • Estar por + infinitivo... To be inclined to do something (e.g., Estás por leer las noticias. You're inclined to read the news.)

  • Estar a punto de + infinitivo... To be about to do something (e.g., Están a punto de comer. They are about to eat.)


The final part of Tirando, ignoring the gerund, is RA, which stands for Result of an Action. This is a grammatical construct where you use estar + past participle to express cause and effect, or the result of an action. When used this way, the past participle is used as an adjective (e.g., La puerta está abierta.). Because of this, the past participle must agree with the noun in gender and quantity (e.g., Los niños están dormidos, Las ventanas están cerradas, etc.).

For example:

  • El maestro nos pidió que hiciéramos nuestra presentación temprano. ¡Estábamos bastante molestos! The teacher asked us to give our presentation early. We were quite upset!

  • Queríamos ver la película con ellos, pero estaban demasiado cansados. We wanted to watch the movie with them, but they were too tired.

  • Los niños ya están dormidos para que puedan despertarse temprano mañana. The children are already asleep so they can wake up early tomorrow.

If you're wondering what the difference is between using estar or ser and the past participle, remember that ser in this construction forms the passive voice. Let's take a look at the following sentences:

  • La comida fue preparada (por el personal). The meal was cooked (by the staff).

  • La mesa estaba puesta para la fiesta navideña. The table was set for the Christmas party.

In the first sentence, we used passive voice because the emphasis is on the fact that the meal was prepared (and we don't care quite so much who did the preparing). In the second sentence, we use estar to highlight that there is a party, which resulted in the table being set. With estar, you are focusing on the results of an action, whereas with ser you are just focusing on the action.

Going back to estar + past participle, as I'm sure you've already noticed, we actually used this grammatical construction when talking about changing states of being, whether temporary or permanent:

  • Las puertas estaban cerradas. The doors were closed.

  • Las ventanas estaban muy abiertas. The windows were wide open.

  • Él está muerto. He is dead.

  • Estoy casada. I am married.

And there you have it! Hopefully this has helped you solidify when and how to use the verb estar! All you have to do is remember SÍ, Lo Está TIRAndo (which translates to, "Yes, he is throwing it"). In our next episode, we'll compare ser and estar in various sentences to highlight their subtle, nuanced meanings. It'll be fun! Until then, if you have any questions, you can always contact me at ^_^

Remember, learning a language is a lifelong journey.

¡Aprovéchalo, Disfrútalo y Compártelo!


Cultural Tip: Bolivia

Global National Holidays

Today's cultural tip highlights the national holidays of Bolivia! To save on time, and to avoid extreme repetitiveness, here is a quick list of holidays that many other countries also celebrate and/or which we have covered in other episodes, so I won't get into too much detail for these ones:

  • New Year's Day (01/01a)*

  • Carnival Monday and Tuesday (02/28 and 03/01, and always come before Ash Wednesday)

  • Good Friday (04/15) (It is always the Friday before Easter, which was 04/17 this year)

  • Labour Day, or Día del Trabajador (05/01a)

  • Corpus Christi (06/16; it is celebrated the 2nd Thursday after Whitsun)

  • All Soul's Day, or Día de Finados (11/02a)

  • Christmas Day (12/25a)

*The "a" means that it is always celebrated on this day.

Unique National Holidays

Technically, there are only 3 unique national holidays that we'll talk about, but I also wanted to highlight the several regional holidays that were listed on!

1. Plurinational State Foundation Day, or Día del Estado Plurinacional (01/22a)

In 2009, the Bolivian constitution was changed, with encouragement from the country's first indigenous president, Evo Morales, to recognize Bolivia's multi-cultural state and changing the country's official name to the Plurinational State of Bolivia. When the new constitution was enacted on January 22, 2010, President Morales decreed the day as an annual holiday to celebrate Plurinational State Foundation Day.

2. Chuquisaca Day, or Día del departamento de Chuquisaca (05/25a)

Technically, this is a regional holiday celebrated in the Chuquisaca department (similar to a state). Chuquisaca shares its departmental capital, Sucre, as also the country's constitutional capital. This city held the first public cry for independence from Spain on May 25, 1809, known as the "primer grito libertario", or "first freedom shout". Later, on August 6, 1825, the Act of Independence from Spanish rule was also signed here. In 1839, they renamed the city (it had been called Chuquisaca) to Sucre, in honor of Antonio Jose de Sucre, the country's second President.

3. Andean New Year, or Año Nuevo Andino Amazónico (06/21a)

This public holiday, also known as Willkakuti (which is Aymaran for "Return of the Sun"), was created in 2010 and celebrates the Southern Hemisphere's winter solstice. Thousands will travel to the Tiwanaku ruins, with its megalithic structures, to greet the sunrise. The holiday is a little controversial, as only 20% of Bolivians are of Aymaran descent, and some question if the Aymarans even celebrated the winter solstice.

4. La Paz Day, or Día del departamento de La Paz (07/16a)

This is technically a regional holiday for the city of Nuestra Señora de La Paz, or La Paz, to commemorate the city's uprising against the Spanish on July 16, 1809, shortly after Sucre enacted its own fight for independence. La Paz's revolt was led by Pedro Domingo Murillo, who declared Bolivia (then known as Upper Peru) to be its own independent state. This marked the beginning of Bolivia's fight for Independence. To celebrate, there are fireworks, parades, dancing, and concerts.

Interestingly, this day also marks Our Lady of Carmel, a day honoring the Virgin Mary. She is the patroness of Bolivia and of La Paz (hence their long official name)

5. Independence Day, or Día de la Patria (08/06a)

This day marks Bolivia's independence from Spain. The country's fight for freedom lasted 16 years. While the country had been called Charcas, once it gained independence it was renamed to Bolivia, in honor of the Venezuelan leader Simón Bolívar, who was crucial to winning the war against Spain.

6. Cochabamba Day, or Día del departamento de Cochabamba (09/14a)

Another regional public holiday, this day celebrates the second foundation of the city of Cochabamba on September 14, 1574, as well as the creation of the department of Cochabamba (I love the name! It is Incan for "a plain full of small lakes"), which happened much later on January 23, 1826.

So why did the city have two foundations? Well, it used to belong to the Incan empire when the Spanish came in the 16th century, but the Spanish created a new settlement in August 1571 and called it Villa de Oropesa. When the man who ordered its foundation, Viceroy Francisco de Toledo, the Count of Oropesa, died in 1573, for some reason the conquistador Sebastián Barba de Padilla founded it a second time. When Villa de Oropesa became an official city in 1786, it was renamed to Cochabamba. It is now the capital of the Cochabamba Department.

7. Public Holidays (02/25, 04/15a, 09/24a, 10/11a, 11/10a, and 11/18a)

These are all different regional holidays celebrated throughout Bolivia.

  • The one in February is celebrated on the Friday before Ash Wednesday in Oruro.

  • The one in April is the city of Tarija's remembrance of the Batalla de la Tablada from 1817. This important battle marked a key victory against the Spanish in the war for Independence. Some interesting facts include: Tarija could have joined Argentina, but instead chose to join Bolivia; the battle was celebrated on May 4th for the first 100 years after the battle, but apparently it was moved to April 15th when a historian corrected the date; and the entire month of April is dedicated to celebrating this event, with cultural events and festivals taking place during these Los Abriles de Tarija. This includes fairs, handcrafts, a rodeo and livestock show, dances and concerts.

  • The one in September is celebrated in Santa Cruz.

  • The one in October is celebrated in Pando.

  • The one on November 10th is celebrated in Potosí, the capital of the Department of Potosí. It was founded by Antonio José de Sucre, the Marshal of Ayacucho, and the holiday celebrate its own cry of independence on November 10, 1810.

  • The one on November 18th is celebrated in Beni, or El Beni, the second-largest department in Bolivia.



Intro and Closing Music by Master_Service from Fiverr

Cultural Tip Transition Music edited from song by JuliusH from Pixabay

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