Knowing how to use ser & estar is important for your Spanish.
Knowing how ser & estar behave with Spanish adjectives demonstrates how well you understand one of the most important nuances of the language.
In this post, you’ll learn how to combine ser and estar with a list of common Spanish adjectives including which adjectives you can only use with ser, which adjectives you can only use with estar, and which adjectives you can use with both ser and estar and how they change meaning.
An introduction to ser and estar with Spanish adjectives
When you take a simple sentence in English such as:
The food is good.
You then need to decide if this sentence would use ser or estar in Spanish since both Spanish verbs could be a possible translation of ‘is’.
In this case, if you want to refer to the taste of the food, then you need to go with estar.
English: The food is good (tastes good).
Español: La comida está buena.
In contrast, if you want to talk about the quality of a restaurant as opposed to the taste of the food the restaurant serves, then you need ser:
English: The restaurant is good (high quality).
Español: El restaurante es bueno.
Here you can see the subtle change that occurs with the Spanish adjective bueno when you use it with ser or estar.
Moreover, there may be another subtle change that occurs when you use an adjective with people instead of things such as food or restaurants.
For example, if you use bueno with ser on a person, then this means that someone is a moral, upstanding or virtuous person.
English: This guy is good, he gives a lot to charity.
Español: Este hombre es bueno, da mucho a la caridad.
But, if you decide to use bueno with estar on a person then this means that someone is good looking, healthy or very attractive. This is often used with sexual connotations.
English: This guy is hot! (sexy)
Español: Este hombre está bueno.
While bueno is a good adjective to demonstrate the changes that occur with ser and estar, you can’t use every adjective in Spanish with both ser and estar.
There are some adjectives in Spanish that you can only use with ser and some only with estar.
Let’s look at this next.
A list of common Spanish adjectives and their role with ser and estar
When you’re trying to decide whether to use ser or estar with a given Spanish adjective, your choice might be simplier than you think.
This is because you may only be able to use the adjective you thinking of with ser, or only with estar.
Here is a list of common Spanish adjectives and their role with ser and estar:
|#||Ser Only||Estar Only||Ser & Estar|
A few notes on this list:
- The words aren’t provided in any particular order, the table simply reflects the order I wrote the sections on each specific word below.
- You can click on a word in the table to take you to the relevant section.
- Bien is technically an adverb but its exclusive use with estar is so important I couldn’t leave it out of the table or this article.
A mistake we often hear from the students in our Spanish classes is the combination of ser with bien. We might hear a student say ‘es bien‘, this is a mistake you’ll want to avoid because it sounds quite unnatural in Spanish.
Ser 1. Unique – Único
Our first adjective on the list of adjectives you can only use with ser is único.
Here are a few examples:
English: I think the book is unique in many ways.
Español: Creo que el libro es único en muchos aspectos.
English: We really like this band. Their music is very unique.
Español: Nos gusta mucho esta banda. Su música es muy única.
Ser 2. Important – Importante
Here are some examples for importante:
English: This issue is not that important.
Español: Este asunto no es tan importante.
English: It is important to take advantage of this opportunity.
Español: Es importante aprovechar esta oportunidad.
Note the phrase ‘es importante + (verb in infinitive form)’ (e.g. It’s important to…) is really useful and common.
Ser 3. Possible – Posible
Here are some examples for posible:
English: It is not possible to do it alone.
Español: No es posible hacerlo solo.
English: I used to think that this situation was not possible, now I do.
Español: Pensaba que esta situación no era posible, ahora sí.
Ser 4. Capable – Capaz
Note that you can combine the Spanish adjective capaz with the preposition de to say ‘capable of…’.
English: I’m don’t know if I’m capable of pulling it off.
Español: No sé si soy capaz de hacerlo.
English: She is capable of anything that she wants to do.
Español: Ella es capaz de todo lo que quiere hacer.
Ser 5. Common – Común
Here are some examples with común:
English: Yes, this problem is common.
Español: Sí, este problema es común.
English: His talent is not common.
Español: Su talento no es común.
Ser 6. Contrary – Contrario
With contrario, we can use the preposition a to say ‘contrary to…’.
English: This point of view is contrary to popular belief.
Español: Este punto de vista es contrario a la creencia popular.
English: This is contrary to our understanding.
Español: Esto es contrario a nuestro entendimiento.
Another common use of this adjective is in a phrase like lo contrario, to understand this phrase check out this important article on the 4 main uses of lo.
Ser 7. Known – Conocido
If you want to say a person or thing is ‘well-known’, then you’ll need to use conocido with ser. In addition, you can use the preposition por to say something or someone ‘is known for…’.
Here are some examples:
English: This author is well-known in our country.
Español: Este autor es muy conocido en nuestro país.
English: He is known for all the wrong reasons.
Español: Es conocido por todos los motivos equivocados.
Ser 8. Sufficient – Suficiente
Here are some examples for suficiente:
English: This quantity of food is enough for the trip.
Español: Esta cantidad de comida es suficiente para el viaje.
English: Their assistance is not enough.
Español: Su ayuda no es suficiente.
Another important use of this adjective is in phrases like lo suficiente, again these phrases with lo are covered in more detail here.
Estar 1. Convinced – Convencido
When you want to say that you are ‘convinced by (something)’ or ‘convinced that…’, then in both cases you need the Spanish preposition de. Even if you are going to use a que, you still need a de. In other words ‘convinced that…’ is ‘convencido de que…‘.
Here are some examples with convencido:
English: I can be convinced.
Español: Puedo estar convencido.
English: Are you convinced that he is right?
Español: ¿Estás convencido de que tiene razón?
Estar 2. Accustomed – Acostumbrado
If you want to say you are accustomed to something in Spanish, then you’ll need to combine acostumbrado with estar and the preposition a.
Here are some examples:
English: I’m not accustomed to the heat yet.
Español: Todavía no estoy acostumbrado al calor.
English: I’m used to working in the evenings.
Español: Estoy acostumbrado a trabajar por la noche.
Estar 3. Content – Contento
With the Spanish adjective contento, to say you are ‘pleased with’ or ‘happy about’, you’ll need to use the Spanish preposition de.
English: I’m pleased to see you.
Español: Estoy contento de verte.
English: Why are you so happy today?
Español: ¿Por qué estás tan contento hoy?
Estar 4. Worried – Preocupado
If you are worried ‘about’ something, then you’ll need to use the preposition por with preocupado.
Here are some examples:
English: We are worried about you.
Español: Estamos preocupados por ti.
English: I’m worried about what I have to do this week.
Español: Estoy preocupado por lo que tengo que hacer esta semana.
Estar 5. Satisfied – Satisfecho
In Spanish, if you want to say you are ‘satisfied with’ something, then you’ll need estar and the preposition con.
English: I’m satisfied with what I have seen.
Español: Estoy satisfecho con lo que he visto.
English: You have to learn to be satisfied with what you have (one must learn…with what one has).
Español: Hay que aprender estar satisfecho con lo que se tiene.
Estar 6. Willing – Dispuesto
With the Spanish adjective dispuesto, combine estar and the preposition a to say ‘willing to…’.
English: Is he willing to talk yet?
Español: ¿Ya está dispuesto a hablar?
English: We are willing to lend you the money but only with a few conditions.
Español: Estamos dispuestos a prestarte el dinero, pero sólo con algunas condiciones.
Estar 7. Prohibited – Prohibido
You don’t need a preposition with prohibido, you can simply combine it with estar and then add a verb in infinitive form.
Here are some examples:
English: It is forbidden to speak to the driver.
Español: Está prohibido hablar con el conductor.
English: These activities are prohibited in the national park.
Español: Estas actividades están prohibidas en el parque nacional.
Estar 8. Hidden – Escondido
If something or someone is hidden, then you can use escondido with estar.
English: It is not very well hidden.
Español: No está muy bien escondido.
English: Where is our son?
Español: ¿Dónde está nuestro hijo?
English: I think he is hiding somewhere.
Español: Creo que está escondido en algún lugar.
Estar 9. Well – Bien
As I mentioned earlier bien is not an adjective but an adverb. I’ve included it in this article because it is really important to remember to always use bien with estar and never with ser.
English: Is it okay to see her now?
Español: ¿Está bien verla ahora?
English: How is everything?
Español: ¿Cómo está todo?
English: Everything is alright.
Español: Todo está bien.
Ser & Estar 1. High Quality / Tasty – Bueno
You’ve already seen in the introduction above how bueno behaves with ser and estar as well as how bueno changes meaning with people and things.
Here I’ll provide some more examples of each scenario.
You can talk about the quality of restaurants or even wine with ser and bueno:
English: The wines from this region are really good (high quality).
Español: Los vinos de esta región son muy buenos.
With people, you can use ser and bueno to say someone is a good person:
English: Borja is a really good person, he is always helping his neighbors.
Español: Borja es una persona muy buena, siempre ayuda a sus vecinos.
When talking about the taste of food, you always need to use estar:
English: This paella is delicious.
Español: Esta paella está buenísima.
If you use estar with bueno, then generally you’ll be referring to how attractive someone is.
English: Have you seen the new guy? He is really hot! He’s tall, dark, and also really kind.
Español: ¿Has visto al chico nuevo? ¡Está muy bueno! Es alto, moreno, y además muy amable.
Ser & Estar 2. Evil / Sick – Malo
In contrast to bueno, you can also use malo with both ser and estar. There are also a few subtle changes that occur with malo when you use it with people and things.
In the first scenario, you can use malo to describe the quality of something.
English: This restaurant is awful, I think the food isn’t safe.
Español: Este restaurante es malísimo, creo que la comida no es segura.
When you use malo with people, then you will be saying that someone is not a good person or they are evil.
English: This boy is really evil. He’s always cruel to the other students.
Español: Este chico es muy malo. Siempre es cruel con los otros estudiantes.
In the reverse of bueno, when you use malo with food, you will be saying that the food tastes bad or that maybe it has gone off.
English: This fish tastes bad, I don’t think it’s from today (maybe a few days old).
Español: Este pescado está malo, creo que no es de hoy.
The last example for malo is with estar on people. In this case, you can say that someone is unwell or sick.
English: Where is David? I haven’t seen him today.
Español: ¿Dónde está David? No lo he visto hoy.
English: He isn’t at work today because he is sick.
Español: Hoy no está en el trabajo porque está malo.
Ser & Estar 3. Rich / Tasty – Rico
You can use the Spanish adjective rico with both ser and estar.
But, unlike bueno and malo, you will generally only use estar and rico with food, and ser and rico with people.
When we use estar and rico with food, we will be talking about how delicious the food is.
English: The food my mum makes is delicious, you have to try it one day.
Español: La comida que hace mi madre está muy rica, tienes que probarla algún día.
English: I love these empanadas, they’re delicious.
Español: Me encantan estas empanadas, están riquísimas.
If you want to say someone is rich and has a lot of money, then you need to use rico with ser. For example:
English: She is the CEO of the largest bank in Mexico and she is very rich.
Español: Es la directora ejecutiva del banco más grande de México y es muy rica.
English: Our family is not very wealthy.
Español: Nuestra familia es poco rica.
Note in this last example that you don’t match poco with the gender of familia because it is acting an adverb and not an adjective.
Ser & Estar 4. Intelligent / Ready – Listo
We can use the Spanish adjective listo with both ser and estar but we can generally only use listo and ser with people.
If you want to ask if someone or something is ready, prepared or available then combine listo with estar.
English: Are you ready yet? We have to leave soon.
Español: ¿Ya estás listo? Tenemos que irnos pronto.
English: The report will be ready in 20 minutes.
Español: El informe va a estar listo en 20 minutos.
When you use listo with ser with people, you will be referring to someone’s intelligence.
English: We are really lucky, our parents are both really smart.
Español: Tenemos mucha suerte, nuestros padres son muy listos.
English: She is the smartest student in the class.
Español: Ella es la estudiante más lista de la clase.
Ser & Estar 5. Extroverted / Open – Abierto
You can use abierto and estar with things, or abierto and ser with people and things.
In the first case, you could talk about doors, shops, or windows being open with estar and abierto.
English: It is really cold in here, are the windows open?
Español: Hace mucho frío aquí, ¿están las ventanas abiertas?
English: When will you be open until?
Español: ¿Hasta cuándo va a estar abierto?
Note in these examples the order and position of the subject and prepositions when asking questions in Spanish.
You can use abierto with ser on people to say that someone is outgoing or extroverted.
English: She is very outgoing, she speaks with everyone.
Español: Ella es muy abierta, habla con todo el mundo.
You can use abierto with ser on things to say that they are open or transparent.
English: The selection process is open and fair.
Español: El proceso de selección es abierto y justo.
Ser & Estar 6. Introverted / Closed – Cerrado
In the reverse situation to abierto, we can use cerrado and estar with things, or cerrado and ser with things and people.
To provide some examples in addition to the previous section we could talk about body parts such as eyes or arms in the open or closed position.
English: Is she asleep?
Español: ¿Está dormida?
English: I don’t know but her eyes are shut.
Español: No lo sé, pero sus ojos están cerrados.
English: My arms are open if you need a hug.
Español: Mis brazos están abiertos si necesitas un abrazo.
You can use cerrado and ser to say that someone is difficult or talk to or a group of people are difficult to meet.
English: It is difficult to meet people there, they are very closed.
Español: Es difícil conocer gente allí, es muy cerrada.
You can also use cerrado and ser on things such as a closed function or event, or even a closed or private digital network.
English: It is a closed network so you cant access the internet.
Español: Es una red cerrada así que no se puede acceder a Internet.
Ser & Estar 7. Green / Unripe – Verde
You can use the Spanish adjective verde with both ser and estar, and people and things.
In the first scenario, you can use ser and verde on things to talk about colour.
English: The apple is green.
Español: La manzana es verde.
In the second scenario, if you replaced ser with estar to talk specifically about food, you will be saying that the food is not ripe.
English: The apple is unripe.
Español: La manzana está verde.
Next, if you use verde with estar on a person then this means that someone doesn’t have a lot of experience.
English: This guy is green (raw, inexperienced). He has a lot to learn.
Español: Este chico está verde. Él tiene mucho que aprender.
Lastly, when you combine ser with verde on a person then you will be saying that someone has an unhealthy obsession or unnatural relationship with sex.
English: He is a dirty old man.
Español: Es un viejo verde.
Note this last case is fairly colloquial and not particularly versatile. In other words, this scenario only really works in this example. Moreover, you can’t say ‘alguien es verde‘, you need to use the expression as it provided here.
Ser & Estar 8. Brown-haired / Tanned – Moreno
Similar to verde, the adjective moreno has lots of different uses with people and objects.
You can use moreno with ser to say that someone has dark hair.
English: I think he has dark-brown hair.
Español: Creo que es moreno.
If you use moreno with estar, then now instead of talking about hair you can talk about tanned skin.
English: How are so tanned in the winter? What is your secret?
Español: ¿Cómo es que estás tan morena en invierno? ¿Cuál es tu secreto?
You can also use moreno and ser with food items such as brown sugar, rice or bread.
English: I know we have sugar at home, but I can’t remember if it is brown or white.
Español: Yo sé que tenemos azúcar en la casa, pero no recuerdo si es moreno o blanco.
When ser and estar don’t appear in the sentence
What happens if ser or estar don’t get used because of the construction of the sentence?
English: I’m happy to see you (seeing you makes me happy).
Español: Me pone contento verte.
English: I found something unique in a store downtown today.
Español: Hoy he encontrado algo único en una tienda del centro.
English: What a good person!
Español: ¡Qué buena persona!
English: I don’t like green apples.
Español: No me gustan las manzanas verdes.
In the first two sentences, you’ll know from above that contento only gets used with estar, and único only gets used with ser. Moreover, there isn’t any ambiguity with the meaning of the sentence because these two adjectives can only go with one of ser or estar.
In contrast, bueno and verde can go with either ser or estar, which means example sentences 3 and 4 could have different meanings.
When you find a situation like this, you will often need a little more context to determine the exact meaning. Alternatively, you could simply make an educated guess.
In the example with ‘buena persona‘, you’ll need to know something about what was said before the statement. Has the person contributed to their community or spent time helping family and friends, or is the person really good looking or really healthy?
Context aside, I would make an educated guess by saying that the phrase ‘buena persona‘ more likely means ‘good person’ since other phrases could be easily used without ambiguity to describe a good looking person such as ‘persona guapa‘ or ‘persona bonita‘.
For the example with manzanas verdes, again you may need a little more context. But, I don’t know anybody that likes unripe apples, so it more than likely that the person is referring to apples that are the colour green.
While ser and estar can be challenging, it is also incredibly interesting to learn about the changes that ser and estar can have with Spanish adjectives.
Moreover, when you have a strong understanding of these changes, when you want to express yourself in Spanish, you’ll be able to highlight subtle changes in meaning with more confidence.
Pick a few adjectives that you haven’t used before and try them out with a Spanish friend, colleague or teacher.
How else can you use these common Spanish adjectives with ser or estar?