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Lesson 10 - Descripción de Personas (Describing People)
Navigation: Home Course Lesson 10 ser/estar/tener
Pages in this lesson: Physical Descriptions - ser/estar/tener - Dialogue - Reading - Quiz
This page: Learn the differences between the verbs ser, estar and tener.



Grammar Lesson

What's the difference between the verbs ser, estar and tener? It can be confusing because both ser and estar mean to be in English. The verb tener means to have but is used sometimes when we would use the verb to be in English. Learn about the differences between these three verbs in this lesson.

Verb forms

You already studied the forms of the verbs ser (in lesson 3), estar (in lesson 4) and tener (in lesson 6). Here is a review of the verb forms.

The verbs ser, estar and tener
Subject pronouns ser estar tener
yo soy estoy tengo
eres estás tienes
usted, él, ella es está tiene
nosotros, nosotras somos estamos tenemos
vosotros, vosotras sóis estáis tenéis
ustedes, ellos, ellas son están tienen



The verb ser is used as to be (am, is, are) when you are talking about permanent or more-or-less permanent characteristics. It could be argued that things like your nationality, occupation or religion could change, but these are considered to be characteristics of a person, not conditions, and so they are used with ser.

  • Examples
  • Él es alto. = He is tall. (physical characteristic)
  • Ella es graciosa. = She is funny. (personality characteristic)
  • Él es un doctor. = He is a doctor. (occupation)
  • Ella es mexicana. = She is Mexican. (nationality)
  • Él es mi papá. = He is my dad. (relationship)
  • Ella es católica. = She is Catholic. (religion)


In lesson 7 you learned that we use the verb ser with time (although time is not a permanent characteristic).

  • Examples
  • ¿Qué hora es?
  • Son las dos.
  • Son las dos y diez.
  • Son las diez y media.


Where an event is taking place sounds like it would be used with estar because it's a location, but it is used with ser. If you describe where a building is located, however, you would use estar. It's a little confusing, but just remember that as a general rule estar is used with location, but if you are talking about an event and you can substitute the words "take place" (or taking place or whatever), that's a clue that you should use ser.

  • La boda es en la Iglesia "First Baptist". = The wedding is at First Baptist Church. (The wedding takes place at First Baptist Church.)
  • La Iglesia "First Baptist" está en el centro. = First Baptist church is downtown. (location)



The verb estar is used as to be (am, is, are) with conditions or locations.

  • Examples
  • Él está cansado. = He is tired. (condition)
  • Ella está en la escuela. = She is at school. (location)


Death is obviously a permanent condition, but the verb estar is used to say that someone is dead.

  • Él está muerto. = He is dead.

We hope that marriage is forever, but the verb estar is used in Spanish to say that someone is married, divorced or single. Just think of marital status as a condition.

  • Él está casado. = He is married.
  • Ellos están divorciados. = They are divorced.
  • Ella está soltera. = She is single.

But if you say that someone is your husband, wife, ex, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc. you are saying their relationship to you. When describing a relationship, you use ser.

  • Él es mi esposo. = He is my husband.
  • Ella es mi novia. = She is my girlfriend.


  • ser - "permanent" characteristics & time
  • estar - conditions (including death and marital status) & locations

Ser vs. estar changes the meaning

Sometimes the meaning of a sentence can change depending on the verb you use. The following adjectives have different meanings if they are used with the verb ser or estar. Note that when the adjective is used with ser, it is a characteristic. When it is used with estar, it is a condition.

Adjectives that change with ser vs. estar
ser estar
ser aburrido = to be boring estar aburrido = to be bored
ser cansado = to be tiring estar cansado = to be tired
ser listo = to be clever estar listo = to be ready
ser bueno = to be good estar bueno = to be good-tasting (delicious)
ser malo = to be bad estar malo = to be sick
ser rico = to be rich (money) estar rico = to be tasty (flavor)
ser seguro = to be safe estar seguro = to be certain

If you use the verb ser it can mean that the adjective is a permanent characteristic of the person, but if you use it with estar you are saying that they look that way today.

  • Examples
  • Ella es bonita. = She is pretty.
  • Ella está bonita. = She looks pretty. (like maybe she dressed up today)



The verb tener, as you learned in lesson 6, means to have. The verb tener is also used, however, to describe someone's age and with a noun to describe certain conditions.


In Spanish the verb tener is used when you describe how old someone is. You talk about how many years someone has.

  • Examples
  • Tengo treinta años. = I am thirty years old.
  • Mi profesor tiene 53 años. = My teacher is 53 years old.
  • ¿Cuántos años tienes? = How old are you? (literally, "How many years do you have?")

tener + noun

Sometimes in Spanish the verb tener is used with a noun, where in English we would use the verb to be and an adjective.

tener + noun
tener + noun Translation
tener frío to be cold
tener calor to be hot
tener hambre to be hungry
tener miedo to be scared
tener sed to be thirsty
tener sueño to be sleepy



Section 1
Translate the sentences using the tener + noun phrases. Don't forget to use correct capitalization, accents and punctuation, or the computer will mark it as incorrect.

1. The student is hungry.        

2. Pedro is cold.        

3. Rosa is sleepy.        

4. The students are thirsty.        

5. Hugo and I are scared.        

6. The professor is hot.        



Section 2
Select the correct verb. There is a hint in parenthesis to help you pick the correct verb.

 1.   frustrado.   (emotion/condition)    

 2.   Ella 25 años.   (age)    

 3.   Él guapo.   (characteristic)    

 4.   Ellos casados.   (marital status)    

 5.   las cinco y media.   (time)    

 6.   Los estudiantes en la escuela.   (location)    

 7.   El concierto en el estadio.   (describing where event takes place)    
      concierto = concert   estadio = stadium

 8.   Él muerto.   (dead)    

 9.   sueño.   (tener + noun)    

10.   Ella profesora.   (characteristic)    



Section 3
Now no more hints. Try to figure out what the correct verb is based on the rules you learned in this lesson.

 1.   45 años.    

 2.   las cuatro de la tarde.    

 3.   El profesor en el salón de clase.    

 4.   Ella divorciada.    

 5.   Él hambre.    

 6.   El maestro americano.    

 7.   contentos.    

 8.   Ella muerta.    

 9.   Ellos altos.    

10.   El partido de fútbol en el estadio.    
      partido de fútbol = football/soccer game   estadio = stadium



Section 4
Use the words provided to make a sentence. Also, add the correct verb (ser/estar/tener) and put it in the correct form. If there is an adjective, put it in the correct form (masculine/feminine/singular/plural). Make sure that you use correct punctuation and capitalization, or the computer will mark it as incorrect.

  • Example
  • ella/cansado → Ella está cansada.

 1. el estudiante/argentino    

 2. ella/casado    

 3. los estudiantes/15 años    

 4. el hombre/muerto    

 5. las diez y media    

 6. los profesores/en la escuela    

 7. la feria/en la escuela    
    feria = fair

 8. el estudiante/nervioso    

 9. ella/mi mamá    
    mi mamá = my mom

10. ellos/frío    


Find the Mistake

Find the mistake in the sentence and re-write it correctly in the space. Don't forget to use correct capitalization, accents and punctuation, or the computer will mark it as incorrect.

  • Example:
  • Ella son inteligente. → Ella es inteligente.

1. Ella tiene el pelo larga.        

2. El estudiante es 12 años.        

3. Tengo los azules ojos.        

4. Ellos son muertos.        

5. Los estudiantes y yo somos contentos.        



Write one sentence about you with ser, one with estar and one with tener.

  • Examples:
  • Soy alta.
  • Estoy contenta.
  • Tengo hambre.

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"School Dance" dialogue


Lesson 10 - Descripción de Personas (Describing People)
Physical Descriptions - ser/estar/tener - Dialogue - Reading - Quiz




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