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Ser and estar both mean "to be" in English. I understand this and also understand when to use each.

Why, however, do these two verbs exist?

Since Portuguese is similar in this respect, is there a common Old Spanish or perhaps Latin root?

Ser y estar significan lo mismo en inglés: "to be".

Entiendo que cada uno tiene sus normas de uso y que se usa en diferentes ámbitos. Sin embargo, ¿por qué existen los dos verbos?

Dado que el portugués tiene la misma característica, ¿hay algún tipo de español antiguo común entre estas dos lenguas? ¿O puede que una raíz latina?

  • 5
    Also in Italian: essere and stare.
    – Charlie
    Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 6:37
  • 4
    Could be worse: in other languages there are 3+ verbs
    – user13560
    Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 12:53
  • @user13566 could you cite an example, please?
    – Darkhogg
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 10:55
  • 2
    @Darkhogg: from somewhere in internet (can't recall) Japanese has copula verbs "da " / "desu [= polite version of "da"]" that would most often be translated as "to be" in English. Japanese also has two verbs "aru" & "iru" corresponding to English "to be". They are existential verbs, not copula verbs. "Aru" is used for inanimate objects including plants, whereas "iru" is used for people and animals although there are exceptions to this. Add to this the polite forms like "arimasu", "imasu", extra-polite "irasshiaru" ...
    – user13560
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 13:45
  • 1
    @user13566 in fact, "desu" is a contraction of "de arimasu", from verb "aru", so technically they only have "aru" and "iru".
    – Charlie
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 17:05

2 Answers 2


Way back in the times of the Latin language, there were two different verbs, but not with the same meaning as today:

  • sum, es, esse, fui1, meaning "to be" (Spanish: "ser", "estar", "haber"). This was the main copulative verb in old Latin, i.e. it was used to connect two words or clauses. It was used also as an auxiliary verb. We use haber ("to have") as the auxiliary verb in modern Spanish. (Italian still uses the verb essere as an auxiliary.)

  • stô, -âs, -âre, stetî, statum, meaning "to remain" or "to stand" (Spanish: "estar de pie"). This is the tricky part. This verb (infinitive: stâre) is the ancestor of the modern Spanish estar, and is a cognate of the English verbs stay and stand. If you think about it, when you are standing, you are positioned in a given place at a given time. That is precisely the main difference between ser and estar. The latter can be taken to mean the same as ser, but at a given moment in time.

So these two verbs are the roots of today's ser and estar. But the DLE says that ser comes from seer, so what verb is that? Seer is an evolution of the Latin verb sedere, "to settle" or "to sit" (Spanish: "estar sentado"), by the loss of the middle -d- (something not uncommon) and the final -e (as happened with every verb in the Iberian Romance languages). As Vulgar Latin evolved, the verb seer merged with the old Latin verb esse (now essere), and soon the verb seer lost the meaning of "being seated," just as the verb stare lost the meaning of "being in a standing position." But both of them kept, respectively, the sense of being permanent ("ser") and being transitory ("estar").

More specifically, the essere verb denoted essence, while the stare verb denoted state.

So, sentences from Latin (that used the esse verb), such as

Vir est in foro (The man is in the marketplace)


(H)omo stat in foro

which now uses the verb stare, since what was perceived was that the man was standing in the marketplace. As time went by, the verb began to be used just to express that someone was in a given place at a given time.

Thus, we come to the age of Old Spanish, the 10th century onwards. Time to cite the most famous story from these years: Cantar de Myo Çid:

Grado a ti Sennor Padre que estas en alto.

Y estava donna Ximena con çinco duennas de pro, rogando a san Pero e al Criador.

These examples show that the verb estar (now the final -e was dropped) was being used the same as the nowadays version, both to mean being in a place and as an auxiliary verb for the continuous present (estaba rogando).

The verb ser also had already its current infinitive form, but was still used as an auxiliary verb in place of today's haber. But it was used already to form the passive voice. Examples:

En yra del rey Alffonsso yo sere metido.

Assi es vuestra ventura, grandes son vuestras ganançias.

Nonetheless, we still see some expressions that contradict the current way:

[...] en vuestras manos son las arcas.

But this could be because here the verb ser is used to mean to have: in fact the English translation reads ye have the coffers two.

You can find much more information about the uses of the verbs ser and estar in the Old Spanish in "Ser" y "estar". Orígenes de sus funciones en el «Cantar de Mio Cid» from Spanish writer José María Saussol (publicaciones de la Universidad de Sevilla, 1978). Abstract here (PDF).


1: Fui (Latin - the Spanish is a descendant) is unusual as it comes from the Proto-Italic stem *fu- "to become". Source

  • 1
    found a good source. hispanoteca.eu/gram%C3%A1ticas/Gram%C3%A1tica%20espa%C3%B1ola/…
    – celerno
    Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 15:12
  • @celerno added information from that page, thank you!
    – Charlie
    Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 15:30
  • I knew a bit about sum/sto, but I hadn't been aware of the role that sedo apparently played -- fascinating! Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 18:04
  • 1
    Just FYI, taking bits and pieces of a different verb's conjugation into another, as in the case with esse forms being replaced by sedo forms, is called suppletion. That's what happens in the past tense of English to go (where went comes from the verb to wend).
    – pablodf76
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 13:36
  • Why did you give the second-person singular present active form among the other principal parts for sum and sto?
    – Aprendedor
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 1:07

Why do ser and estar exist?

They have different roots, in particular the Spanish verb ser has multiple roots:

  • The infinitive (e.g. ser), the conditionals (e.g. sería) and the future form (e.g. seré) come from the Latin sedēre (present active infinitive of sedeō).

  • The other forms (e.g. es, fui) come from the Latin esse (present active infinitive of sum) or the vulgar Latin essere derived from it.

On the other hand the Spanish verb estar comes from the Latin stāre (present active infinitive of stō).

To compare it to English, the English verb am shares the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root with the Latin sum. That PIE root already had "both" meanings.

Where is the Latin sedēre in English? It is the root for the English verb to sit.

Where is the Latin stāre in English? It is the root for the English verb to stay, it is also related to the nouns state, status, station and stance.

Note: do not confuse with the English verb to stare which doesn't have its root in Latin.

So I would argue that the closest equivalent to the Spanish verb estar in English is the verb to stay. Yet, the English verb to stay means to continue to be in a place or condition while the Spanish verb estar lacks the the connotation of continue to be.

Since the shared PIE root for the Latin sum and English am had already both meanings, we must conclude that at some point Spanish preferred to differentiate estar from ser... In fact, Old Spanish (circa the XI century) still used the verb ser with both meaning※. It is unclear exactly when estar replaced ser for locations and conditions.

※: Example from "Cantar de Mio Cid": El vno es en parayso would be Eluno está enelparaíso in modern Spanish.





Newcastle University:

Diccionario Etimológico de Chile

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