As an example, if I wanted to say "it's 5:00," I would say

Son las cinco.

Why is this not the following?

Están las cinco.

As far as I know, ser is used for permanent / inherent qualities, which the current time is not. The current time is temporary (because it's always changing), so the verb should be estar. Right?

  • 1
    Please try to avoid thinking of ser as permanent and estar as temporary. You will be much happier when you break past that :-) Commented Oct 14, 2014 at 18:53
  • Time is not mutable, even though it makes everything else mutable. But I'm with those who say it's best not to get too philosophical about word usages. Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 0:44
  • @guifa Thanks, but what should I think instead, then?
    – Doorknob
    Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 20:46
  • 1
    @Doorknob essence/identity (ser) vs state/condition (estar) will cover a lot more bases. I only have recently added identity in there for my students because when you identify a noun as being another noun, you can only use ser since estar can't ever take nouns) Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 21:07

1 Answer 1


This is one of those expressions that you should not try to translate from a language to another.

You are not actually asking about the time, but about the hour. That What time is it? is sort of Which is the hour? when asked in Spanish, so you are identifying one of the 24 moments in which we have divided the day. We are not identifying a property of time, but one segment of the day.

The same way we don't say qué es tu nombre si no cómo te llamas for what is your name we don't ask what time is it? as you do in English but sort of which is the hour? or which is that moment of the day?.

We also say that

Era por la mañana cuando me encontré con Pablo.

Es a mediodía cuando el sol está mas alto y cuando oscurece es porque es de noche.

Ahora es de noche.

We are picking between the segments in which we divided the day, not a property that happened to the day.

The only time you would hear that the tiempo está is to talk or ask about weather, not time, and for the reason you said (mutability).

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.