Use estar with adjectives to describe conditions and emotions

Gramática: “Estar” con emociones

In this lesson you will learn to describe emotions and states using adjectives with estar.

Before we go forward, let’s take a quick refresher on the present indicative conjugation of this irregular verb.

Estar (to be)
1a estoy estamos
2a estás estáis
3a está están

Like the adjectives used with ser, these adjectives must agree with the noun that they modify and will require appropriate changes for gender and number.

¿Cómo eres personalmente? vs. ¿Cómo estás hoy?

Estar is used with descriptive adjectives to talk about emotional conditions and states of being.

Calm cat

El gato está tranquilo.

Los gatos están enérgicos.

  • Ana está muy contenta y tranquila. (Ana is very happy and calm.)

Note the changes based on gender and number in the following:

  • Tomás está contento y tranquilo. (Tomás is happy and calm.)
  • Nosotros estamos contentos y tranquilos. (We are happy and calm [if we keep saying it, it’ll come true…])
  • Tomás y su hermano están sorprendidos. (Tomás and his brother are surprised.)
  • ¿Por qué estáis vosotras preocupadas? (Why are you worried? – asking a group of all females, informally, in Spain)

Adjetivos usados con ser: Personality, general lifestyle, or qualities

You might remember that we used ser to talk about the qualities or characteristics of a person or thing:

  • alto/a (tall) – bajo/a (short)
  • amable/a (nice, amiable) – antipático/a (unfriendly)
  • honesto/deshonesto (honest/dishonest)
  • inteligente (intelligent)

When trying to decide between ser and estar, ask yourself: is this a characteristic of the person/thing (use ser), or is it a condition or state (use estar)? For this reason, emotions usually go with estar, while personality traits go with ser.

Sign and cones closing a sidewalk.

This sidewalk closure is a temporary state, not a permanent characteristic (hopefully). So the sign reads “La acera está cerrada.”

Adjetivos usados con ser y estar

With some adjectives, the meaning changes depending on whether you are trying to describe a characteristic or a condition. For instance: Él es aburrido (he is boring [quality or characteristic]) vs. Él está aburrido (he is bored [state or condition]).

two people, one looking at their watch

Él es aburrido. (He is boring.) / Él está aburrido. (He is bored)

Examples of change in meaning for specific adjectives:

  • Vivo
    El abuelo está vivo.
    (still alive)
    El abuelo es vivo. (clever, alert)]
  • Listo
    El niño es listo.
    (he’s clever: personality)
    El niño está listo. (he is ready to do some activity)
  • Verde
    La fruta está verde.
    (The fruit is green, immature, not ripe)
    La fruta es verde. (Permanent color of the fruit)
  • Joven
    La abuela está joven para su edad.
    (comparative, she is old in age, but looks young)
    Tienes diez años, eres muy joven para mirar esa película. (age as defining characteristic)
  • Rico
    La mujer es rica.
    La comida está rica. (delicious)
    ¡Ojo! Using está rico/a to refer to people has a sexual connotation, and can be offensive. “He/she is hot looking.”

A few notes to consider:

  • Muerto
    El abuelo está muerto.
    (dead. Even though when a person is dead it is a permanent condition, “estar” is used because becoming “dead” only takes a second to change from “estar vivo”.)
  • Embarazada
    Mi compañera está embarazada.
    (pregnant. It is only used with women. In English sometimes it is common to hear that the couple or the man is “pregnant” also, implying that both are parenting; however, in Spanish a man is never “embarazado”.)