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Why Ser is so common

The Spanish verb Ser doesn’t strictly mean “to be”; it means something much more specific. But it’s used in a wide variety of ways! Let’s learn how to think in Spanish by “thinking in Ser”, and using Ser to express identity in many different ways.

Full Podcast Episode


Let’s reprogram our thoughts to understand the verb Ser.

Intro: Join us on a rigorous, step-by-step journey to fluency. I’m Timothy and this is LearnCraft Spanish.

Today we’re going to learn some new ways that you can use the verb Ser.

But to give this some context, take a second right now to step back and consider your reason for learning Spanish. Is there someone close to you that you’d like to connect with better using their native language? Are there specific activities you do that would be easier if you knew more Spanish? And what are the specific conversation topics that you, personally, want to be able to talk about in fluid, spontaneous Spanish?

There are probably several specific situations or topics that you personally want to be able to navigate fluently in Spanish. On this podcast, we’re not currently talking about specific topics. Instead, right now we’re covering the vocabulary and the sentence structures that apply to every topic you could possibly want to talk about in Spanish! But it IS important to think about your end goal, so let’s do a thought exercise: Go ahead and vividly imagine a conversation that you’d like to have in Spanish in the near future. Picture who you’re talking with, where you are, and what you’re talking about. …And imagine this conversation being fluid and spontaneous, going in one or two unexpected directions, but imagine never getting lost. Picture this, because our goal is that you’ll be there in a few months.

…This thought exercise is important today, because it’s Monday, which is our theory day. We have a few abstract things to work on today, and sometimes this is the most frustrating stuff to get through, especially if you’re impatient to start having conversations. But remember that these abstract things are going to be directly applicable to THAT conversation that you just imagined. When you are in that specific situation in a few months, you’ll be super grateful for the groundwork that you laid today. Getting through this tricky, abstract stuff is why the LearnCraft Spanish coaching program is able to guarantee fluency; we know that if you can survive this week of more work on Ser, you can survive anything.

Remember that the verb Ser, unlike the verb “to be” in English, is very specifically used to describe what something is, or who someone is, as a part of their identity. Ser includes that whole family of words that we learned last week, everything in the carnival house memory palace: soy, es, somos, son, eres — AND many other forms that we haven’t learned yet. And every single form of Ser is used in this same way, to talk about what something is or who someone is.

So again, travel in your mind to this imaginary conversation, and imagine that this person you’re talking with unexpectedly asks you a question about yourself. What are all the things that YOU can be described as, as a person? As a part of your identity? Or how about the people in your life — what can they be described as? And what about the things in your life? the activities, the ideas, anything important to you… what might they be described as “being”? Not as where they are or how they are, but as what they are?

ALL of that is what Ser represents. And this is key to communicating deeply in Spanish, because it’s core to how English linking verbs are different from Spanish linking verbs. If you think about the verb “to be” the way that English does, you’re thinking in English. But if you start thinking about this version of “to be” that’s specific to what something is, or who someone is, then you’re starting to think in Spanish. Because Spanish cares very much about what something is.

Now let’s get to some specifics. You already know the easiest way to use conjugations of Ser, which is to put some sort of noun both before and after them. For example:

This girl es my friend.

I soy a pilot.

Eso es an interesting problem.

But when you’re talking about what something is or who someone is, a noun (or noun phrase) isn’t the ONLY way to describe them. Let’s talk about some of the other ways that Spanish treats identity.

To begin with, here’s a sentence example:

My mother is from Mexico.

My mother es de Mexico.

Mi madre es de México.

In this case, our conjugation of Ser is not being followed by a noun! Instead, it’s followed by a preposition, de, and then a noun. Is this allowed?

The thing is, the Spanish language treats being from a place as what you are. If you’re from New York, for example, “being of New York” is considered what you are as a person. Or if a product or a food is from a certain place, that’s considered a part of what it is.

In fact, several of the ways that we’ve learned to use de, including origin, possession, and material, are considered a part of something’s identity, or what is. So normally, you can’t follow Ser by a prepositional phrase, but you ARE allowed to in the case of the word de. Here are some examples.

They are of wood.

Son de wood.

Son de madera.

It is my dad’s.

Es de my dad.

Es de mi papá.

You’re from Canada?

¿Eres de Canada?

¿Eres de Canadá?

This seems to open up Pandora’s box of chaotic possibilities, because the rules about when you’re allowed to use Ser might look like they’re shifting from what we told you earlier. But the most important rule still stands: You use a form of Ser specifically for what something is. And being “of” or “from” something or some place is considered what something is.

Another preposition that’s used with Ser is para. You can say, for example:

This gift es para you.
Este regalo es para ti.

In the Spanish concept of identity, if an item is intended for someone, that intention is a part of that thing’s identity.

However, the prepositions en and con are almost never going to be used after Ser. These prepositions are almost always referring to location, such as “at the park” or “with my luggage”, rather than WHAT something is.

Now…  what about the preposition por? Is the term “by” or “because of” associated with what something is?

Well, for this complicated word, it depends. Let’s try this sentence example:

My favorite book is by that guy over there.

In English, it’s not clear what’s meant by this sentence. When I say that the book is “by” that guy over there, do I mean that it was written by him? Or do I mean that it’s sitting “by” him, on a table next to him?

In Spanish, you can make this a lot clearer by using Ser or not using Ser. If you say that the book es por that guy, you mean that it’s written by him. And that’s considered a part of the book’s identity, what it is. But if you don’t use Ser, you’re indicating that it’s next to him, that that’s WHERE it is.

It’s similar when you say that something is “because of” something else. For example:

That is because of our party.

Eso es por our party.

Eso es por nuestra fiesta.

So if you say es por, you’re talking about authorship or cause, which is considered a part of what it is. But if you don’t use Ser, you’re just talking about where it is: “by that guy over there” (por that guy over there).

So remember that Ser can be followed by the prepositions de, para, and por to indicate what something is as a part of its identity. But you wouldn’t use ser for en and con, or for por if you’re using por to talk about location rather than authorship.

There’s one other use of Ser that we’re going to mention right here: When you are talking about someone’s physical characteristics, such as how tall they are, you’ll use Ser because that’s considered a part of their identity. If it helps, remember the snake measuring all the guests to see if they’re the appropriate height to enter the bouncy house; that snake judges people based on who they are as a person, and height is considered a part of that.

So for example, “he is tall but we are short” would be:

He es tall but we somos short.

Él es alto pero nosotros somos bajos.

Now for today’s quiz to get some practice choosing whether or not to use one of our forms of Ser.

Are they from this town?

¿Son de this town?

¿Son de este pueblo?

That is with the pencil on the table.

Eso is con the pencil en the table.

Eso está con el lápiz en la mesa.

This food is for the girls.

This food es para las girls.

Esta comida es para las niñas.

She wants to be a firefighter.

She wants ser a firefighter.

Ella quiere ser bombero.

It is the afternoon.

Es the afternoon.

Es la tarde.

They are near the park.

They are por the park.

Ellas están por el parque.

This book is by my friend.

This book es por my friend.

Este libro es por mi amiga.

I(m) am the queen’s cousin.

Soy el cousin de la queen.

Soy el primo de la reina.

The man is driving along the highway.

El man is driving por the highway.

El hombre está conduciendo por la carretera.

The car is for the man.

The car es para el man.

El auto es para el hombre.

He’s from Colombia, and they’re from Uruguay.

He es de Colombia, y they son de Uruguay.

Él es de Colombia, y ellos son de Uruguay.

That’s because of my mistake.

Eso es por my mistake.

Eso es por mi error.

You’re not from Argentina!

¡No eres de Argentina!

¡No eres de Argentina!

It’s a cheap toy, that’s why it’s of plastic.

Es a cheap toy, por eso es de plastic.

Es un juguete barato, por eso es de plástico.

That is for you.

Eso es para you.

Eso es para ti.

These books are by my favorite author.

These books son por my favorite author.

Estos libros son por mi autora favorita.

I am telling her he is at home.

I am telling her que he is en home.

Le digo que él está en casa.

They aren’t from Chile, we are from Chile.

They no son de Chile, we somos de Chile.

Ellos no son de Chile, nosotros somos de Chile.

It’s the lady’s.

Es de la lady.

Es de la señora.

The girls are by the lady’s car over there.

Las girls are por the car de la lady over there.

Las niñas están por the car de la señora allá.

I am at the party.

I am en the party.

Estoy en la fiesta.

HE isn’t José’s son!

¡HE no es el son de José!

¡Él no es el hijo de José!

They are with the lady at 3:00 every day.

They are con la lady a 3:00 every day.

Están con la señora a las 3:00 todos los días.

It is staying in the car for a while.

It is staying en the car por a while.

Se queda en el auto por un tiempo.

For more practice with all of this, go to LCSPodcast.com/16. And for customized guidance for mastering this, as well as personalized practice, there’s information on the website on how you can become a member and work with our team.

And here’s one suggestion from our team: We’re currently working on the mortar that holds the language together, and not so much on the meaningful vocabulary itself, which will come in a few weeks. But just for fun, as a little boost of encouragement, I recommend trying a little exercise to see just how much Spanish you now know. Go to Wikipedia and find the article for something you’re really interested in, such as your favorite movie, a book you love reading, or a topic of interest. And then switch the page to Spanish. Then scan the Spanish for just how many words you already know — it’s going to be over 30% of the words on the page. And in the next few weeks, we’re going to take that number up to 50%.

Tomorrow we’re going to get much more concrete and learn the words for “he”, “she”, “I”, “we”, “you”, and “they”... and we’ll start speaking a lot of sentences that are entirely in Spanish.

This show is brought to you by LearnCraftSpanish.com. The Spanish voice in this episode was our coach [...]. Our music was provided by the Seattle Marimba Quartet, and I’m Timothy, encouraging you to do the hard work of learning Spanish. Acquiring a second language is one of the most fulfilling things you can do, so start your fluency journey today at LCSPodcast.com.

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