When to use ‘soy’ vs. ‘estoy’ in Spanish
Published on March 24, 2023
Knowing when to use soy vs. estoy can be a tricky proposition for Spanish learners. Both verbs translate to “I am,” but they’re used in distinct situations. Soy is used to express stable qualities that tend not to change, while estoy implies that a particular state or condition is temporary. Soy estadounidense (I am US American) is correct, but estoy estadounidense sounds a bit like being American is an illness you’ll recover from soon.
Soy vs. estoy doesn’t have a direct English translation, as English has only one word we use to express “I am” or “to be.” All the same, Spanish language learners should make an effort to understand soy vs. estoy because of how often they’re used. Whether in class or real-world conversation, you’re likely to be introducing yourself or talking about your life constantly.
It can be confusing at first, but this article will cover everything you need to know about the difference between soy. and estoy in Spanish.
Let’s back up a bit and remember our basic conjugations. Soy is the first-person present form of the verb ser (to be). Estoy is the first-person present form of the verb estar (to be). Here are the other present-tense forms:
A full phrase includes the subject yo (I) but is often omitted in Spanish, like this:
The main difference between soy and estoy is fairly straightforward. Soy expresses stable or permanent qualities of a person, place or thing, while estoy expresses temporary states or conditions.
A good example of a temporary state is pregnancy. It’s not a permanent part of your personality and it doesn’t last forever (thank goodness for that!). For this reason we can say:
We cannot say “Soy embarazada.” This doesn’t make sense in any Spanish-speaking country.
This example should clarify the difference in meaning between soy vs. estoy in Spanish. Most native Spanish speakers will understand what you mean regardless, but using the wrong verb tends to sound unnatural at best.
Let’s dig a little deeper into when to use soy vs. estoy in your conversations and writing.
Soy helps us express things about ourselves, such as:
|Gender, sexuality and more
|The country where you are from, or your heritage
|Including both physical (short, brunette, strong) and personality (fun, loud, chatty) characteristics
|Doctor, farmer, teacher, writer, factory worker, etc.
You’ll often use soy to introduce yourself or talk about your life and background. Here’s an example:
You’ll use estoy to express:
|Estoy en Barcelona. (I’m currently in Barcelona.)
|Temporary states of being
|Estoy cansada. (I’m tired.)Estoy gordita después de Thanksgiving. (I’m chubby after Thanksgiving.)Estoy enferma. (I’m sick.)Estoy gruñona. (I’m grumpy.)
Need a simple way to highlight the difference? This sentence will always help you remember which version to use:
Here, orgullosa (proud) is an emotion. While you may be proud of yourself at all times (we hope so!), in Spanish it is considered a momentary emotion and not a permanent attribute.
The second clause — de como soy (of how I am) — is perhaps best translated as “of who I am” or “of what I am like.” We’re talking about the fundamental characteristic traits that make up your person. You might be strong, loyal, intelligent or beautiful. Here, we use soy.
You can use both ser and estar to describe people’s physical characteristics. Whether you use the verb “to be” with a permanent or temporary connotation can change the meaning of what you say.
Estar with an adjective emphasizes a physical characteristic that has changed.
The connotation in Spanish is that perhaps my niece was short before her growth spurt and I just now noticed how tall she is. The same goes for my newly muscular friend.
Estar is often used with adjectives about people, while ser is used with adjectives to describe things.
A book, once printed, doesn’t change. The same person might be boring at work but fun at a party.
In some cases, the difference between ser vs. estar can even change the meaning of an adjective. The whole phrase is interpreted differently based on whether you use the permanent soy vs. the temporary estoy.
Soy lista (I’m smart) describes a state that won’t change — and we certainly believe in your enduring brilliance! Before we conclude, let’s review the main difference between soy vs. estoy in Spanish: soy is for permanent qualities and estoy is for current location and temporary states. You’ll need soy to introduce yourself and estoy to talk about how you’re feeling. So, get out there and start talking about everyone’s favorite topic — yourself!