Ser and Estar Past Tense: Explained for Real-World Use

Ser and estar past tense

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I was running. He was a basketball player. He went to the movies. “To be”, like in English, is heavily used in every tense. In this post, we talk about how to use “to be” (both Ser and Estar) in the past tense. By the end of this post, everything will be clear and you’ll just need to memorize the conjugations.

(PS, you can read our guide on the differences between Ser vs Estar here)


The verb Ser (to be) in Spanish has two different conjugations depending on the context – era and fui. We’ll cover the differences in a second, but here’s the conjugation:


English Temporary “Used to”
I was Yo fui Yo era
You were Tu fuiste Tu eras
You were (formal) Usted fue Usted era
He was Él fue Él era
She was Ella fue Ella era
It was Eso fue Eso era
You were (plural) Ustedes fueron Ustedes eran
We were Nosotros fuimos Nosotros eramos
They were Ellos fueron Ellos eran


This is like “were”, instead of “used to”. For one-time things.

Note: this is also the past conjugation of IR, meaning fui can also mean “I went” (also for one-time actions).


  • Yo fui estupido. (I was stupid.) TIP: If we said “yo era estupido”, it would also mean I used to be stupid (longer term), whereas fui here means it was a one-time thing (riiiiiight).
  • Ese día fue muy bueno. (That day went well.)


In context this could be used as the English “I used to be” and it’s used when the mentioned state was permanent, for instance if I say:

  • Yo era piloto. (I used to be a pilot.)
  • Yo era maratonista hasta que tuve un accidente. (I was a marathoner before I had an accident.)

Explanation: It means that for a period of time I used to be a pilot/marathoner, but I’m not anymore.


  • Él era un buen estudiante. (He was a good student)
  • Ayer era lunes. (Yesterday was Monday)
  • Alejandro era muy serio. (Ajejandro was very serious)
  • ¿Ustedes eran compañeros en la universidad? (Were you classmates at college?)


We have two different ways to say estar in past. While there is a super fuzzy, minor difference, for practical usage, they mean the exact same thing – all four of the native speakers in our core office had no idea the difference!

You can use them interchangeably, but we recommend to use estaba, as it’s more used and easier to remember.


English Simple perfect past Imperfect past
I was Yo estuve Yo estaba
You were Tú estuviste Tú estabas
You were (formal) Usted estuvo Usted estaba
He was Él estuvo Él estaba
She was Ella estuvo Ella estaba
It was Eso estuvo Eso estaba
You were (plural) Ustedes estuvieron Ustedes estaban
We were Nosotros estuvimos Nosotros estábamos
They were Ellos estuvieron Ellos estaban

This is used to express temporary states and places, for instance: Nosotros estabamos felices (we were happy).

Explanation: It means we felt happiness at a certain point in the past, not all the time.

Just like the differences between ser and estar in present, estar here is used for temporary states, locations, emotions, etc.


  • La sopa estaba muy caliente. (The soup was very hot.)
  • Ella estaba triste. (She was sad.)
  • Él estaba en Europa. (He was in Europe).
  • Luisa y Valentina estaban cansadas. (Luisa and Valentina were tired.)
  • ¿Tú estabas de vacaciones? (Were you on vacation?)
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Practice Ser and Estar in Past Tense

Fill in the blanks with era or estaba:

  1. Él ___________ un hombre de negocios. (He was a business man)
  2. Ella no ___________ culpable. (She wasn’t guilty)
  3. Los niños ___________ en el jardín. (The kids were in the garden)
  4. Los zapatos ___________ debajo de la cama. (The shoes were under the table.)
  5. El jugo ___________ de fresa y naranja. (It was a strawberry and orange juice)
  6. Jorge ___________ enojado con Guillermo. (Jorge was mad at Guillermo)
  7. La tienda ___________ cerrada el domingo. (The store was closed on Sunday)
  8. Nosotros ___________ buenos amigos. (We were friends)
  9. Víctor __________ el doctor de la familia. (Victor was the family doctor)
  10. Jon __________ buena jugadora de baloncesto. (Jon was a good basketball player)


  1. era
  2. estaba
  3. estaban
  4. estaban
  5. era
  6. estaba
  7. estaba
  8. éramos
  9. era
  10. era

That’s all! Pretty simple. You’ll want to memorize these with a flashcard app, and then make them flow like English by using them a ton in a real conversation.

TIP: Click here for free access to our Private Memrise flashcards, where you can train every lesson, including this one. They’re the same flashcards our students use! Click here for that.



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