17 The verb ESTAR: “to be”

Another verb “to be”

Several verbs in Spanish can take on the meaning of “to be”; we already looked at the verb “ser” and its conjugation pattern. We used “ser” to express where we are from and to identify our professions or status as students. The other primary verb in Spanish that means “to be” is the verb “estar”. These two verbs—ser and estar—are not interchangeable in Spanish. There are several uses of the verb “estar”:

  • to express how people are doing—their health and feelings (Mary is sad)
  • to talk about the location of people, places and things (John is at home)
  • to describe the condition of something (The plate is broken)
  • to express “in the moment” actions—the progressive tense—or the –ing form of verbs (I am talking, she is working)

Notice that “estar” is an -ar ending verb, but it is slightly different in the “yo” form because of the -oy ending. Also, all conjugations except the “yo” and “nosotros” forms have a written accent over the letter “a”. In time, you will learn more about the rules of written accented vowels in Spanish.

Estar: to be

ESTAR to be (singular) ESTAR to be (plural)
(yo) estoy I am (nosotros) estamos We are
(tú) estás You are (familiar) (vosotros) estáis You are (Spain)
(él) está He is (ellos) están They are
(ella) está She is (ellas) están They are (fem)
Ud. está You are (formal) (Uds.) están You are (L.Am)

Two common uses of the verb “estar”:

In time we will look at all the uses of the verb “estar”; but let’s begin with two:

1. to express health and feelings:

Estoy enfermo. (male speaker) I’m sick.
Ellos no están contentos They are not happy.
María está triste. María is sad.
¿Estás bien? Are you OK?

2. to express location:

¿Dónde está el baño? Where is the bathroom?
Juan no está. Juan isn’t here.
Estoy a la derecha de Ud. I am to the right of you.
Estamos lejos de la ciudad. We are far from the city.

Health and feelings vocabulary (adjectives)

aburrido/a bored enojado/a mad; angry
avergonzado/a embarrassed feliz happy
cansado/a tired ocupado/a busy
contento/a happy preocupado/a (por) worried
enamorado/a (de) in love triste sad

Location vocabulary (prepositions)

a la derecha (de) to the right of cerca (de) near
a la izquierda (de) to the left of con with
al lado (de) next to en in; on; at
allí, allá there, over there encima (de) on top of
aquí here entre between
debajo (de) under(neath) lejos (de) far from
delante (de) / enfrente (de) in front of sin without
detrás (de) behind sobre on; over

OJO: Notice that many prepositions have the word “de” after them: “a la drerecha de” / “cerca de”. Prepositions with “de” after them can be used both with and without the “de”. The idea is that “de” is needed if you continue to express something after it. Compare these like sentences:

Los libros están debajo de la mesa. The books are under the table.
Los libros están debajo. The books are underneath.

In the first sentence above, “la mesa” is mentioned so we need to use “debajo de”. But in the second, there is no mention of what the books are under, so the “de” isn’t used. And in the sentences below, “a la derecha de” is used because we mention the other object, “la mesa”. But in the last sentence, we don’t say what “la silla” is to the right of, and so “de” is left off.

La silla está a la derecha de la mesa. The chair is to the right of the table.
La silla está a la derecha. The chair is to the right.


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First Year Spanish 1 by Paul Eckhardt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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