EstarAfter ‘ser‘, ‘estar‘ is probably the second most commonly used verb in Spanish, and as you may already be aware it also means ‘to be’ when translated directly into English.

However, this literal translation into English, does not mean that ‘estar‘ and ‘ser‘ are exactly the same and that either verb can be used the same in any sentence. This is certainly not the case as both verbs have their distinctive uses.

Both ‘ser‘ and ‘estar‘ cause a few major headaches for students of the Spanish language and right from the start of their studies too, because not only do both of these verb’s varying irregular conjugations cause problems but also there is the issue of deciding which of them should be used and this depends purely on the context in which the verb ‘to be’ is to be used.

First of all we will conjugate the verb ‘estar‘ in the present tense only.
(For a complete printable conjugation sheet, click on the image above)

Yo estoy I am
Tú estás You are (familiar)(sing.)
Él está He is
Ella está She is
Nosotros estamos We are
Vosotros estáis You are (polite)(plur.)
Ellos están They are

Note: Many students become confused with the issue of whether or not they should use the personal prefix; yo, tú, es…etc when writing or speaking in Spanish. The answer to this will depend upon your location and your course material. In European Spanish these prefixes (pronouns) are normally dropped and only used when ambiguity needs to be avoided; whereas in Latin American Spanish the use of the pronouns is much more widely used.

Estar is used to explain the following:

1. Temporary state or condition: The use of estar when referring to temporary states or conditions often causes the most issues with students who are confused sometimes between what is a temporary and what is a permanent state?

Él coche está roto The car is broken
Las mujeres son felices The women are happy

In the example above, ‘the car is broken’ refers to a temporary state because the car would normally be working, and this is the same with the sentence ‘the women are happy‘.

2. Location: When describing the location of an object the verb ‘estar’ is used. However, estar should not be used when describing the location of an event, for this ‘ser’ must be used. (For more information visit our specific page covering the verb ser)

Los libros están en la mesa The books are on the table
La estación está cerca. The station is near

3. As an auxiliary verb: Estar is used in the present continuous tense as an auxiliary verb with the gerund (participle). Note: The present continuous tense is a tense that is used to describe an action that is taking place as it is being spoken about, or described.

Yo estoy leyendo I am reading
Nosotros estámos comiendo We are eating

4. Idiomatic expressions: Estar is used in certain idiomatic expressions that express a condition or state:

Estar de vacaciones To be on vacation
Estar enfermo To be sick