Esta vs hay: learn the difference between these Spanish verbs

ESTA vs HAY: When should you use which?

ALEX
Maura, ¿cuál es la diferencia entre “la cartera está en la silla” y “hay una cartera en la silla”?
(Maura, what is the difference between “the wallet is on the chair” and “there is a wallet on the chair”?)

MAURA
La diferencia es muy sutil. “Hay” y “Está” pueden ser confusos. Mejor lo revisamos con calma.
(The difference is very subtle. “There is” and “Is” can be confusing. We better check it slowly.)

You have no idea how many times students like Alex have asked me about esta vs hay. These two concepts can easily overlap and cause confusion.

I’m Maura, from Spring Spanish and today I’ll help you separate these two ideas and use them with ease. ¡Empecemos!

1. The main difference between esta vs hay

MAURA
Básicamente, “hay” habla de la existencia de algo o alguien. “Está” por otra parte, habla de la locación.
(Basically, “there is” speaks of the existence of something or someone. “Is” on the other hand, speaks of the location.)

ALEX
O sea que, “la cartera está en la silla” significa: la silla es la locación de la cartera.
(In other words, “the wallet is on the chair” means: the chair is the location of the wallet.)

MAURA
Sí. Por tanto, “la silla” es lo importante. Y, sabemos exactamente de cuál cartera estamos hablando.
(Yes. So, “the chair” is the important thing. And, we know exactly which wallet we are talking about.)

ALEX
Entonces, ¿qué quiere decir “hay una cartera en la silla”?
(So what does “there’s a wallet on the chair” mean?)

MAURA
Aquí solo señalamos la existencia de esa cartera. La locación no es lo importante. Y, no sabemos con exactitud de quién es la cartera)
(Here we only point out the existence of this wallet. The location is not important. And, we do not know exactly whose wallet it is.)

So:

  • “Está” gives you the location of a concrete person or thing.
  • “Hay” simply states the mere existence of something or someone.

Of course “está” can do more than talk about location, but in this video we only care about “está” in that sense because that is when it overlaps with “hay”.

We have four more sections where we’ll go more in depth into how they behave. For now, check out more examples:

  • “Hay”: signals the existence of general or unknown things, people or places.
    • Aquí no hay playas. (There are no beaches here.)
    • En la nevera hay dos naranjas. (There are 2 oranges in the fridge.)
    • Hay mucha gente en esta zona los fines de semana. (There are a lot of people in this area on weekends.)
  • “Está”: refers to the location of concrete things, people or places.
    • La playa está a dos kilómetros. (The beach is 2 kilometers away.)
    • Las naranjas están en la nevera. (The oranges are in the fridge.)
    • Todos mis amigos están por esta misma zona los fines de semana. (All my friends are in this same area on the weekends.)

CHUNK ALERT!

Do you know what the chunk “no hay por qué” (there’s no reason why) means? It’s a very convoluted way to say “de nada” (you’re welcome).

The idea behind it is: no hay por qué agradecer (there’s no reason to thank me). Saying “de nada” (you’re welcome) is definitely more common and easier, but don’t be confused if you ever hear “no hay por qué” (there’s no reason why) after you say “gracias” (thank you).

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2. What to pair “hay” with

MAURA
Hay ciertas palabras que suelen usarse con “hay” y otras con “está”. Revisarlas te puede ayudar a diferenciar “hay” y “está” aún más.
(There are certain words that are often used with “there is” and others with “is”. Reviewing them can help you differentiate “there is” and “is” even more.)

ALEX
¿Pero no son demasiadas?
(But aren’t there too many?)

MAURA
No, no. Son simples. Con ”hay” solemos usar sustantivos que no pueden tener locación, como “problema”: no hay problema. Y los artículos indefinidos: un, una, uno.
(No, no. They are simple. With “there is” we usually use nouns that cannot have a location, such as “problem”: there is no problem. And the indefinite articles: a, an.)

ALEX
Vale. Como por ejemplo: Hay un problema.
(Okay. Such as: There is a problem.)

MAURA
Exactamente.
(Exactly.)

Precisely because with “hay” we’re talking about something general or unknown, we would only use indefinite articles with it. No article at all is also a possibility. So, “hay” only goes with: un, uno, unos, una, unas (a, an). For example:

  • Hay una araña en el baño. (There is a spider in the bathroom.)
  • Creo que hay un vaso más en la cocina. (I think there’s one more glass in the kitchen.)
  • ¿No hay (unos) cubiertos que nos podamos llevar al picnic? (Isn’t there some silverware we can take to the picnic?): you can omit the “unos” here.
  • Seguro hay (unas) colchonetas extra por si acaso. (I’m sure there are some extra mats just in case.): you can also omit “unas” here.

Unlike “esta”, “hay” is used with nouns that can’t have a location. Abstract things like “excusas” (excuses) or “riesgo” (risk):

  • No hay excusa que valga. (There is no valid excuse.)
  • Hay riesgo de que llueva. (There’s risk of rain.)
  • ¿Hay posibilidad de que me vengas a buscar? (Is there a chance you’ll come pick me up?)
  • “Donde hay amor, hay vida.” (“Where there is love, there is life.”)

3. What to pair “está” with

ALEX
Y, ¿con qué emparejo “estar” entonces?
(And, what do I pair “is” with then?)

MAURA
Con muchas más cosas. “Estar” va con todo lo que es más específico. Como los artículos definidos: el, la, los, las. O cosas como: ese, este, esos.
(With many more things. Estar (Is) goes with everything that is more specific. Like definite articles: el, la, los, las (the). Or things like: ese, este, esos (that, this, those).

ALEX
Claro, todo lo que permita hablar sobre las cosas de forma concreta. No en general como lo hace “hay”.
(Right, anything that makes it possible to talk about things concretely. Not in general as “there is”.)

MAURA
Precisamente. Lo pronombres posesivos también, o sea todos los: mi, tu, su.
(Precisely. The possessive pronouns also, meaning, all the: my, your, their.)

ALEX
“Mi teléfono está en el cuarto” o “El teléfono está en el cuarto”. Vale, entiendo.
(“My phone is in the room” or “The phone is in the room.” Okay, I get it.)

MAURA
Tal cual.
(Just like that.)

“Estar” does have more partners than “hay”. And the main idea behind all of them is that they are words that specify what or who you’re talking about. Let’s split them up and check out some more examples.

  • “Esta” with definite articles: el, la, los, las
    • Los gatos están debajo del sofá. (The cats are under the sofa.)
    • ¿Dónde está la maleta? (Where is the suitcase?)
    • Los botes de reciclaje están enfrente del edificio. (The recycling bins are in front of the building.)
    • Las ventanas están en el techo. (The windows are on the roof.)

In all these cases we know exactly which cats, which suitcase, etc, we’re talking about.

  • “Está” with ese, este, eso, estos, esa, estas (that, this, those, these)

    • Eso está debajo de la escalera. (That’s under the ladder.): of course you’ll need context for all of these words to mean something. You’ll always be referring to something someone already mentioned.
    • ¿Dónde está ese aparato que usábamos para medir la temperatura? (Where’s that device we used to use to measure the temperature?)
    • Esas personas están en el perfecto lugar para una foto. (Those people are in the perfect place for a photo.)
  • “Está” with possessive pronouns: mi, tu, su, nuestro/a (mi, your, their, our)

    • Mi familia está en Estados Unidos. (My family is in the United States.)
    • Tu chunking kit está en el link en la descripción. (Your chunking kit is in the link in the description.)
    • Nuestro carro está en el taller. (Our car is in the shop.)

4. “Hay” and “Está” with singular and plural nouns

MAURA
Como verás, “hay” es como más simple que “está”. Se combina con menos cosas y no cambia tanto. Con los singulares y plurales pasa lo mismo.
(As you will see, “there is” is kind of simpler than “is”. It combines with fewer things and doesn’t change that much. The same thing happens with singulars and plurals.)

ALEX
¿Qué cosa? ¿”Está” cambia y “hay” no?
(What? “Is” changes and “there” doesn’t?)

MAURA
¡Exactamente! Da igual si a “hay” le sigue un sustantivo plural o singular, siempre es “hay”. “Hay una manzana o hay muchas manzanas”.
(Exactly! It doesn’t matter if “hay” is followed by a plural or singular noun, it is always “hay”. “There is one apple or there are many apples”.)

ALEX
Entiendo. En cambio uno dice: “la manzana está en la mesa”. Pero, “las manzanas están en la mesa.”
(I understand. On the other hand one says, “the apple is on the table.” But, “the apples are on the table.”)

MAURA
Eso mismo.
(That’s it.)

In other words, you have to conjugate “está” depending on who you’re talking about. But, the only conjugation for “hay” in the present tense is “hay”. It doesn’t matter who or what we’re talking about.

5. Choose between “hay” and “está”

Now, let’s help your brain remember the difference between these two. Complete the sentences choosing from:

  • Hay (There is/are)
  • Está (Is)
  • Están (Are)
  1. Los niños ______ en la piscina. (The children are in the pool.)

Answer: están

  1. ¿Dónde ______ una piscina? (Where is there a pool?)

Answer: hay

  1. ________ muchos niños en la piscina. (There are many children in the pool.)

Answer: hay

  1. No ________ problema con que los niños vayan a la piscina. (There’s no problem with children going to the pool.)

Answer: hay

  1. La piscina _________ detrás del edificio. (The pool is behind the building.)

Answer: está

Now that you can set these two apart, you should continue this lesson by clicking here and learning how to tell Haber and Tener apart as well since English only uses “to have” to translate both. ¡Gracias por estar aquí! ¡Nos vemos! (Thank you for being here! See you!)

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