In this article, you’ll learn how to conjugate the verb estar in the present tense, but more importantly, you’ll learn how to use it properly without having to worry too much about grammar rules or conjugaton tables. How come? Well, I will teach you chunks, that is, word combinations that never change.
Some chunks include estoy feliz, ¿cómo estás?, and estás en el lugar correcto. This chunking method is very useful because it will allow you to speak Spanish in no time!
When to use estar
If you read my article about the difference between ser and estar, you’ll notice that both of them are the equivalent of the English verb “to be”, but they are used for different purposes.
Basically, estar may be used to respond to three questions:
- How are you? — which refers to feelings or emotions
- Where are you? — which refers to location
- What are you doing or what are you up to? — which refers to our current activity
The common denominator is that a person’s feelings, location, and current activity are all temporary and here’s where the difference with ser (the other equivalent of the verb “to be” in Spanish) lies:
Ser is used to talk about permanent traits, while estar is used to talk about temporary ones.
How to conjugate the verb estar
The verb estar is an irregular verb, which means that it doesn’t follow a predictable pattern when conjugated. The downside of that is that you basically have to learn the conjugation by heart, but once you do, no tendrás que preocuparte por la conjugación nunca más (you won’t have to worry about its conjugation ever again).
Now, I promised that there would be no grammar rules… and I meant it because there’s no point in drilling conjugation tables! Instead, let’s go over some chunks for you to learn how the verb estar works.
If someone asks you “¿cómo estás?“, you may respond:
- Estoy bien, gracias. (I’m good, thank you) —This is a feeling, so we use estar.
If they want to know your location, they’ll ask you “¿dónde estás?” and you may respond:
- Estoy en la oficina. (I’m at the office) —This is my location, that’s why we use estar.
If they want to know what you are doing, they will say “¿qué haces?” and you may tell them:
- Estoy estudiando español. (I’m learning Spanish) —We use estar because this is an activity I’m currently doing.
What’s the pattern here? Yes, whenever you are talking about yourself, the conjugation of the verb estar in the present tense is -oy.
These sentences will always be constructed this way. So, to imprint them on your brain, you may prepare flashcards, like this:
On the front:
- Q: ¿Cómo estás?
- A: ______ _______, gracias. (I’m good, thank you)
On the back:
- Estoy bien, gracias.
Now, what’s the common denominator in the questions ¿cómo estás?, ¿dónde estás? or ¿qué estás haciendo? Yes, the word estás, which is the verb estar conjugated in the second-person singular (tú / informal you).
You may also learn use it in chunks like these:
- ¿Estás enojada? (if you are talking to a woman) / ¿Estás enojado? (if you are talking to a man) (Are you upset?)
- ¿Estás en tu casa? (Are you at home?)
- ¿Estás estudiando español? (Are you learning Spanish?)
Now, if you are talking to someone you are not very close to and so you need to address them with deference and respect, you just have to omit the -s and add usted, which is the formal version of you, like this:
- ¿Cómo está usted? (How are you?)
- ¿Dónde está usted? (Where are you?)
- ¿Usted está estudiando español? (Are you studying Spanish?)
This same pattern is used when talking about your girlfriend or boyfriend, for example:
- Ella está en la oficina. (She’s at the office.)
- Él está enojado. (He's upset.)
- Ella está estudiando alemán. (She’s studying German) – She could be doing it right now or in the present.
What happens if we want to talk about us (nosotras / nosotros)? Well, since estar ends with -ar, the conjugation will be as follows:
- Estamos sorprendidos. (We are surprised) – This is a feeling, so that’s why we use estar.
- Estamos en el cine. (We are at the movie theater) – Remember: estar is used to indicate location.
- Estamos comiendo. (We are having lunch)
What’s the pattern here? Yes, the conjugation of the verb estar in the first-person plural in the present tense will always be -amos.
The last two personal pronouns also share the same conjugation. So, depending on context, the following questions and statements could refer to either ustedes (plural you) or ellas/ellos (they):
- ¿Cómo están? (How are you guys? / How are they?)
- ¿Dónde están? (Where are you guys? / Where are they?)
- ¿Qué están haciendo? (What are you guys doing? / What are they doing?)
How can you tell? Well, context is the key.
If you can’t find your keys, the question would be ¿dónde están mis llaves? and that’s a they because I don’t think anyone addresses their keys saying “where are you guys?”… Hopefully, anyway!
Let’s go over what we learned, shall we?
Something you should bear in mind always is that, unlike the verb ser, the verb estar is used to talk about temporary traits, such as feelings, emotions, mood, location, and whatever it is we are doing as we speak.
Another thing you should not forget is that estar is an irregular verb, and that means you have to learn its conjugation by heart, but you may do that using chunks.
Now, let’s practice the chunks we learned today so that you really imprint the conjugation of the verb estar in actual context!
Try to fill in the blanks and write down your answers in the comments section:
- ¿Cómo _____? (How are you?) — formal situation
- ¿Dónde ______ mis llaves? (Where are my keys?)
- _______ feliz. (I’m happy)
- _______ en el cine. (We are at the movie theater)
- Él ______ aprendiendo español. (He’s learning Spanish)
- ¿Qué ______ haciendo? (What are you doing?) — informal situation
- Ellas ______ de viaje. (They are travelling)
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¡Muy bien! ¡Estás lista o listo para usar “estar” correctamente! (You are more than ready to use the verb estar correctly). It’s definitely not everything there is to learn about Spanish, though, so if you want to master this beautiful language, not only should you go ahead and watch all the videos on our channel, but you should also sign up to the Free Spanish Training on our website.
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