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Auxiliary verbs in Spanish (haber, ser, estar)

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The translation of "haber", "ser" and "estar" into English is, depending on its usage, "to have" or "to be". Therefore they highly differ in their usage and meaning. In combination with a main verb you can form with them compound tenses or sentences with certain verb constructions.

"Haber" in Spanish

"Haber" is one of the most common verbs in Spanish. Below you learn how to use "haber" and you get to know the different meanings of the verb.

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Use of "haber"

"Haber" can be used in to different ways: 

  1. For compound tenses
  2. As impersonal verb

1. For compound tenses 

The auxiliary verb "haber" is especially used to form compound tenses. In this case, its meaning is "to have".

TenseExampleTranslation
pretérito perfectoHe comprado un coche. I have bought a car.
pretérito plusquamperfectoYa había estudiado alemán antes de empezar el cursoI had already studied German before starting the course.
futuro compuestoEl mes que viene habré estudiado el libro entero. Next month I will have studied the whole book.
conditional compuestoHabría estudiado más si hubiera tenido tiempo.I would have studied more if I had had time.
perfecto de subjuntivoNo creo que haya estudiado mucho, porque ha suspendido el examen.I do not think that he has studied much, because he has failed the exam.
plusquamperfexto de subjuntivoSi hubieras estudiado, habrías aprobado el examen.If you had studied, you would have passed the exam.

2. As impersonal form (hay)

"Hay" is the impersonal form of the auxiliary verb "haber". This form is not changable and you can translate "hay" with "there are". "Hay" is the present form, other tenses can be formed with the 3rd person singular of the verb "haber". It is always followed by an object and it is the only form of "haber" which can be used as a main verb. 

Examples:

  • No hay agua. - There is no water.
  • No hubo tiempo para saludar a toda gente. - There wasn't time to greet all the people. 

Difference between "haber" and "tener"

The use and the meaning of the auxiliary verb "haber" is similar to the english verb "to have", but as a main verb "haber" is never used to express "to have". Instead you can use the spanish verb "tener".

tener (to have)haber (to have)
Tengo un día libre. - I have a day off.Hoy hemos visto a José. - We have seen José.
Teníamos mucho que hacer. - We had a lot to do.No había llovido mucho. - I did not rain a lot.

"Estar" in Spanish

Like the verb "ser", the verb "estar" means "to be" in English.  

Use of "estar"

"Estar" as an auxiliary verb can be used to describe ongoing actions. Therefore you need the verb construction "estar" + gerund. 

Examples: 

  • Estoy lavando los platos. - I am washing the dishes.
  • Estamos leyendo los periódicos. - We are reading the newspapers.

enlightenedAs a main verb you can use "estar" to talk about a geographical location, a physical position/posture of a person/thing or about emotions and conditions. Example: Mi padre está un poco loco. - My father is a little bit crazy.

Difference between "hay" and "estar"

The distinction between "hay" and "estar" is easy: "hay" is used when the subject is indefinite and "estar" when the subject is definite. The subject sets the conjugation of the verb "estar".

hay (indefinite)estar (definite)
En Toledo hay muchas casas muy antiguas. - In Toledo there are many very old houses.Laura y José están en el parque. - Laura and José are in the park.
En esta ciudad hay una plaza bonita. - In this city there is a beautiful square.La plaza mayor está en el centro de la ciudad. - The main square is in the city centre.

In addition "hay" is used for number words:

  • En el bar sólo hay cinco mesas. - In the bar there are only five tables.
  • En la ciudad hay two parques. - In the city there are two parks.

enlightened The verb "hay" expresses the presence of a thing or a person. "Estar" defines the concrete location of the thing or person.

"Ser" in Spanish

Like the verb "estar", the verb "ser" means "to be" in English. 

Use of "ser"

"Ser" is used to describe permanent or "innate" characteristics. With this auxiliary verb you can build sentences with the construction "ser + participle"

Examples: 

  • La empresa fue fundada 1992. - The company was founded 1992.
  • Ella es conocida en todo el mundo. - She is known all over the world.

Difference between "ser" and "estar"

The distinction between "ser" and "estar" is more difficult because both verbs are translated with "to be" in English. Generally it can be said that "ser" refers to permanent or "innate" characteristics, while "estar" is often used for conditions or transitory properties. In addition "estar" is also used to describe geographical locations

serestar
Madrid es la capital de España. - Madrid is the capital of Spain.Mi madre está en Alemania para visitar a una amiga. - My mother is in Germany to visit a friend.
Mi amigo es muy alto. - My friend is very tall.La tienda ya está cerrado. - The store is already closed.

 

In this chapter you learned a lot about using the auxiliary verbs "haber", "estar" and "ser" in Spanish. Test your new knowledge now in our free exercises. Good luck!yes


Exercises

  1. Exercise to differentiate between "hay" and "estar"
  2. Exercise to differentiate between "haber" and "tener"

Exercise to differentiate between "hay" and "estar"


Exercise to differentiate between "haber" and "tener"


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Next lessons

1 Conjugation of "haber" in Spanish Learn how to conjugate the verb "haber" in Spanish.
2 Conjugation of "ser" in Spanish Learn how to conjugate the verb "ser" (to be) in Spanish.
3 Conjugation of "estar" in Spanish Learn how to conjugate the verb "estar" in Spanish.