You’ll need to be able to use them in a variety of situations and contexts if you want to speak Spanish fluently

Both of these verbs are incredibly important when it comes to learning Spanish. You’ll need to be able to use them in a variety of situations and contexts if you want to speak Spanish fluently. Both haber and estar can be used to mean to be in some circumstances. Actually, estar directly translates as to be whereas haber is an auxiliary verb used in a variety of expressions which would take either to be, to have, or there is/are in English. Confused? Well, you won’t be after you’ve read our handy guide to help understand the differences!

Which one do I need?

To put it in simple terms, both of the verbs we are looking at in this blog are used to talk about the presence of someone or something. However, the verb estar is used to indicate the ubicación (location) while haber is used to show the presencia (presence) of the person or object. Look at these examples:

Haber Estar
Hay un perro en la calle – There is a dog in the street El perro está en la calle – The dog is in the street
Había dos ladrones en mi casa anoche – There were two thieves in my house last night Los dos ladrones estaban en mi casa anoche – The two thieves were in my house last night

See what we mean? The verb haber is simply telling us about the existence of the dog and the thieves, whereas the verb estar is telling us the location of the dog and the thieves.

Estar – some ejemplos (examples)

If you’ve read one of our other blogs on the verbs estar and ser, you’ll recognise some of the following information.

  • Estar goes after the subject of the sentence
    • El teatro está en el centro – The theatre is in the centre (of the town/city)
  • We normally know which person or object we are referring to if we use the verb estar
    • ¿Dónde está el cine? – Where is the cinema? (I know there is one in this place)
    • Los niños estaban en el parque – The children were in the park (I know which children I am talking about)
  • The verb estar is used with subjects that take the definite article (el/la/los/las)
    • Las fotos de la boda están en el cajón – The wedding photos are in the drawer
    • El coche está en el garaje – The car is in the garage
  • We must make estar agree with the number (singular/plural) of the words it refers to
    • Mi madre está en el salón – My mum is in the living room
    • Los gatos están en el tejado – The cats are on the roof

When learning how to use estar, the best way is to look at lots of examples and then practise using it and getting correction from your teacher or people you speak to. It’s a question of making errores (mistakes) and learning from them!

Haber – when we use it

We’ve already looked at haber in a lot of detail in a blog comparing it to the verb tener. For now, let’s just focus on examples of the use of the verb in a narrower range of contexts.

  • To translate the structure “there is/are”
    • Hay seis sillas en el comedor – There are six chairs in the dining room
    • Había mucha gente en la calle – There were many people in the street
    • No hay galletas, lo siento – There aren’t any biscuits, I’m sorry
  • To talk about things when we don’t know if they already exist.
    • ¿Hay un supermercado por aquí? – Is there a supermarket near here? (I don’t know if there is or not)
    • Creo que hay un hospital en el pueblo – I think there is a hospital in the town (but I’m not totally sure)
  • Haber is always placed at the beginning of the sentence or clause that uses it
    • Hubo un accidente en la calle – There was an accident in the street
    • Va a haber un concierto en el estadio este domingo – There’s going to be a concert at the stadium on Sunday
    • Hay cinco aulas en mi colegio – There are five classrooms in my school
  • When we use indefinite articles (un/una/unos/unas) plus a noun/nouns they go with haber
    • Hay un problema – There is a problema
    • Había unas chicas en el patio – There were some girls in the playground

The verb haber is also used in lots of other ways, so do check out our blog on Haber vs Tener on this. 

Quiz time!

Now let’s try a quick quiz to see if you can use haber and estar correctly. The answers are at the end of this blog!

Complete the following sentences with either hay or está/están. Remember – está is singular and están is for the plural.

a. ____ dos perros en la calle.
b. Pedro no ___ en casa. Se ha ido al gimnasio.
c. Lo siento, no ___ galletas. Tenemos que comprar unas.
d. Las dos chicas que ____ trabajando en la tienda son Julia y María.
e. ¿Perdona, ___ un centro médico por aquí?
f. ¿Dónde ____ mis llaves? Seguro que las dejé en la mesa.
g. Tiene que llover pronto porque no ___ mucha agua en los embalses.
h. En nuestra casa, el dormitorio ___ al lado del salón.
i. Los pisos nuevos ___ muy cerca de la autopista.
j. ¿___ Carlos? Necesito hablar con él urgentemente.

We hope this blog helps you to better entender (understand) when we use haber vs estar. As you learn Spanish, you’ll see them lots of times and it’s always a good idea to take notes as to when you use them and create your own example sentences. This way it’s more likely that you’ll remember the differences. Come join us on one of our Spanish courses, both face-to-face and online, and you’ll be using both verbs sin problema (with no problem) in no time!

Answers to quiz:

a. Hay – b. está – c. hay – d. están – e. hay – f. están – g. hay – h. está – i. están – j. Está