How To Use 'Estar' In Spanish

Overview and Reference for Beginners

Mi comida
Me estaba bien la comida. (The meal tasted good to me.). Photo by Xisco Bibiloni; licensed via Creative Commons.

Although it is an extremely common verb, estar can be confusing for many Spanish students because it is usually translated as "to be," same as the verb ser. Although they can often be translated the same way, ser and estar are distinct verbs with distinct meanings and are seldom synonymous. Students will need to learn when to use each verb. 

It is probably most helpful to learn the two verbs separately, seeing how they function.

After you've read this lesson, make sure you read the lesson on ser to see how it is used. 

The main uses of estar

To indicate a state or condition, often one resulting from a change:

  • Examples: Estaba enferma. (She was sick.) Estoy muy triste. (I am very sad.)

To indicate location:

  • Examples: Las torres gemelas estaban en Nueva York. (The twin towers were in New York.) Estamos en casa. (We are at home.)

Preceding de to form various idioms of condition or state:

  • Examples: Estamos de viaje. (We are on a trip.) No están de broma. (They aren't kidding around.)

With a present participle to form a progressive tense:

  • Examples: Está cantando. (He is singing.) Estaba estudiando en la biblioteca. (She was studying in the library.) Estaré trabajando. (I will be working.)

To indicate suitability:

  • Examples: La camisa te está pequeña. (The shirt is small for you.) Me estaba bien la comida. (The meal tasted good to me.) Note that other verbs also could be used to convey these meanings.

    Conjugation of "estar"

    As you may have noticed, ​estar is irregular in some tenses. Following is its conjugation for the tenses most likely to be encountered by beginning students. Irregular forms are in boldface.

    Present tense: yo estoy (I am), estás (you are), él/ella/usted está (he/she is, you are), nosotros/nosotras estamos, vosotros/vosotras estáis (you are), ellos/ellas/ustedes están (they are, you are)

    Past (preterite) tense: yo estuve (I was), estuviste (you were), él/ella/usted estuvo (he was, she was, you were), estuvimos (we were), vosotros/vosotras estuvisteis (you were), ellos/ellas/ustedes estuvieron (they were, you were)

    Past (imperfect) tense: yo estaba (I was), tú estabas (you were), él/ella/usted estaba (he was, she was, you were), estábamos (we were), vosotros/vosotras estabais (you were), ellos/ellas/ustedes estaban (they were, you were)

    Future tense: yo estaré (I will be), tú estarás (you will be), él/ella/usted estará (he/she/you will be), estaremos (we will be), vosotros/vosotras estaréis (you will be), ellos/ellas/ustedes estarán (they will be, you will be)