Translating ‘To Be’ to Spanish When Referring to Location

Here’s how to say something is or was somewhere

man standing on rock in the El Chaltén region of Argentina.
Está en las montañas de la Argentina. (He is in the mountains of Argentina.).

Franckreporter / Getty Images

To say something or someone is somewhere in Spanish, it is most common to use the verb estar. For example, to say that Roberta is at home, you can say simply: Roberta está en casa.

However, in some situations it is also possible to use ser, the main other verb for "to be," as well as verbs used primarily for location.

Estar vs. Ser When Referring to Location

Although both are verbs for "to be," estar and ser are seldom interchangeable, and that is true especially when they are used for location. Although estar typically is used to describe where a person or thing is located, when speaking of events ser must be used. One key to remember which verb to use is to note that if the verb can be translated as "to take place" or "to be held," ser must be used.

Some examples of estar used in reference to persons or things:

  • Tim y Catalina nunca estaban en casa. (Tim and Catalina were never at home.)
  • El restaurante está en España. (The restaurant is in Spain.)
  • Yo salgo a la 1 de clase, para la 1:20 estaré en la playa. (I am leaving class at 1 so I will be on the beach at 1:20.)
  • Amri y su compañera ya están en París. (Amri and her companion are already in Paris.)
  • El coche está en el taller por una avería. (The car is in the shop to get fixed.)
  • Seattle está en el centro económico de la región conocida como Greater Puget Sound. (Seattle is in the regional economic center known as Greater Puget Sound.)

Here are some examples of events that require the use of ser:

  • La reunión es en Valencia, España. (The meeting is in Valencia, Spain.)
  • El partido La reunión era en un retaurante selecto de Cartagena. (The meeting was in an exclusive restaurant in Cartagena.) en la capital estadounidense. (The game will be in the American capital.)
  • La recepción de la boda fue en el restaurante Jájome Terrace. (The wedding reception was in the Jájome Terrace restaurant.)
  • ¿Dónde es el concierto que vemos? (Where is the concert we're seeing?)
  • Es posible que el debate fuera en un restaurante selecto de Cartagena. (It's possible the discussion was in an exclusive Cartagena restaurant.)

Note how each of the sample sentences could also be translated by the appropriate tense of "to occur" or a phrase with a similar meaning.

Sometimes, the meaning or even translation of the verb's subject can change depending on the whether ser or estar is used:

  • El examen será en la sala de conferencia. (The test will be in the conference hall. The test here refers to an event.)
  • El examen estará en la mesa. (The test will be on the table. The test here refers to a document.)
  • La obra será en el teatro. (The play will be in the theater. A play is an event.)
  • La obra estará en el museo. (The work of art will be in the museum. A work of art is something that can be touched.)

Other Verbs of Location

The two other verbs most often used to specify a location or ubicar and situar, which for this purpose are typically used in the form of estar + past participle. In the present tense, translation of "is," "is located," and "is situated" are all possible.

  • Nuestro hotel está ubicado en el corazón de Buenos Aires. (Our hotel is in the heart of Buenos Aires.)
  • La morada elegante está situada en la zona cosmopolita de Ciudad Quesada. (The elegant dwelling is in the cosmopolitan zone of Ciudad Quesada.)
  • El pueblo de Maxtunil estaba ubicado cinco leguas al norte de Mérida. (The pueblo of Maxtunil was five leagues north of Mérida.)
  • Nuestro segundo local va a estar situado en la calle Fernández. (Our second shop is going to be on Fernández Street.)

Key Takeaways

  • The verb estar, usually translated as "to be," can be used to state where people and objects are.
  • The verb ser, also typically meaning "to be," is used to indicate where events take place.
  • The verbs ubicar and situar can also be used to specify locations.