Translating 'To Be' When Referring to Location

'Ser' Used for Events, 'Estar' for People and Things

Chinese restaurant in Spain
Este restaurante está en España. (This restaurant is in Spain.). Photo by Krista; licensed via Creative Commons.

Although the Spanish verb estar typically is used to describe where a person or thing is located, when speaking of events ser must be used. Both verbs typically can be translated as "to be." But if the verb can also 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 in order to 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 será 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?

Note how each of the sample sentences could also be translated by the appropriate tense of "to be held" or "to take place."

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

  • El examen será en la sala de conferencia. The test (event) will be in the conference hall.
  • El examen estará en la mesa. The test (paper) will be on the table.
  • La obra será en el teatro. The play will be in the theater.
  • La obra estará en el museo. The work of art will be in the museum.