Hay vs estar

Hay vs estar


In this post we're talking about when we use hay and when estar, as sometimes can sound very similar when we translate them as "there is" (hay) or "it is" (está).

If you want to know more about when to use estar, in other situations not so easily confused with hay, you can check out this blogpost on using estar and ser.


1- It exists

The whole idea of hay is to express existence or non existence, hence its translation to there is /are.

Ex: Hay un coche en la calle - there is a car in the street
No hay queso para la pizza- there is no cheese for the pizza.

Also to ask for the existence of something with "is there...?"

Ex: ¿Hay un banco cerca? - is there a bank nearby?
¿Hay otro vaso? - is there another glass?

Notice that we're not talking about someone "having" or "owning" the glass, that's why we don't use tener. If I asked "tienes otro vaso?" that would mean "do you have another glass?" but regardless of whose glass it is I am only interested in knowing if it exists for me to use.

2- With un, una, unos, unas, algún, ningun and variations (including nada and nadie) and also otro/a/os/as.

Ex: Hay un hombre preguntando por ti - there is a man asking for you.
En la habitación hay un armario enorme - in the room there is a huge wardrobe.
Hay otro armario en mi dormitorio - there is another wardrobe in my bedroom. No hay ningún problema - There is no problem / there isn't any problem. Hay algunas personas interesadas - there are some/a few interested people. No hay nadie aquí - There is nobody here.

Beware! We use hay with otro/o/os/as but if you use el otro/la otra/los otros/las otras then you will use estar, as we use this one before el/la/los/las.

3- With numbers

Ex: Hay tres leones en el zoo pero solo un elefante - there are three lions at the zoo but only one/a elephant.

4- With quantifiers that will express how much of something there is, like bastante/s, tanto/a/os/as, mucho/a/os/as, demasiado/a/os/as, poco/a/os/as.

Hay demasiada gente - there is too many people.
Hay un poco de moho en la pared - there is a bit of mold on the wall.
Hay muchas oportunidades - there are a lot of opportunities.

5- And also when there is nothing before the noun.

When there is no article, no undefined adjective (like what we called quantifiers before) , no numbers, etc. We go to the noun directly.

Ex: Hay tiempo para dormir una siesta - there is time to sleep a nap (we don't say "a time" or "a lot of time" or "three times"...).

Hay vida más allá del trabajo - there is life beyond work .


If you check out the theory for ser and estar you'll see that estar is used for a lot of things, like temporary states or what someone is doing at a specific time, that I don't think would be confused with "hay", so we're going to focus here on the ones that could.

  1. Expresses location

Whereas "hay" only states that the thing exists in space, "estar" specifies where.

Ex: El ordenador está encima de la mesa - the computer is on top of the table.
El parque está enfrente de la plaza- the park is in front of the town square.
Los vasos están en la cocina - the glasses are in the kitchen.
El banco está a 10 min de aquí- the bank is 10 min away from here.

Therefore, if we we ask where something is with the word "dónde" we
would use "está"/"están": ¿Dónde está...? - where is...?/ Dónde están... - where are ...?

2- Before el, la, los, las including el otro, la otra, los otros, las otras.

Ex: Aquí está el coche nuevo y fuera está el otro - Here is the new car and outside is the other one.

3- With a possessive (my, your, his, mine, ours...)

When you specify possession we use estar, because if we know who it belongs to that means we already know it exists, that is already stablished, so we go ahead and add a location, more specific information.

Ex: Mis hermanos están en la escuela - my siblings are at school.
¿Dónde están tus herramientas? - where are your tools?

4- With este, ese, aquel...

Same way as with a possessive, but less common, if we use este, ese, aquel and variations of these, we already have some information, how far in space (or time) the thing is from the person speaking, so we use "estar" to add location.

Ex: Esta planta está en la luz directa - this plant is in direct sunlight.
Esos niños están en el parque - those kids are in the park.

As I said this is less common, because if you know the distance between you and the noun, chances are you don't need to specify location because you already know where it is.

5- With names of people, cities...

Again, if we use a proper noun (like with a person, a city, a river,...) then it's not enough to just say it exists, we already know it does! we want to add the location, where it is.

Ex: Marta está en la biblioteca - Marta is in the library.
El río Sil está en Galicia - The Sil river is in Galicia.

¡Perfecto! ¡Vamos a hacer un poco de práctica!


Fill in the gaps / rellena los huecos:
Hay (there is/are), está (it is) /están (they are)

  1. ¿Dónde _____ los baños? - Where are the bathrooms?
  2. ¿____ algún problema? - Is there any problem?
  3. No sé si ____ suficiente espacio - I don't know if there is enough space.
  4. Mi ordenador ____ en la mesa, ¿dónde ____ el tuyo? - My computer is on the table, where is yours?
  5. Esas maletas ____ en un mal sitio, alguien puede robarlas - Those suitcases are in bad place, someone can steal them.
  6. ______ 4 cajas aquí y ______ otras cuatro fuera - There are four boxes here and four others outside.
  7. ¿Sabes si _____ una oficina de turismo por aquí? - Do you know if there is a tourist office around here?
  8. ¿Sabes si la catedral _____ en esta calle? - Do you know if the cathedral is in this street?
  9. Nunca ____ demasiados libros en una librería - There are never too many books in a book store.
  10. Granada ____ en el sur de España - Granada is in the South of Spain.
  11. Siempre _____ esperanza- There's always hope.
  12. No____ nadie en la sala de espera - There is nobody in the waiting room.