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Estar (and the magic wands)

Learn the Spanish verb Estar, using a memory palace! We’ll also talk about some ways you can use this “to be” verb, in contrast with how we’ve been using Ser.

Full Podcast Episode


It’s time to learn the verb Estar.

Intro: Join us on a rigorous, step-by-step journey to fluency. I’m Timothy and this is LearnCraft Spanish.

Today we’re going to start learning our second verb, and it’s going to be really helpful, because so far on the podcast, there have of course been a lot of “to be” situations where you weren’t allowed to use Ser — all those situations where “is”, “were”, and “am” didn’t translate to es, eran, and so on.

Well, it’s time to learn some of the words that you CAN use in those situations. The verb that we’re about to learn — the name of the verb, the infinitive — is Estar.

Estar is a translation of the English verb “to be”… but it’s used specifically in the sense of how or where something is, not what it is. So you use Ser for what something is. Estar means where or how it is.

Of course, we can pretty easily think of all kinds of situations where you would use Estar, because you would use it in a LOT of the places where we *haven’t* been translating “to be” as Ser!

But one of the easiest ways to use it is simply to refer to a place. Check out this sentence template: “That is here.”

Obviously we’re not using Ser here because we’re not saying what “that” is. We’re saying where it is. So this would not be Eso es here, using a conjugation of Ser; instead, it would be eso está here. So this is our first conjugation of Estar — the translation of “is”, the third person singular, is está (spelled e-s-t-a, with an accent mark on the A).

Let’s talk for a second about what’s coming after the word “is”. We have the word “here”, which is not a noun; it’s a type of word that we call an adverb. In fact, as a general rule, a conjugation of Estar will never be directly followed by a noun, but it’s very often followed by adverbs.

So here’s the sentence entirely in Spanish:

Eso está aquí.

Let’s also look at some modifications of this sentence template, by replacing the word “here” with some longer phrases that represent places.

That is at the park.

Eso está en the park.

Eso está en el parque.

That is with my friends.

Eso está con my amigos.

Eso está con mis amigos.

That is by the path.

Eso está por the path.

Eso está por el camino.

All of these phrases, “at the park”, “with my friends”, “by the road”, are phrases that start with prepositions, specifically prepositions that refer to location. That’s one of the main ways that the verb Estar can be used.

But perhaps the easiest way to use Estar is simply by putting the word “here” after it, so I’m going to go ahead and give you the word for “here”, which is aquí, spelled a-q-u-i-with-an-accent-mark. We’re going to practice using aquí right after conjugations of Estar throughout this episode. This will help us form lots of sentences entirely in Spanish.

Now let’s learn some present-tense conjugations of Estar, using a memory palace.

So remember the memory palace that we used for the present tense of Ser, where you were at an indoor carnival getting ready to go to a bouncy house. The store owner was on the left side, your close friend was across from you, the pandas were on the right, and your group of friends was around you (yourself) at the bottom of the scene.

We’ll use a different scene for Estar, a different place, but still laid out in the same general format. Also, all the people will be the same except for one. So instead of a carnival house run by a discriminatory snake, we now have a gimmicky magic shop where an eccentric lady sells magic wands.

The lady, standing on the left side of the scene, is wearing a star-shaped hat that is supposed to have magical properties. It effectively just makes her look like the statue of liberty, but don’t tell her that. Meanwhile, you and your friends have found some items lying around in the store. You have picked up something that looks like a big, fake, yellow cardboard star. Your close friend, the curly-haired freckled one on the air-ray-hovercraft, is showing off that he knows how to juggle. But the magic wands that he’s demonstrating with looks very sharp, plus he’s perched precariously on the hovercraft, so this seems a bit dangerous. He’s throwing and catching them over and over, shouting “toss! toss! toss! Toss!” The sharp wands almost stab one of the nearby pandas in the eye.

You tell your friend, “Hey, that’s cool and all that you can juggle, but you’re awfully close to people to be throwing around those sharp objects.” …But the thing is, when you tell him this, you’re thinking about the fact that he’s “tossing” them in the air and saying “toss! toss! toss! “, so when you say “You are near people”, you say “you estás near people”.

This word, estás (spell), means “are”, as in “you are”, specifically for the verb Estar. So you would use this when talking to a friend about where or how they are.

Meanwhile, the toy that you’re holding represents the word estoy, with a stress on “toy”. So to say “I am here”, you would say “estoy aquí”, but to say “you are here”, you would say “estás aquí.

Meanwhile, the lady who owns this place is wearing this star-shaped hat and looking very smug. One of your friends asks her about the hat, and she responds, “I would think you would be honored that a STAR would be among you!” Apparently she thinks that wearing this star-shaped hat makes her a star. But she pronounces it with a very fake accent that she’s clearly putting on, and so instead of “a star” it sounds like “está”.

The word está means “is”, as in “he is, she is, or it is”. This is the most common conjugation, and it’s used for singular third-person subjects, as well as for usted. So in a formal voice, “you are here” would be usted está aquí.

Before we learn the other two words in the scene, let’s go ahead and practice these. Remember who is where and who’s holding what. So how would you say:

The guy is here.

El chico está aquí.

You are around here.

Estás por aquí.

I am not with the friends.

No estoy con los amigos.

All right, let’s learn a couple more words. In the Ser scene, we used a group of pandas who were standing at a window to the right, and they taught us the word son. In this scene, these same pandas are standing to the right, but it’s kind of dark. And they’re standing on a toy sword. Their word is están, with a stress on “stan” like “standing”. So you’re like, “...hey, they’re on a sword over there!” To say “they are on a sword”, you would say “están on a sword.”

Meanwhile, your group of tall and short friends around you gets in trouble. The main theme of this shop is magic and stars, and apparently the store owner has left a pile of little star-shaped stamps on the floor of the store. She asks, “where are my star stamps? Wait, are you guys STAMPING on my stamps??” You look down. It turns out that you and all your friends have indeed stepped into the pile of stamps, and now your feet and legs are covered with these little star-shaped stamps. The word for “we are”, represented by your group of friends, is estamos, with the stress on “stam” (which sounds kind of like “stomp” or “stamp”).

Once again, picture this scene in your mind. Recall each of the five different persons or groups of people and remember what they’re doing and what word it represents. We still have lots and lots of conjugations to learn of both Ser and Estar, as well as many more verbs, so you want every single conjugation that we’ve learned to be as distinctly vivid as possible in your spatial memory.

So before we go on to today’s final quiz, I’m going to start with some simpler quizzing: Your task is simply to come up with the right conjugation of the right verb.

First of all, what is the Estar word for “you are”? … that’s estás

Next, what’s the Ser word for “they are”? … that’s son

What’s the Ser word for “I am”? … soy

What’s the Estar word for “he/she/it is”? … está

How about the Ser word for “he/she/it is”? … es

What’s the Estar word for “we are”? … estamos

What’s the Estar word for “I am”? … estoy

How about the Ser word for “you are”? … that’s eres

What’s the Estar word for “they are”? … están

And then what’s the Ser word for “we are”? … somos

OK, now we’re going to get some practice doing the same thing, but in some very simple sentence contexts. In each case, start by determining whether to use Ser versus Estar. Then find the right personal conjugation. Then make sure you can say the entire sentence in Spanish.

I am here!

¡Estoy aquí!

It isn’t the friend(f).

No es la amiga.

The friend(m) is here.

El amigo está aquí.

The boys are friends.

Los chicos son amigos.

You are here.

Estás aquí.

Now in this one, use a formal voice.

You are here.

Usted está aquí.

We are with the friends(f).

Estamos con las amigas.

I’m the girl.

Soy la chica.

They are not here.

No están aquí.

You aren’t the guy.

No eres el chico.

We are the girls.

Somos las chicas.

How did you do on that? I know it’s a lot to juggle right now, but choosing the right way to translate “to be” is core to retraining your brain to think in Spanish.

If you need more work on this, you can get some more practice with the free materials at LCSPodcast.com/22. Meanwhile, to wrap up this episode, we’re going to practice Ser and Estar, along with a bunch of other things we’ve already learned, using today’s quiz.

But first, a quick note about the infinitive, the word estar itself. Just like the infinitive ser, you can use this word to start off phrases that can be used as nouns. For example, we can take the sentence “I like food”, and turn it into “I like being here”, or “I like estar aquí.”

Me gusta estar aquí.

You’re going to see this kind of thing in increasingly complex sentence structures. Here’s one that I resisted putting on today’s quiz: “The problem was that being here was a difficult thing.” This sentence uses Ser and Estar in a variety of ways: “The problem was that being here was a difficult thing.” So I’ll just give you the answer: The problem era que estar aquí era a difficult thing.

Don’t worry, I’ve decided not to include anything QUITE that complex on today’s quiz! Let’s start off with some simpler examples.

We were friends(m).

Éramos amigos.

Are you here?

¿Estás aquí?

Why aren’t you(formal) here?

¿Por qué no está aquí?

I’m the guy that found him.

Yo soy el chico que lo found.

Yo soy el chico que lo encontró.

They are the girls that know you(f, formal).

Ellas son las chicas que la know.

Ellas son las chicas que la conocen.

They(m) did it in order to be your friends(m).

Ellos lo did para ser your amigos.

Ellos lo hicieron para ser tus amigos.

I was the friend(f).

Yo era la amiga.

You(formal) and they(m) are here.

Usted y ellos están aquí.

She is here and they(f) are not here.

Ella está aquí y ellos no están aquí.

That’s why I’m here.

Por eso estoy aquí.

Were you the boy?

¿Eras tú el chico?

They(m) aren’t friends, but we(m) are.

Ellos no son amigos, but nosotros lo somos.

Ellos no son amigos, pero nosotros lo somos.

Why were they(f) friends?

¿Por qué eran ellas amigas?

She isn’t my friend, but you are.

Ella no es my amiga, but tú lo eres.

Ella no es mi amiga, pero tú lo eres.

That’s why they(m) found you(m, formal).

Por eso ellos lo found.

Por eso ellos lo encontraron.

I’m with the boys.

Estoy con los chicos.

We are here because of being friends(f).

Estamos aquí por ser amigas.

The problem was that she wasn’t a friend.

The problem era que no era una amiga.

El problema era que no era una amiga.

Being here is a good thing.

Estar aquí es a good thing.

Estar aquí es algo bueno.

So she was the girl.

So ella era la chica.

Así que ella era la chica.

Are you with the girls?

¿Estás con las chicas?

Tomorrow we’ll start putting Estar in the past, plus we’ll learn some very common nouns that are really handy to use with this verb.

This show is brought to you by LearnCraftSpanish.com. The Spanish voice in this episode was our coach [...]. Our music was provided by the Seattle Marimba Quartet, and I’m Timothy, encouraging you to do the hard work of learning Spanish. Acquiring a second language is one of the most fulfilling things you can do, so start your fluency journey today at LCSPodcast.com.

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