Looking for Accelerated Spanish? We've rebranded!

Click here to learn more.

Estar’s stabby past tense

Time for the past tense of Estar! Learn and practice estaba, estabas, and the other imperfect past forms of Estar. We’ll also work on some advanced uses of Estar, including how to use this linking verb at the end of a sentence.

Full Podcast Episode


Estaba, estaban, estábamos… let’s put Estar in the past.

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 putting Estar in the past, but before we do, let’s actually learn some more nouns for places so that we can form more and more sentences entirely in Spanish.

So the two nouns we’ll learn today are “the house”, which is la casa, and “the place”, which is el lugar. Casa is always feminine, and lugar is always masculine. This means that for casa you always have to use feminine pronouns and articles, such as la and las, and for lugar you always have to use masculine pronouns and articles, such as el and los. We sometimes have our students visualize a scene where there’s a house to the left, and to the right there’s a variety of places you could go when you’re not at home. In our memory palaces, feminine things are always on the left and masculine things are always on the right, so you can make sure that they always match up.

As an example, “I’m at the house” would be

Estoy en la casa.

Estoy en la casa.

The word casa is also often used without an article, in phrases such as en casa, which translate in English as “at home”. So for example you might say:

They are at home.

Están en casa.

Están en casa.

And how would you say:

We are at the place.

Estamos en el lugar.

Estamos en el lugar.

How about: Are you at a house?

¿Estás en una casa?

¿Estás en una casa?

And then here’s how you make these words plural: You can add a hard S at the end of casa to say casas, and you can add an E-S at the end of lugar to say lugares. For example, “the houses” is las casas, and “the places” is los lugares.

Note that the word casa is actually the most frequently-used noun in Spanish, and lugar isn’t far behind. They’re both very handy for talking about being in locations, so we’re going to get to use these in a bunch of different ways as we continue to practice Estar.

Now let’s learn the past-tense conjugations of Estar. I know we’ve been spending quite a bit of time on these verbs and it’s been tricky to memorize all the conjugations, but the good news is that as you start to pick up on verb conjugation patterns, things will get easier and easier. And that’s already going to start helping us out today.

So here’s what I mean by patterns. Let’s see what the conjugations we’ve learned so far have in common with one another, particularly if we follow just one of the characters from scene to scene. We’ll start with the pandas.

In the Ser present tense, we learned son. In the Ser past tense, inside the bouncy house, we learned eran. And in the Estar present tense, we learned están. These words are all quite different from one another, but they do have one thing in common: They all end with the letter N.

Now let’s move on to your friend on the hovercraft. In the Ser present tense, we had eres. In the bouncy house we had eras. And in the Estar present tense where he was tossing the magic wands we had estás. All three of these end with the letter S.

And then how about your group of tall and short friends. The forms were somos, éramos, and estamos. They all end in “mos”.

So the fact is, these are universal patterns. Every verb conjugation for the plural third person will ALWAYS end with N in Spanish. And every verb conjugation for “we” will end in “mos”. And most verb conjugations for the informal second person, like “eres” or “estás”, will end with the letter S. So if you can associate “mos” with “we”, N with the pannnnndas, and “S” with your friend who rides a hissing hovercraft, you’ve already memorized some of the most important patterns in Spanish.

Now today, as we learn the past tense forms of Estar, you’ll see that they follow these patterns perfectly.

So let’s go back to the magic shop and pick up the story where we left it off. Remember that you were concerned about your friend who was tossing around those sharp magic wands. Well, there’s a back room at this shop that’s small and crowded, and it’s full of sharp magic wands. Everybody tries to cram into that room, but they’re all getting stabbed by these sharp wands because it’s so crowded.

So remember the stress on the word “stab”. That will help you remember the most common past tense conjugation, estaba, which means “was”, as in “I was”. It ALSO means “was” as in “he was, she was, or it was”. This word, estaba, is used for yourself both and the store owner, or the third person singular.

Now we can take this word, estaba, and derive the words for all your friends using the patterns that we’ve just identified. So for example, to change this to “you were”, we’ll put the S at the end that represents your friend on the hissing hovercraft. This is estabas. The stress is still on “stab”, which is true for all these past tense forms of Estar, but the S at the end emphasizes your informal friend on the hovercraft.

For the pandas, to say “they were”, you put an N at the end. This is estaban. Maybe think “stab pandas”, which is what the magic wands are doing, poking into their fur: “stab pandas” turns into “estaban.”

And what do you think is the word for “we were”? That would be estábamos. So again, the stress is “stab”, but we end the word with “mos” to represent your crew of tall and short friends.

So in summary, each of these words is simply estaba, with a stress on “stab”, but with the ending changed based on what person you’re talking about. We have “he/she/it estaba”, “you estabas”, “they estaban”, and “we estábamos”. Note that the only other difference in spelling is that the longest form, estábamos, is spelled with an accent mark over the A in “stab”, although none of the other forms needs an accent mark.

So let’s practice this really quickly to make sure you can remember all of these forms. How would you say:

They were here.

Estaban aquí.

He was here.

Estaba aquí.

We were here.

Estábamos aquí.

I was here.

Estaba aquí.

You were here.

Estabas aquí.

Now at this point, it’s super important to be able to retrieve your Ser and Estar conjugations as quickly and flawlessly as possible. Putting it all together, with the present and past tenses, we now have four different scenes to visit. So an exercise we have our students do at this point is to get out a piece of paper and map out your four scenes, from memory, putting all the words in the right places: For the present tense of Ser, map out all five people; for the past tense of Ser, map out all five; also for the present tense of Estar and for the past tense of Estar. And then, after you try that, make sure all the conjugations that you write out are correct. If you can do that accurately from memory, you’re ready to quiz them in sentence contexts.

We’ll start with some really easy sentences, just using Estar. In each case, as a first step, try to determine whether to go to the present tense or the past tense. And then select the right person.

You are at the place.

Estás en el lugar.

You were at the house.

Estabas en la casa.

Were they at the houses?

¿Estaban en las casas?

We were at the places.

Estábamos en los lugares.

You(formal) are at the house.

Usted está en la casa.

She was here.

Estaba aquí.

I was in a house.

Estaba en una casa.

I’m at a place.

Estoy en un lugar.

Now let’s throw in some more complicated sentence examples. Let’s use a sentence template that we learned back in episode 19. Remember that to say, “We aren’t friends but they are”, you use lo in a funny way:

Nosotros no somos amigos, but ellos lo son.

Nosotros no somos amigos, pero ellos lo son.

Well, the same thing happens with the verb Estar. It normally likes to have something after it, because it’s another linking verb; it tends to be followed by either a place or a description of how someone is doing. But you can use it in this sentence template like this:

We aren’t at the house, but they are.

Nosotros no estamos en la casa, but ellos lo están.

Nosotros no estamos en la casa, pero ellos lo están.

Let’s practice this in a few sentence examples:

We weren’t here, but now we are.

No estábamos aquí, but now lo estamos.

No estábamos aquí, pero ya lo estamos.

I wasn’t in a house, you were.

Yo no estaba en una casa, tú lo estabas.

Were you(formal) at the place? They(f) were.

¿Estaba usted en el lugar? Ellas lo estaban.

Now let’s learn one more thing you can do with Estar, and it’s something you can’t do in English. Check out this sentence and see if you can tell what’s being said:

Ellos no están.

So literally this is “they are not”. But what it means is “they are not around” or “they are not present”. The thing is that by default, the verb Estar refers to location. And so when you use it without any other information, by default you’re talking about the idea of being in a location. You can’t do this in English, because saying something like “they are not” or “he is not” is super vague. And you also can’t do it with the verb Ser. But you can do this with the verb Estar; it’s an idiomatic way to talk about the location of someone or something. Here’s another example:

Yes, I am here.

Yes, yo estoy.

Sí, yo estoy.

And this doesn’t necessarily mean “here”; it can also mean “there”, if it’s clear what location you’re talking about. For example:

They want to know if you are there.

Ellos want to know if estás.

Ellos quieren saber si estás.

So in our quizzing going forward, whenever I use the word “here”, you’ll translate it as aquí. But when I use the word “present”, you can just use Estar without anything attached to it.

Here’s another example:

The girl is not present.

La chica no está.

In tomorrow’s episode, we’re going to get a lot more practice with our conjugations, choosing not only the past versus the present, but Ser versus Estar.

This show is brought to you by LearnCraftSpanish.com. The Spanish voice in this episode was our coach Ximena Lama-Rondón. 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.

Get the Free Podcast Materials
Sign up for instant access to the free course that goes with the podcast!
Access the Free Materials