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What Is “Is” in Spanish?

How do you say “is” in Spanish? It MIGHT be the word “es”... and it might not! Let’s learn our first conjugation of Ser, and we’ll explore when you might use this word. This is the most common verb in Spanish, and the most common conjugation (by far). Today we’ll get some practice with “es” in a lot of sentence contexts.

Full Podcast Episode


Today we start to define what the word “is” is.

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 first verb, Ser. This is the most common verb in Spanish (by far), and it’s so important that we’re going to spend the next several episodes on it. But first of all, let’s talk about how important verbs are in Spanish. Until now, we’ve learned a lot about nouns and things that replace nouns, but we haven’t talked much about verbs.

It turns out that verbs are the absolute heart of Spanish sentences — as well as what makes them different from English sentences. I mean nouns are a lot of fun, but the fact is you actually CAN form a Spanish sentence without any nouns or anything that functions as a noun! That’s not true in English, but believe it or not, you can do it in Spanish. You might say, “What? A complete sentence without any nouns at all! It’s impossible!” Well, the sentence “it’s impossible”, correctly translated into Spanish, would be es imposible, and that is considered a complete sentence even though none of the words are nouns, pronouns, or anything that functions as a noun. We’ll talk about why this works in Episode 14.

What that sentence DOES have, and what every proper Spanish sentence has, is a verb. In fact, the core of thinking in Spanish basically comes down to thinking in Spanish verbs. That’s what we’re going to start doing today: Reprogramming our brains to treat verbs the way that Spanish does.

The first thing to remember is that verbs are not strictly “action words”. It’s easy to oversimplify because verbs often DO indicate some sort of action; for example, in the nonsense sentence, “Food jumps over the rainbow” the word “jumps” is an action, and it’s clearly the verb.

But what about this sentence: “Food is my favorite thing.”

Here there’s no action at all! Nobody’s jumping or swimming or running. But of course, using the “eat test” that you learned in Episode 2, you can tell where the verb here is. “Food eats my favorite thing” works, so the verb is “is”.

OK, how about “Eating is my favorite thing”? The word “eating” here is an action — but in the sentence it’s serving as a noun.”Eating” clearly passes the “food test”, and the verb is still the word “is”.

So, sometimes actions are verbs, sometimes not. And sometimes verbs are actions, but not always. What makes a word a verb is how it serves to make a sentence what it is. In Spanish, a verb provides the core meaning of the sentence, and in the case of the most common and important verbs, they serve as the mortar between the bricks, the tiny little verbs that hold the Spanish language together.

And the most common of those is the word es, spelled E-S. This word ***roughly*** means “is”, but specifically, es is used to describe what something is.

Of course, this verb is not an action word at all. When you hear the word “is” in English, it doesn’t really conjure any kind of information by itself. This word is just used to link two pieces of information together. In fact, verbs like this are called “linking verbs”, because although they don’t mean much by themselves, they’re the mortar that holds a lot of Spanish sentences together.

Now if you’ve ever worked on Spanish before, you probably recognize es as a conjugation of Ser. We’ll talk about conjugations tomorrow, and in fact we’re spending the next several episodes on the verb Ser. But for now, we’re going to just focus on es and how to use it in real Spanish sentences — which you’re going to do a LOT. This word is the 7th-most-common word in Spanish, accounting for 1 out of every 60 words spoken.

So let’s start using es to link two pieces of information together. One of the easiest ways is to put one noun before it and one after it. And then, what es means is that those two pieces of information are the same thing. It’s like an equals sign. For example, maybe one noun is “the girl in the car”, and the other noun is “my friend”. We can say “the girl in the car es my friend” or:

La girl en the car es my friend.

La chica en el auto es mi amiga.

Or how about:

The man with glasses is a nice guy.

El man con glasses es un nice guy.

El hombre con gafas es un buen tipo.

But before you go too crazy with this word, the most important thing to know about es is that it DOESN’T directly translate to the word “is” in English. This is one of the biggest difficulties that English speakers have when learning Spanish — we need to make sure not to develop the bad habit of using es in a bunch of different ways that just don’t work in Spanish.

The thing is that in English, we use the word “is” to mean all kinds of different things that are just translated completely differently in Spanish. For example,

He is a doctor.

It is raining hard.

She is here.

In the first example, we’re describing who or what someone is. “He is a doctor.”

In the second one, we’re talking about an ongoing action or activity that’s happening. “It is raining hard.”

And in the third sentence, we’re talking about where someone is. “She is here.”

The word es would only be used in the first example, not in the second or third examples. And that’s because this verb is specifically used for WHAT SOMETHING IS. You can’t use es to describe where someone is, or how they’re doing, or what action they’re doing. But you DO use it to describe what something is, and that’s clearly what’s going on in “he is a doctor”. We can tell because there’s a noun right after the word es. “A doctor” is clearly a noun, so when you say “he is a doctor”, you’re describing what he is.

For the purposes of this episode, that’s the ONLY way we’re going to use the word es: with a noun right after it to describe what something is. In upcoming episodes we’ll give you a full framework that will help you always know whether or not to use es (or any other conjugation of the verb Ser). But for now, here’s a rule that will serve us pretty well: When translating from English, if you see the word “is”, look at what’s right after it. If it’s a noun, you’ll use es, but if there’s anything else right after the word “is”, don’t translate it as es; instead just leave it in English.

Let’s get some practice with this. Here’s a sentence to try:

It is in the park.

What’s right after “is” here? It’s the preposition “in”, indicating that we’re talking about where something is. We haven’t put a noun right after “is”, and it’s not describing what something is. It’s describing WHERE they are. So you won’t use es; you’ll leave this in English for now. “It is en the park.”

Next example:

It is the park.

In this case, what comes after the word “is” is “the park”. This is a noun, so we’re going to translate “is” as es. We’re saying that “it” and “the park” are the same thing. “It es the park.”

How about this one:

That is my story.

So, “my story” follows the food test. And the word “is” here is clearly saying what something is. So we would say “that es my story”.

How about:

The story that he told you is the truth.

Here, after “is”, we have “the truth”. So once again, we’re describing what something is. We’re equating “the story that he told you” and “the truth”. “The story that he told you es the truth.”

How about:

Lima is in Peru.

In this sentence, after “is”, we have the preposition “in”. The phrase “in Peru” isn’t a noun, and the word “is” here isn’t being used to describe what Lima is. So we won’t translate “is” into Spanish as es.

Lima is a city in Peru.

This time, right after “is”, what we have is “a city in Peru”. This is a noun, and yes, “is” here is being used to describe what Lima is. We’re being told that “Lima” and “a city in Peru” are two nouns that are equal to each other. So we would say Lima es a city in Peru.

How about:

He is the first one here.

“The first one here” is a noun. And we’re saying is that that’s what he is. So we’d use es: “He es the first one here.”

How about this one:

It is the early afternoon.

So in this case, what follows “is” is the noun “the afternoon”. And yes, this is describing what it is. So you would use es here. “it es the early afternoon.”

Now let’s look at a very tricky scenario. As I’ve mentioned, es is used to describe what something is. Unfortunately, there are some confusing situations where it’s unclear whether or not the phrase after the word “is” is actually being treated as a noun. Check out this example:

My favorite activity is walking in the park.

After “is”, we have “walking in the park”. And what the sentence is saying is that the noun “my favorite activity” and the noun “walking in the park” are the same thing. So yes, we would translate this as es.

But how about this one:

She is walking in the park.

In this case, the phrase “walking in the park” seems to pass the food test, but not really. Because we’re not saying that walking in the park is WHAT she is. It’s what she’s doing. So in this case, we actually wouldn’t use es here.

Here’s an even more difficult example:

“The podcast is describing how to use Spanish verbs.”

So would you translate “is” as es here? The phrase after it, “describing how to use Spanish verbs”, CAN be used as a noun in some situations. For example, “describing how to use Spanish verbs is fun.” (Or at least, I think so.) But let’s ponder this sentence carefully. Is “the podcast” the same thing as “describing how to use Spanish verbs”?

“The podcast is describing how to use Spanish verbs.”

No, in this case, we wouldn’t translate “is” as es, because in this case, we’re not describing what the podcast is — we’re talking about what it’s doing. We’re not equating one with the other, as what it is.

So as we continue quizzing on whether or not to translate “is” as es, make sure that in every case, the thing after “is” is a noun, AND, in context, it’s being used to describe what something or someone is. This will get you some great foundational practice for when we work on Ser vs Estar in upcoming episodes. (Incidentally, this is a skill that most Spanish learners don’t master for several years, but you’ll be doing it flawlessly very soon.)

All right, let’s do our final quiz to practice es, along with a lot of the vocabulary that we’ve previously learned on the podcast.

What is that?

¿Qué es eso?

Yes, that’s why the book is on the table.

Yes, por eso the book is en the table.

Sí, por eso el libro está en la mesa.

In the next example, the dog is feminine.

This is my mom’s dog.

This es la dog de my mom.

Esta es la perra de mi mamá.

He is here during the mornings.

He is here por the mornings.

Él está aquí por las mañanas.

How embarrassing!

¡Qué embarrassing!

¡Que vergonzoso!

I made dinner so that you could rest.

I made dinner para que you could rest.

Hice la cena para que pudieras descansar.

Why did you walk along this road in the snow?

¿Por qué did you walk por this road en the snow?

¿Por qué caminaste por este camino en la nieve?

In this next example, the young author is masculine.

This is a paper book by a young author.

This es a book de paper por un young author.

Este es un libro de papel por un joven autor.

In this next example, “them” is masculine.

This is the man who met them.

This es el man who los met.

Este es el hombre que los conoció.

You can’t do better than that?

¿No you can do better que eso?

¿No puedes hacerlo mejor que eso?

He is always at work at 7:00.

He is always en work a 7:00.

Él siempre está en el trabajo a las 7:00.

We made this for you, because of your good work.

We made this para you, por your good work.

Hicimos esto para ti, por tu buen trabajo.

¡How strange that this is translated into Spanglish!

¡Qué strange que this is translated into Spanglish!

¡Qué raro que esto esté traducido al spanglish!

In the next example, “them” is feminine.

Sara’s son saw them with that.

El son de Sara las saw con eso.

El hijo de Sara los vio con eso.

This is the homework that I must do by tonight!

This es the homework que I must do para tonight!

¡Esta es la tarea que debo hacer para esta noche!

The girl that is walking near the park is my friend.

La girl that is walking por the park es my friend.

La chica que camina por el parque es mi amiga.

To get more practice with all of this, make sure to use the free resources at LCSPodcast.com/12. There you can get free access to the quizzing materials that go with this episode and all the previous episodes. And at this point, if you’re feeling unsure about anything we’ve covered, this is a great time to make sure you’re up to speed on everything before we start going deep into verb conjugations.

In tomorrow’s episode, we’re going to put together a fun memory palace that will help us conjugate Ser.

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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