To Be or not To Be………… in Spanish

By Immanuel Giel – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

A great photograph taken in Stratford-upon-Avon, of a sculpture of Hamlet, one of Shakespeare’s most well-known characters.

“To BE or not To BE, that is the point!” one of Shakespeare’s most well-known phrases. Good Ol’ Bill, had no idea it would become famous world-wide and he certainly did not imagine he could have been referring to Spanish grammar when he coined that phrase.

The awful truth of the matter is there are TWO ways of saying “TO BE” in Spanish. We have seen one previously  on my post,  Patterns : SER…and we have seen how to say “I am” = Soy. In Patterns 2 we saw : “You are” = Eres. and in A bit of Gossip we saw: He is = Es  .

Now another verb which renders “TO BE” is called ESTAR and to say “I am” using this new verb is ESTOY.

In summary: In Spanish, the verb “To Be” can be SER or  ESTAR.

So many of my students have battled with concept, just as I did for months before I realised the difference between the two.


“To Be” = SER           and                                 “To Be” = ESTAR

So “I am” = SOY        and                                   “I am” = ESTOY

Wait a minute! What’s going on? They’re the same in English but different in Spanish.

To explain again in a different way: For many students of Spanish, this simple little verb, To Be, can be very frustrating.   In previous posts, we learned TO BE was SER and have seen how to translate “I am ” in Spanish :  “SOY”. However the other verb with the same meaning in English, at least, is TO BEESTAR Spanish which means exactly the same:  “I am” =   “ESTOY”

So there are times when “I am” can be ESTOY . We need some examples to show when to use  “ESTOY” to convey “I AM”.

 I am tired              Estoy cansada 

I am angry             Estoy enfadada

 I am calm                Estoy tranquila  

  I am married          Estoy casada

 I am divorced          Estoy divorciada 

I am interested       Estoy interesada 

 I am bored               Estoy aburrida

 I am busy               Estoy ocupada

I am ill                      Estoy enferma 

Please note I am using the FEMININE form of the adjective at the moment. This means I am assuming in these cases that the speaker is female. More on masculine adjectives later. They will just have to be patient.

ESTOY ENFERMA (I AM ILL ) by Leo Van Aken , 1851

Can you see a pattern emerging? But still there is the question about WHEN you would use Soy, or when to use Estoy ?

But take a close look at the words, the adjectives which are being used with ESTOY

Tired, Angry, Calm, Married, Divorced , Interested, Bored, Busy, Ill.

These all describes states that are just temporary. In fact, you could put NOW or AHORA beside them to show it’s just a temporary state. 

You are not ALWAYS tired, or calm, or married (!) or divorced (!), interested, bored, busy or ill. This would be when ESTOY is used, as you can see in the examples above. 

The adjectives used in the previous posts with SOY were of a different type: English, Spanish, Intelligent, Silly, Short, Tall, Hard-working, Lazy, Funny, Nice, a Woman, a Man. These are adjectives which describe inherent chatacterstics of a person. What they are like, ALWAYS. 


Confused yet?

(NOW)       I AM = ESTOY 

Can you see the new pattern emerging. ?

Is this really confusing?

I would be extremely interested in knowing if this article was useful. I would like to know if I have been able to clarify, in some way, the confusion that often ensues from this grammatical point.  I would really appreciate it  if you would let me know how I could improve the explanation to make it clearer for my students.

More next time…





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