There is often confusion for English speakers when using hay and está. Let's see the difference:
The Spanish "hay"
Hay means "There is/there are". We use hay when we are talking or asking about the existence of something/someone.
Generally the order can present itself in two ways, here's the first:
Verb (Hay) + indefinite article (un/una) + noun + [somewhere]
Hay una farmacia en mi barrio.There is a chemist in my neighbourhood.
Here's the second way:
[Somewhere] + verb (hay) + indefinite article (un/una) + noun
En mi barrio hay una farmacia.In my neighbourhood there is a chemist.
You can use the plural definite articles unos/unas but very often we omit them as they are not necessary:
Hay (unos) bares en la plaza del pueblo.There are (some) bars in the village square.
The Spanish "está"
"Está" means "It is" and "están" means "They are". We use estar to locate things/people somewhere.
The general order of the sentences with estar is:
Definite article (el, la, los, las) +noun + verb (está/están) + somewhere
El parque está en la parte norte de la ciudad.The park is in the north part of the city.
La iglesia está al lado del colegio.The church is next to the school.
El bar de Miguel está en la esquina.Miguel's bar is on the corner.
Have a look at how we would use both hay and está in a simple conversation:
¿Hay un parque por aquí?Is there a park over here?
Sí, hay un parque cerca.Yes, there is a park nearby.
Someone is asking about the existence of a park nearby. Notice how after hay we use the indefinite article "un" (the same way in English the indefinite article "a" is used)
Once the speaker knows there is one, he/she asks where it is:
¿Dónde está el parque?Where is the park?
El parque está allí a la derecha.The park is there on the right.
Notice how now they are using "está" to locate it. Now they don't use the indefinite article "un/una" but the definite article "el/la" (the same way in English "the" is used)
Be careful when using "dónde hay..." instead of "dónde está..." as this can be confusing.
We sometimes use dónde + hay for a first question, even when we haven't yet discovered the location, because we are assuming that the place we are asking about does exist. For example:
Señora, por favor, ¿dónde hay una farmacia por aquí?Madam, please, where is there a pharmacy around here?
Notice that after hay there is still the indefinite article (una).
Don't forget the accent on está/están
What's in ...? / What's there in...?
We must pay special attention when making questions like:
"What's in/on [place]" which means "What is there in/on [place]" but the "there" bit is often dropped in English.
Despite the omission of "there" in these questions, we still use "hay" in Spanish. See some examples:
¿Qué hay en tu bolso?What's in your bag?
¿Qué hay en el segundo cajón?What's in the second drawer?
- ¿Qué hay en la mesa? - Hay unos libros del colegio.- What's on the table? - There are some books from school.
You can also watch the video below with Gordon and Cynthia from Lightspeed Spanish explaining how hay and está works.
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