Auxiliary verbs (Verbos auxiliares)

Spanish has three auxiliary verbs: haber to have and ser / estar to be.


In its semantic usage of to have, own, possess haber is replaced in the modern language by the verb tener.

Haber is used grammatically, with the past participle, to form the compound tenses.

Haber is used impersonally, in 3rd p. sg. only; it has a specific form for present indicative, hay there is, cf.:

The impersonal form hay que + infinitive has a modal meaning, it is necessary that / to..., cf.:

Ser and Estar

Spanish has two auxiliaries meaning "to be" which are not interchangeable, but are subtly differentiated, cf.:
  • La Señora es linda. The Lady is pretty.
  • La Señora está linda. The Lady looks pretty (at this specific moment).

  • El niño es listo. The child is smart.
  • El niño está listo. The child is ready.

  • Mi madre es aburrida. My mother is boring (she is a boring person).
  • Mi madre está aburrida. My mother is bored.

  • Mi hijito es vivo. My little son is smart.
  • Mi hijito está vivo. My little son is alive.
  • See Adjectives with Ser and Estar.

    Usage of Ser

    Semantically, ser is used to describe essential or inherent characteristics or qualities:

    1. Basic aspects (color, shape, material of which something is made out of, size, physical characteristics, and personality), cf.:

    2. Possession, cf.: 3. Relationship, cf.: 4. Profession, cf.: 5. Nationality, cf.: 6. Origin, cf.: 7. Marital status, cf.: 8. Expressions of time and dates, cf.: 9. Events taking place, cf.: Grammatically, ser is used on two occasions:

    1. Passive voice (ser + past participle), cf.:

    2. Noun and adjective complement (A complement completes the sentence by describing or defining the subject), cf.: The verb ser is used also in impersonal expressions, cf.:

    Usage of Estar

    Semantically, estar is used to express aspects that are not inherent and may be changed:

    1. Location or position of people and things, cf.:

    2. Transitory, unusual, recently changed or constantly changing state or condition, cf.: 3. Results of an action, cf.: 4. State or condition of a subject, cf.: Grammatically, estar is used with the Gerund to form progressive verbs, cf.: See Periphrastic constructions.

    Weather expressions are constructed with estar, cf.:

    The verb occur in many idiomatic expressions, cf.:

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