‘Soy’ vs ‘Estoy’ – I am in Spanish



Quick answer – both these words translate to ‘I am‘ in English, but they’re NOT interchangeable! ‘Soy’ is the first person present of the verb ‘ser‘ (used to talk about permanent qualities) and ‘estoy‘ is the first person present of ‘estar‘ (used to talk about a temporary condition).

Sounds kinda confusing, right?

When I first embarked on my Spanish-speaking journey, these two tricky little verbs would constantly trip me up, but I’ve got a few expert tips that’ll help you wrap your head around them in no time at all!

So, without further ado, let’s get into the nitty-gritty!


When to use ‘estoy’


“So, ‘estoy‘ just means ‘I am‘ … easy!”, I hear you cry while closing your Spanish dictionary with a triumphant smirk!

But don’t close that dictionary just yet!

As mentioned above, ‘estoy’ is the first-person singular of the verb ‘estar’. It’s therefore used exclusively in contexts in which ‘estar’ is called for (as opposed to ‘ser‘)

And how do you know when to use ‘estar‘?

Well, ‘estar‘ (or ‘estoy‘) generally refers to a temporary condition (feeling cold, being in a certain city, being in love, etc.)

Basically, it’s used in the following contexts –

Locations/positions

We use ‘estar‘ to talk about the location/position of places, people, and objects.

Your location is obviously temporary, so you’ll always use ‘estar‘ when saying where you are (or were!) at any specific moment in time.

Man relaxing at the beach



Estoy en* la playa.

I’m on the beach.


Gabriel – ¿En dónde estás?

Beatriz – ¡Estoy en frente de ti!



Gabriel – Where are you?

Beatriz – I’m in front of you!

*Erika’s note – in this example ‘en‘ translates to ‘on‘, but this ISN’T always the case!

If you want to delve a little deeper into all the different ways to say ‘ON’ IN SPANISH, then head on over to our magnum opus on the topic!


When referring to an action

Estar‘ (and therefore ‘estoy‘) is used when referring to ongoing actions, normally as part of the present progressive tense.

Again, these actions are TEMPORARY … I mean you’re not going to be washing those dishes forever, right?

Man washing the dishes



Estoy lavando los trastes.

I’m washing the dishes.



Estoy viendo una película.

I’m watching a film.



Conditions/emotions

Ill man blowing his nose

‘Estar‘ is used to talk about temporary physical and mental states (feeling tired, happy, sick, etc.).

Yep, thankfully, feeling ‘tired‘, ‘down‘, and ‘sick‘ are all temporary states too!

¡Estoy muy cansado!

I’m really tired!



Creo que estoy un poco enfermo; me duele la garganta.

I think I’m a bit sick; my throat hurts.



No puedo creer que ganamos el mundial…¡estoy tan feliz!

I can’t believe we won the World Cup … I’m so happy!


Rupert’s pro tip – for me personally there was one use of ‘estar‘ that took me AGES to get my head around … and that’s when it’s used to express a subjective, personal opinion about something.

We generally use ‘ser‘ to talk about the essence of a person or thing (i.e., a permanent characteristic), BUTestar‘ can also be used colloquially to express a personal opinion.

That’s why you’ll often hear phrases like –

Está buena la película.

The film is good.



Está grande la pera.

The pear is big.

When to use ‘soy’


You can think of ‘soy’ as the yin to ‘estoy’s’ yang. Whereas ‘estar‘ is typically used for temporary conditions, ‘ser’ is used for more permanent characteristics (someone’s name, nationality, etc.).

We use ‘ser’ in the following contexts –

Permanent characteristics

Ok, so nothing’s really permanent (after all, you might elope to Timbuktu one day and change your name completely), but by “permanent characteristics” I’m referring to as close as permanent as you can get (think name, nationality, sex, and religion).

Soy Ruperto.

I’m Rupert.



Soy muy chistoso.

I’m really funny.

Occupation

Whenever we talk about our profession or job, ‘ser‘ is used (or ‘soy’ if you’re speaking about yourself).

A job is also considered to be “permanent”, although I have to admit that before becoming a teacher I flip-flopped through jobs like nobody’s business … but hopefully you get the gist!

A teacher in front of a blackboard


Soy maestro de español.

I’m a Spanish teacher.



Soy astronauta.

I’m an astronaut.

Time

A cute clock

Ser’ is also used to talk about days, dates, and clock times.

This is obviously a weird one because time isn’t exactly “permanent”… I address this in detail down below!

Es la una.

It’s 1 o´clock.



Hoy es Domingo.

Today is Sunday.


Expert tip – when it comes to ‘ser‘ and ‘estar‘, although it’s VERY important to understand the grammar, there are a lot of exceptions (I mean, aren’t there always?).

From my experience, you really have to get a “feel” for ‘ser‘ and ‘estar‘ to fully understand their nuances and the best way to do so is through LOTS of exposure to Spanish as spoken by native speakers.

Flashcards can also help though; you can download a spaced repetition software such as “Anki” (it’s free!) and create flashcards every time you come across a use of either ‘ser‘ and ‘estar‘ that you find confusing. For best results, create a few variations of the same flashcard and add a related image from Google (which will help get those neurons all fired up).

For example, you could write a sentence on the front of your flashcard and leave a gap for the word in question –

Image of a "ser" vs "estar" flashcard
Image of a "ser" vs "estar" flashcard (reverse)



Origin

We always use ‘ser’ or ‘soy’ to talk about the place where someone/something is from.

Did you know that cocoa and chocolate are originally from Mexico?

Cocoa bean saying, "Soy de México"


El cacao es de México.

Cocoa is from Mexico.



Soy de Inglaterra.

I’m from England.

Relationships

In the eyes of the Spanish grammar gods, relationships are also considered permanent and, yes, even the most fleeting of relationships count!

Let’s have a look at some examples –

Woman saying, "Hola soy la mamá de Erika"


Soy la mamá de Erika.

I’m Erika’s mum.



Soy su novia.

I’m his girlfriend.



Soy su exnovia.

I’m his ex-girlfriend.


Soy’ vs ‘estoy’ examples

Let’s look at some more example sentences and I’ll explain why either ‘estoy’ or ‘soy’ has been used, hopefully further demystifying these two super common words –

Estoy al lado del restaurant.

I’m next to the restaurant.

Use ‘estoy’ when talking about your location




Estoy pelando las papas.

I’m peeling the potatoes.

Use ‘estoy’ to talk about what you’re doing right now (present progressive)




¡No estoy muy feliz!

I’m not very happy!

Use ‘estoy’ to talk about (fleeting) emotions




Soy una persona muy fiel.

I’m a very loyal person.

Use ‘soy’ to talk about inherent characteristics




Soy ingeniero químico.

I’m a chemical engineer.

Use ‘soy’ to talk about your profession




No soy de aquí.

I’m not from here.

Use ‘soy’ to talk about where you’re from




Soy el esposo de Erika.

I’m Erika’s husband.

Use ‘soy’ to talk about your personal relationships


Ser’ vs ‘estar’ conjugations

Both these verbs are extremely irregular (uh-uh!), so you’re going to have to learn them by heart!

I actually normally suggest that learners commit the present simple conjugation of these verbs to memory before pretty much anything else, as you’ll be using them all the time!

Anyway, enough jibber-jabber from me, let’s get into the grammar –

 PresentPreteritePresent subjunctiveImperative  
yosoyfuisea
eresfuisteseas
él/ella/ustedesfueseasea
nosotros/assomosfuimosseamosseamos
vosotros/assoisfuisteisseáissed
ellos/ellas/ustedessonfueronseansean


 PresentPreteritePresent subjunctiveImperative  
yoestoyestuveesté
estásestuvisteestésestá
él/ella/ustedestáestuvoestéesté
nosotros/asestamosestuvimosestemosestemos
vosotros/asestáisestuvisteisestéisestad
ellos/ellas/ustedesestánestuvieronesténestén


Common areas of confusion


Soy’ vs ‘estoy’ vs ‘tengo

The main difference between these 3 ever-so-useful Spanish words is that ‘soy’ and ‘estoy’ both mean ‘I am’, while ‘tengo’ means ‘I have’.

Aside from that, they’re all the first-person present conjugations of their respective infinitives (‘ser’, ‘estar’, and ‘tener’), and you’ll be using them ALL THE TIME once you really get your teeth into Spanish!

Here are some examples –

Soy una persona muy generosa.

I’m a very generous person.



¡Estoy muy harto de esta situación!

I’m really fed up with this situation!



Tengo dos perros y un gato.

I have two dogs and a cat.


Yo estoy’ vs ‘yo soy

“So, what’s with that ‘yo‘?”, I hear you ask!

Well, ‘yo’ is a subject pronoun and the equivalent of ‘I’ in English. Easy, right?

Unfortunately, Spanish throws us a slight curveball when it comes to subject pronouns (if only life were that easy, huh!).

In English, we use subject pronouns before pretty much every verb (imperatives and situational ellipsis* being the obvious exceptions) if the noun itself is NOT mentioned.

For example –

I am 31 years old.

I am really tired.


In Spanish, however, subject pronouns are only necessary for emphasis OR in situations in which it’s not clear who exactly is doing the action. This is because, unlike in English, the different verb endings in Spanish normally indicate who exactly is being spoken about.

As such, you’re generally going to be using ‘soy’ and ‘estoyWITHOUT the subject pronoun –

¡Estoy muy feliz el día de hoy!

I’m really happy today!



Soy una persona bastante orgullosa.

I’m a really proud person.

Rupert’s note – situational ellipses are situations in which it’s NOT necessary to mention someone/something because it’s already obvious who/what you’re referring to from the context


Useful “chunks” with ‘estoy


Estoy aquí

Estoy aquí‘ literally translates to ‘I’m here’.

You’d NEVER say ‘soy aquí’ as you’re referring to a temporary location!

Alfredo – ¿EN DÓNDE ANDAS?

Bella – Estoy aquí, justo en frente de tu casa.



Alfredo – Where are you?

Bella – I’m here, right in front of your house.


You can also use it in a more abstract sense –

No te preocupes, estoy aquí para ti.

Don’t worry, I’m here for you.


Estoy bien

Estoy bien’ means ‘I’m well’ and it’s a phrase that you’re gonna hear A LOT if you spend any time in a Spanish-speaking country!

Soy’ can’t be used here as it refers to a temporary condition (i.e., how the speaker is feeling at that very moment)

Vecino 1 – ¿Cómo estás, vecino?

Vecino 2 – Estoy muy bien, gracias.



Neighbor 1 – How are you, neighbor?

Neighbor 2 – I’m very well, thanks.

Ya estoy

Said on its own, this one means ‘I’m ready’.

But it can also be used with an adjective to mean ‘I’m already …’ (‘I’m already tired’, etc.).

Let’s take a look at a few examples –

Schoolboy saying, "¡Ya estoy!"

Evelia – ¡Vámonos, que se nos va a hacer tarde!

Victor – OK, ya estoy.



Evelia – Let’s go, we’re going to be late!

Victor – OK, I’m ready.


¡Ya estoy harto de este lugar!

I’m already fed up with this place!


Before you go …

Understanding ‘soy‘ and ‘estoy‘ is just the first step!

If you’re planning on mastering the past tense, I highly recommend checking out our article on ‘ESTUVE’ VS ‘ESTABA’ (yep, more conjugations of ‘estar‘!), they’re another couple of words that are oh-so-easy to confuse!

¡Nos vemos allá!

Rupert's lived in Mexico for nearly a decade and has been working as a Spanish teacher for even longer (over 10 years now, wow!). He specializes in simple (yet effective) explanations and is a veritable grammar-whizz.

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