How to use ‘hay’ in Spanish

How to use ‘hay’ in Spanish

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Updated October 25, 2023

Hay in Spanish means “there is” or “there are.” The word is used to describe the existence of something. If it sounds simple, that’s because it is! Sometimes things are actually easier to say in Spanish than in English, and hay in Spanish is one of those times.

Spanish has only one word for the singular and plural phrase “there is/are.” This is straightforward enough, though you should be careful not to confuse phrases that use hay with phrases that use estar (to be) for locating things.

In this guide, we’ll explain how to use hay grammatically and review a few examples to help you practice.

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What does ‘hay’ mean in Spanish?

Hay is the present, impersonal third-person singular conjugation of the verb haber

Haber is an auxiliary verb in Spanish. It doesn’t have a direct translation on its own, but it generally means “to have.” Early Spanish speakers used the word tener (originally only meaning “to hold”) when referring to something one is in possession of, and they used haber (“to have”) solely as an auxiliary verb. In this form, hay is used as an impersonal way to say “there is” or “there are.”

Today, we use this impersonal form of hay to indicate the existence of something. Typically, hay communicates information to a person who didn’t know of its existence. For example:

En el mundo hay millones de personas. In the world there are millions of people.
En el banco hay mucho dinero.In the bank there is a lot of money.
Hay bastantes opciones de transporte. There are plenty of transportation options.
Hoy me di cuenta de que hay un parque lindo allí. Today I realized that there’s a pretty park there.

Hay in Spanish can also be used to ask about the existence of something. For example:

¿Hay un parque allí?Is there a park there?
¿Hay un baño aquí cerca?Is there a bathroom near here?
¿Hay animales peligrosos en el bosque?Are there dangerous animals in the forest?
¿Qué hay en tu maleta? What is in your luggage?

How to pronounce ‘hay’ in Spanish

Pronouncing hay in Spanish should be quite easy for native English speakers.

Hay in Spanish is pronounced like “eye” in American English. It also sounds like the American English pronunciation of the word “I,” as in the phrase “me, myself and I.” Simple!

Estar vs. haber

Let’s differentiate between está and hay in Spanish. 

Está (it is) is the third-person singular of the verb estar (to be). Now is a good time to review the difference between ser (to be) and estar (to be)

Estar is used to describe the position or location of something or someone. Hay in Spanish is used to talk about the existence of something. Here are some examples:

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Spanish (existence)Spanish (location)English
¿Hay un baño?Sí, está en el segundo piso a la derecha.Is there a bathroom?
Yes, it’s on the second floor to the right.
¿Hay animales peligrosos en el bosque?No, todos los animales están en las montañas.Are there dangerous animals in the forest?
No, all the animals are in the mountains.

Using ‘haber’ in the past and future

We can also conjugate haber in past and future tenses. In these cases, we also use it in the singular third person:

habíathere was (imperfect past)
hubothere was (preterite past)
habráthere will be (future simple)

Whether you should use había or hubo depends on the context of the sentence. These represent the imperfect and preterite past tenses of Spanish, which are used to talk about the past in different ways.

Let’s look at examples of past and future forms of haber to describe existence:

Hubo una gran despedida en la empresa.There was a (one-time) big layoff at the company.
Había mucha gente en el concierto.There were a lot of people at the concert.
Habrá una fila larguísima para comprar boletos.There will be a very long line to buy tickets.
¿Habrá un buffet en la conferencia?Will there be a buffet at the conference?

Describe things with ‘hay’ in Spanish

On a daily basis, you will likely use hay in Spanish to describe a place or a situation. Switch things up by discussing the future and the past along with the present. With practice, you will learn to describe your day by saying, “Hubo mucho tráfico esta mañana” (There was a lot of traffic this morning) or something similar. With just a few ways to conjugate haber in this context, it’s a very simple but useful word in Spanish.

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Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Turkish. Her consulting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.

Alison Maciejewski Cortez
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