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Which of the three Spanish is words (ser, estar, haber) should be used when talking about the God's existence?

And is there any difference between speaking about the existence of any (pagan) gods, or about the existence of the only God of the monotheistic religions?

Which is the correct Spanish is in the following sentences (and why)?

  1. Is there a god?

  2. Is there the God in the heaven?

  3. There is no God, we are alone.

(The meaning of the sentence 2 is not asking the God's location!)

Is it analogical to talking about gas stations in the following example?

  1. ¿Hay una gasolinera cerca de aquí?

  2. ¿Está la gasolinera Repsol YPF cerca de aquí?

Note: I am aware of the existence of existir :) I am trying to understand better the difference between the three to be words.

  • You may add to your list the word existir (unless you already have considered, of course). – Rodrigo Dec 16 '15 at 11:43
  • @Rodrigo: I am aware of existir, but I am trying to understand better the difference between the three to be words - and this is a nice context to help understand. – Honza Zidek Dec 16 '15 at 11:44
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    One possible issue with this is that you'll enter a philosophical difference. The three words could be used to differentiate between three possible existences of God. In philosophical texts, the exact term used can change the meaning even if in common-day use they are synonyms. But this is not an answer and doesn't help you any further to be honest. Just thought that might be worth to take note of – Dylan Meeus Dec 16 '15 at 13:06
  • @DylanMeeus: it may be quite interesting if you try to work out your comment as an answer with small explanation what philosophical meaning each of the 3 to-be-words would have. Plus adding what would common Spanish-speaking people chose in the common dialogs. Like in a pub discussion: "Do you believe in God?" "No, I personally think there is no God." – Honza Zidek Dec 16 '15 at 13:19
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haber is used to talk about the existence of something, with that thing being a direct object. So if you could imagine yourself rewriting with existir, then haber is generally what you'll want to use. Note two small but important differences

  1. the thing in question is the direct object with haber, but the subject with existir
    • ¿Hay unas manzanas por ahí? Sí, las hay.
    • ¿Existen unas manzanas por ahí? Sí, existen(ellas).
  2. existir can be used with definite or indefinite things, but haber requires indefinite
    • ¿Existe la fuente de la juventud? (bien dicho)
    • ¿Existe una fuente de la juventud? (bien dicho)
    • ¿Hay la fuente de la juventud? (mal dicho)
    • ¿Hay una fuente de la juventud? (bien dicho)

Notice that if you reference God (definite, e.g. el Dios) you won't be able to use haber. But if referencing god(s), which can be used indefinitely, then you can use haber:

  1. ¿Hay un (o algún) dios?
  2. ¿Hay un (o algún) dios en el cielo?
  3. No hay (ningún) dios/es, estamos solos.

You'll use algún to be more generic, otherwise, hay un dios means is there one god, as opposed to is there a god. You'll generally want to use either ningún or pluralize dios unless you give other attributes.

You can use ser in the pronominal form serse to mean haber/existir but it's incredibly old fashioned and these days you only here it at to start a story: érase una vez, but you could theoretically — but I absolute do not recommend — say, for instance, ¿Se es un dios? or ¿Esse un dios?, neither of which would probably be recognized by most Spanish speakers today.

Notice the differences, though, if we use the other verbs:

  • ser
    1. ¿Es un dios?
      Is he/she/it a god?
      ¿Es Dios? (note capitalization)
      Is it God?
      ¿Es (el/un) dios [adj./sust.]?
      Is the/a god [adj./noun]?
    2. *¿Es el/un dios en el cielo?
      (not grammatical, unless we finish the sentence like, ¿Es el dios en el cielo un ser espiritual? or something)
    3. No es Dios …
      He/she/it's not God
      No es ningún dios …
      He/she/it's no god …
      No es el Dios …
      He/she/it's not the God …
  • estar
    1. ¿Está un dios? Is a god (here)?
      ¿Está Dios?
      Is God (here)?
      ¿Está el dios?
      Is the god here?
      ¿Está un dios [adj.]?
      Is a god [adj.]? (etcétera)
    2. ¿Está un/el dios en el cielo?
      Is a/the god in the sky/heavens?
      ¿Está Dios en el cielo?
      Is God in the sky/heavens?
    3. No está ningún/el dios …
      A/the god isn't (here) …
      No está Dios …
      God isn't (here) …

Also, you might want to note that there are other verbs that can be used to mean to be, including tener, hacer, and resultar.

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  • Thanks for your detailed answer. Still I do not understand that: can you say ¿Hay Dios? (capitalized, in the meaning of Is there the (Christian) God?) and No hay Dios in the meaning of There is not such thing as the (Christian concept of) God? Could you please add it to your answer? – Honza Zidek Dec 18 '15 at 14:31
  • @HonzaZidek no, you can't, because Dios is definite (you can't ask ¿Hay Juana?, for instance). Other definite forms like el dios, este dios, ese dios, aquel dios, or mi dios — whether capitalized or not — cannot be used here because they all are definite). un dios, algún dios, muchos dioses are all indefinite, and could be used. – user0721090601 Dec 18 '15 at 14:36
  • What sounds strange to me is that the atheist shall use different verbs for something which to me is exactly the same concept! To Christians: No es Dios. To pagans: No hay dioses. – Honza Zidek Dec 18 '15 at 14:41
  • Sorry, No está ningún/el dios … and No está Dios are just so wrong. Also the order in the questions verb + subject is rather Spanglish. – c.p. Jun 8 '16 at 21:53
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    @c.p. "¿Dónde están los dioses?" "Los dioses están en el monte Olimpo" "Pues no, ningún dios está en el monte Olimpo, todos están en el río Nilo". ¿Sabes dónde está Dios? Pues, Dios está en el cielo", "No, no está Dios en el cielo, está aquí en nuestros corazones". Also, VSO is the standard question order in Spanish, so I'm not sure how you feel that makes them Spanglish. Only Caribbean Spanish is generally known for SVO ("¿Cómo Vd. está?"). – user0721090601 Jun 9 '16 at 2:48
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We would use the verb ser. Ser is the verb used for existence "Dios es = God exists". When using "estar", it is used for the situation, the incident or the appearance.

Furthermore when we speak about the presence of God "God is here", would use the verb estar, though in medieval times the verb "ser" was used. (To indicate his omnipresence, and I don't think this is really wrong because of this reason).

Haber would be used when speaking about (the concept) god. Not God (The specific diety). But I fear that this might be different in Spanish use of the three verbs, and maybe even interchangeable as they don't attach a philosophical value to the words. But this is speculation of my part, a native Spanish speaker should correct me on this.

As for your three examples. I would use.

  1. ¿Hay un dios

  2. ¿Hay un dios en el cielo'

  3. No hay dios (general gods).

About three, you can't say "There is no God" and talk about the specific entity, the sentence would not make sense. That sentence, when denying the existance of one specific god, would become something to the affect of "God does not exist", and then I would use the exister verb.

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  • Disagree on number two. The correct form would be "¿Hay un Dios en el cielo?" If asking about his existence or "¿Está Dios en el cielo?" if asking about his location – spiral Dec 16 '15 at 15:13
  • @spiral that is actually in the answer, but I made a distinction between God and god. You seem to not make that distinction, and as I mentioned in my answer, I think many people would not necessarily make the distinction. I stand by my answer for number two though. (Note that your suggestion is in my answer, but does not mean the same thing) – Dylan Meeus Dec 16 '15 at 15:38
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    @DylanMeeus it's not so much a question of a distinction between [gG]ods?. en el cielo is a location, and thereby uses estar. Portuguese would permit that use of ser, but not Spanish. – user0721090601 Dec 16 '15 at 16:44
  • I would most certainly not use «¿Es Dios en el cielo?» for “Is there a God in heaven?”... I would use «¿Hay/existe un Dios en el cielo?»; also, in most variants of Standard American English, we don’t use “the heaven,” with the article, unless it’s in plural (“the heavens”). We use “heaven is a beautiful place”/“God lives in heaven” and “the sky looks beautiful/he lives in the sky.” – TeachingTom Dec 16 '15 at 18:38
  • It's an archaic construction. Ser was used for location in medieval Spanish. It would thus not surprise me to find it in a religious context. But I will remove that part from my answer. Thanks guys – Dylan Meeus Dec 16 '15 at 19:28

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