I have seen different words used in Spanish expressing the meaning of "be, to be".

El océano es azul. (The ocean is blue)
Estoy enojada. (I am angry)
Fue por la lluvia que me mojé. (It was because of the rain that I got wet)
Hay pimientos en la nevera. (There are peppers in the refrigerator)
En invierno hace frío. (It's cold in winter)
Tengo 20 años. (I'm 20 years old)

I'm confused because in English there's only one word be, while there's extra words for the same meaning and with the same(?) usage. Is there any rules for choice or do I pick one at random/preference? More importantly, what's the usage of ir, haber, hacer and tener?

Treating the title as an exception, please don't post an answer full of Spanish or I'll have trouble understanding it.

  • I think this question shoud be tagged as duplicated because the most common questions in this forum are about differences between SER and ESTAR verbs.
    – Jdamian
    Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 10:23
  • Probably the most relevant questions is spanish.stackexchange.com/questions/19836/…
    – mdewey
    Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 10:27
  • There seems to be something of value: expressions translated as 'to be' with tener etc.
    – Mörkö
    Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 11:36
  • 1
    I agree with @walen, we already have a question about the differences between "ser" and "estar", and the answer is quite a long one, imagine if we also add other verbs. So you can refer to that question for the first two verbs in the list, and then maybe center your question in when to use "haber", "hacer" or "tener". It will be even better if you ask for a particular verb at a time. But bear in mind that such questions may already been asked here, so try to search for them first. I sincerely encourage you to ask as many questions as you want.
    – Charlie
    Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 19:09
  • The last three sentences are all special idiomatic uses of their verbs. You just have to learn them. With time you'll get used to them. Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 1:54

2 Answers 2


The literal translation of the verb "to be" can only be done with the verbs "ser" or "estar", depending on context. In some of your examples it was not translated into any of those two, but in others like "hacer" or "tener". The reason is we are not actually doing a literal translation in such cases, but giving a different sentence that expresses the same idea but from another point of view.

Let's look at your examples one by one.

El océano es azul. (The ocean is blue)

You are describing how the ocean is in terms of color. It is its natural color. If the sea had a different one in a specific point of time, like when he is almost black due to oil spilled on it, you could say "el mar está negro", and not "el mar es negro", because it is not always black.

Estoy enojada. (I am angry)

She uses the verb "estar" and not the verb "ser" because she is not angry all the time, only in a limited period of time. It is a mood that could change.

If you tell a woman "eres linda", that means she's generally cute (linda). On the other hand, if you say "estás linda", it means that she is cute at that moment, and if you consider her always cute, "estás linda" means that at that moment she is more than normal, perhaps because of the way she is dressed, the make-up, etc.

Fue por la lluvia que me mojé. (It was because of the rain that I got wet)

By your comments I see that you already realized it. The word "fue" is in this case conjugation of the verb "ser" and not of the verb "ir", so there is nothing strange about the translation.

Hay pimientos en la nevera. (There are peppers in the refrigerator)

Both "there is" and "there are" are translated into "hay" in indicative mode, and into "haya" in subjunctive, which are conjugated forms of the verb "haber". If we did a literal translation, we should write them as "allí está" or "allí están" respectively. But in Spanish we express those ideas with the verb "haber".

En invierno hace frío. (It's cold in winter)

In the English example you use the verb "to be" because you are describing how the climate is. In the Spanish one you use the verb "hacer" because you are referring to the effect that the climate makes or produces on an individual. We could also say: "El clima es frío en invierno". Here the confusion is due to what I mentioned at the beginning: sometimes, in the different languages, we express the same ideas in different senses, and the same thing happens in the following example.

Tengo 20 años. (I'm 20 years old)

In Spanish, the used verb is "tener = to have" because we say how many years we accumulated. I's like if we had those years, our existence owns them. The way to ask the age would be literally translated into English as "How many years do you have?"

Now let me put another example:

Estoy en el parque. (I'm at the park)

Here we cannot use the verb "ser". The distinction here is no longer due to the period of time, but to that when I mean the place where I am, I must use the verb "estar". "Estar" refers to being located.


The difference between ser and estar is a confusing one. I hope a native can explain this better. There is also a third verb translated as to be. Roughly:


  • To be located
  • To be in a mood
  • To be in a state (eg. dead or alive)
  • To seem, to evoke feeling

Haber in the forms hay / haya:

  • There is / are


  • If not otherwise specified, use ser.

The rest of the verbs you quoted don't mean to be in their general sense but can be translated as to be in the specific contexts you gave.


  • To do
  • To make


  • To have

And finally, the verbs ser and ir have the same preterite. In the example you gave, fue is an inflection of ser.

  • As a Spanish learner of Finnish origin, I feel you: we don't have a distinction between 'to be', 'there is' and 'have' at a verb level. We use 'olla' and different cases.
    – Mörkö
    Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 6:14
  • Didn't even notice that! ir and ser have the same preterit and subjunctive imperfect/imperfect 2/future conjugation!
    – iBug
    Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 6:24
  • My dictionary keeps directing me to ir when I'm looking for fui / fue. Great discovery!
    – iBug
    Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 6:26
  • I believe it to be the only example of such a combined tense. The other forms you mentioned follow from the preterite.
    – Mörkö
    Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 6:27
  • Though no, the futures are not the same. Eg. the first person singular seré vs iré. EDIT: mea culpa, didn't read that right. The subjunctive futures do match.
    – Mörkö
    Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 7:13

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