Find Out What Hay Means in Spanish with a Zoo of Examples

There’s a llama in my living room.

Yes, a real llama!

There’s also a cat in my kitchen and a giraffe in my bathroom.

My Spanish-speaking neighbor just showed up to complain about the odd noises and smells and I have to explain the situation. How would I tell him about my little menagerie in Spanish?

Enter hay, a real friend when in need:

Hay una llama en mi salón. (There’s a llama in my living room.)

Hay un gato en mi cocina. (There’s a cat in my kitchen.)

Hay una jirafa en mi cuarto de baño. (There’s a giraffe in my bathroom.)

From these examples, you might get a sense of what hay is used for. So, what does hay mean in Spanish? Read on to learn all about it!

What Does Hay Mean in Spanish? And Why Is There a Llama in My Living Room!?

The Meaning and Use of the Spanish Hay

As you can probably see from the three examples in the introduction, hay can be used to mean “there is.” 

But that’s not all!

Hay also means “there are,” if we’re referring to multiples of something:

Hay unas llamas en mi salón. (There are some llamas in my living room.)

Hay gatos en mi cocina. (There are [some] cats in my kitchen.)

Hay unas jirafas en mi cuarto de baño. (There are some giraffes in my bathroom.)

Hay is basically the impersonal form of the verb haber (to be, to have). Since it’s impersonal, it doesn’t change, no matter the person, the gender or the number we’re using in the sentence.

It can have other (also invariable) forms in other tenses, but once it acquires its form for a particular tense, it never changes. Have a look:

Había una llama en mi salón. (There was a llama in my living room. [imperfect])

Habrá un gato en mi cocina. (There will be a cat in my kitchen. [future simple])

Hubo unas jirafas en mi cuarto de baño. (There were some giraffes in my bathroom. [preterite])

That’s great for learners as it’s one less thing to remember!

We use hay in order to say that something or someone exists in some place.

There are a lot of learners who get a little lost when they first encounter hay because they don’t clearly see the difference between haber and estar. This is actually quite simple, so don’t despair until you finish reading the next section.

Hay vs. Estar

When you studied the difference between ser and estar, you learned that, among other things, estar is used in order to say where a person or object is:

El niño está en el parque. (The kid is in the park.)

Los juguetes están en la caja. (The toys are in the box.)

Las botellas están encima de la mesa. (The bottles are on the table.)

So, if hay is used in order to say that something or someone exists in some place, and estar is used to say where a person or object is, what (if anything) is the difference between them?

The main difference between hay and estar lies in the word “exist.”

When using hay, you’re just stating that a person or object exists somewhere, while when you use estar, you locate a specific person or object (their existence is implicit).

Still lost? Let’s have a look at two examples:

Hay un niño en el parque. (There’s a kid in the park. [existence])

El niño está en el parque. (The kid is in the park. [location])

See the difference?

The first example only tells you about the existence of a kid in the park. It’s an impersonal sentence—it has no subject.

On the other hand, the second example tells you about the location of the kid, a specific kid, and it has a subject (the kid).

If you still have problems remembering both constructions, here they are, broken down into their components:

Sentences with hay: hay + person/object + (place [optional])

Sentences with estar: subject + estar + place

Let’s end this section with another couple of examples:

¿Hay zumo de naranja en la nevera? Sí, hay. (Is there orange juice in the fridge? Yes, there is.)

¿Dónde está el zumo de naranja? Está en la nevera. (Where’s the orange juice? It’s in the fridge.)

Surprise! That last example is another awesome way to see if you need hay or estar. Just ask the sentence a question! If you need to use “is there” or “are there,” you’ll have to use hay in Spanish. If you ask “where,” then estar is what you need to use.

Words That Trigger the Use of Hay in Spanish

Now that you know the meaning of hay and how to use it, we can have a look at the sets of words that trigger it in Spanish.

Bear in mind that seeing these words doesn’t mean you’ll definitely also see hay. They’re trigger words in the sense that if you’re trying to decide whether to use haber or estar, seeing these words means you should probably use haber (that is, hay).

For each trigger word or phrase below, I’ve added examples of both when they lead to the use of hay and a couple of examples of when they don’t.

Trigger fingers at the ready, and let’s go!

1. An indefinite article

The indefinite article is your best friend when it comes to choosing between hay and estar. Why?

Simple: You cannot use hay with a definite article (like “the”), and you cannot use estar with an indefinite article (like “a” or “an”).

They literally exclude each other when it comes to articles, so remember this little but important rule when in doubt!

Un, una, unos and unas (a/one, some) are the perfect companion for hay, and you’ll see them together very often:

Hay un perro en mi jardín. (There’s a dog in my garden.)

En el parque hay una niña perdida. (There’s a lost girl in the park.)

Hay unas monedas en mi cartera. (There are some coins in my wallet.)

Example of an indefinite article not triggering hay:

Unos hombres están preguntando por ti. (Some men are asking for you)

In the above sentence, unos hombres is the subject of the sentence. And since the sentence has a subject, we can’t use hay!

2. A plural without an article

There are times when we can use a plural form without articles.

When this happens and we have hay in the sentence, we’re only talking about the existence of these people or objects. The meaning is similar to the one where the plural indefinite article is used, but without the article we’re being more general and have less idea about the quantity we’re talking about (it could be some, it could be one or it could be 500):

Hay monedas en mi cartera. (There are coins in my wallet.)

En esa bolsa hay naranjas. (There are oranges in that bag.)

Hay libros en la estantería. (There are books on the shelf.)

Example of no article/plural not triggering hay:

Vinieron personas de todo el mundo. (People from all around the world came.)

The people have an action attached to them (they came), so the sentence isn’t just stating their existence.

3. Numbers

Yes, numbers trigger hay!

If you have a look at point one, you can see that the singular indefinite article means “a/one.” If the number one triggers hay, why wouldn’t the rest of numbers do the same?

Just as you can say that there’s a kid in the park, you can say there are 25 kids in a class! Have a look:

Hay dos perros en mi cocina. (There are two dogs in my kitchen.)

Hay cinco niños en el parque. (There are five kids in the park.)

Hay 25 alumnos en la clase. (There are 25 pupils in the class.)

Example of numbers not triggering hay:

Tengo cinco perros y dos gatos. (I have five dogs and two cats.)

Of course, numbers appear often in various situations and don’t always include the use of hay. If the example above was stating that “there are” five dogs and two cats in your house, it’d be a different story…

4. Uncountable nouns

Uncountable nouns are nouns that can’t be counted (what, did you expect something more profound?). They come in many shapes and forms but generally, a great part of the uncountable nouns group consists of powders, liquids and abstract nouns like love, intelligence and peace.

Uncountable nouns do indeed love to appear in sentences together with hay, and the following examples are proof of that:

Hay harina en el suelo. (There’s some flour on the floor.)

¿Hay agua en la nevera? (Is there water in the fridge?)

Hay arroz pero no hay azúcar. (There’s some rice but there isn’t any sugar.)

Example of uncountable noun not triggering hay:

Necesito harina y azúcar. (I need some flour and some sugar.)

Remember that hay indicates the existence (or lack thereof) of something! This example is expressing a need/desire, instead of mere existence.

5. Adjectives of quantity

Finally, there’s a group of adjectives that more often than not trigger the verb hay.

These adjectives are all quantity adjectives, so you could say they trigger hay for the same reason numbers do: because we’re talking about the quantity of people or objects that exist somewhere.

The four main quantity adjectives are:

mucho/a/os/as (a lot, many)

Hay mucha fruta en ese árbol. (There’s a lot of fruit in that tree.)

No hay mucho café. (There isn’t a lot of coffee.)

poco/a/os/as (few, little, a little)

Hay pocos niños en la clase. (There are few children in the classroom.)

Hay poco dinero para comprar comida. (There’s little money to buy food.)

bastante/bastantes, suficiente/suficientes (enough)

Hay bastante comida para dos personas. (There’s enough food for two people.)

Hay suficientes libros para todos. (There are enough books for everyone.)

demasiado/a/os/as (too much)

Hay demasiada comida aquí. (There’s too much food here.)

No hay demasiados bocadillos. (There aren’t too much sandwiches.)

Example of quantity adjectives not triggering hay:

Tenemos poco dinero pero mucho amor. (We have little money but a lot of love.)

This is the last point of the article. Can you figure out by yourself why this sentence doesn’t use hay? (Hint: The English translation begins with “we have,” not “there are/is”!)


And that’s it for today, folks!

Learning how to use hay is not difficult if you bear in mind the difference between haber and estar, and get to know the words that trigger hay. Remember that hay will always appear in impersonal sentences, while estar will always need a subject.

And now go out and cry out loud that Hay una llama en tu salón! (There’s a llama in your living room!).

In the meantime, stay curious, and happy learning!

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe