Hay in Spanish: The Complete Guide to What It Means and How to Use it

There’s a llama in my living room.

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 must explain the situation. How would I tell him about my little menagerie in Spanish?

Well, here’s a hint: you’ll need to use the verb hay.

But what does hay mean in Spanish?

In this blog post, you’ll learn how to use hay in Spanish correctly, the difference between hay and estar, see example sentences and much more.


The Meaning and Use of the Spanish Hay

Hay Means “There Is”

We use hay to say that something or someone exists in some place. In other words, hay means “there is.”

For example:

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

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

Hay una jirafa en mi baño. (There is a giraffe in my bathroom.)

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

It can have other forms in other tenses but never changes.

For example:

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 baño. (There were some giraffes in my bathroom. [preterite])

Hay Also Means “There Are”

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 vs. Estar

Many learners get lost when first encountering hay because they don’t understand the difference between haber and estar.

When you studied the difference between ser and estar, you learned that estar is used to say where a person or object is, like:

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

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

So, if hay is used to say that something or someone exists, and estar is used to say where a person or object is, what’s the difference?

Hay = A person or object exists somewhere

When using hay, you’re just stating that a person or object exists somewhere. But when you use estar, you locate a specific person or object.

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])

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

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, this is what they look like when 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.)

Words That Trigger the Use of Hay in Spanish

Certain words give you a hint that you should use hay in your sentence.

But keep in mind that seeing these words doesn’t mean you’ll definitely also see hay.

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

1. An indefinite article

The indefinite article is your best friend when choosing between hay and estar.

This is because you cannot use hay with a definite article (like “the”), and you cannot use estar with an indefinite article (like “a” or “an”).

Un, una, unos and unas (a/one, some) are the perfect companions 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.)

An example of an indefinite article not triggering hay is:

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.

Without the article, we’re being more general and aren’t specifying the quantity (it could be some, it could be one or it could be 500).

For example:

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.)

Here’s an 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

Just as you can say 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 veinticinco 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.)

4. Uncountable nouns

Uncountable nouns can’t be counted (what, did you expect something more profound?).

Most uncountable nouns consist of powders, liquids and abstract nouns like love, intelligence and peace.

Uncountable nouns 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 an 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

Quantity adjectives trigger hay more often than not.

They trigger hay for the same reason numbers do: we’re talking about the number of people or objects that exist somewhere.

The four main quantity adjectives are:

1. 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.)

2. 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.)

3. bastante /s, suficiente /s (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.)

4. demasiado /a/os/as (too much)

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

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

Example of quantity adjectives not triggering hay:

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

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”!)


Learning how to use hay isn’t difficult if you remember the difference between haber and estar, and get to know the words that trigger hay.

Remember that hay always appears in impersonal sentences, while estar needs a subject.

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

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

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe