Forms of Estar: Present, Imperfect, & Subjunctive

While we have just one way to say ‘to be’ in English, in Spanish the work is divided between ser and estar. This lesson will focus on how to use the verb estar in the present indicative, imperfect, and present subjunctive.
The Verb Estar
Estar is one of two verbs in Spanish meaning ‘to be.’ When we use the verb estar, we have to conjugate, or change, the verb to match the subject of the sentence. In Spanish, verbs have different conjugations, or forms, for each subject pronoun, like I, you, he or she. To make these different forms, you change the letters at the end of the verb infinitive. We will change the letters ‘ar’ at the end of estar to different endings to indicate who is doing the action and the time of the action – present or past. This lesson will look at three different ways to conjugate the verb estar: the present indicative, imperfect, and present subjunctive.
Present Indicative
In the present indicative, we use the verb estar to describe temporary feelings, such as happiness or sadness, and locations of things. In fact, there’s an easy rhyme that helps you remember when to use estar – ‘How you feel and where you are, always use the verb estar.’
Estar is an irregular verb in the present indicative tense. This means that it doesn’t follow conjugation rules, so you’ll need to memorize the different forms. Also, you usually will not say a separate word for the subject when you use estar because there is a different form of the verb for each subject pronoun. In the chart you can see how the form of the verb is different for each subject pronoun.
Present indicative form of estar Pronunciation Meaning
Estoy ay-stohy I am
Estás ay-stahs you are (singular informal)
Está ay-stah he is / she is / you are (singular formal)
Estamos ay-stah-mohs we are
Estáis ay-stah-eest you are (plural informal)
Están ay-stahn they are / you are (plural formal)
Did you notice that some subject pronouns share the same form of estar? Like está and están? For está you can add the subject pronoun – either él (he), ella (she) or usted (you – singular, formal) – before the verb. This would make it clear to everyone who the subject of the verb is. Están follows a similar pattern. You can add ellos (they – masculine or mixed gender), ellas (they – female), or ustedes (you – plural, formal) before the verb. Adding the subject pronoun before these two forms will make the meaning of your message clear and easy for everyone to understand.
Verbs that are in the imperfect tense always describe the past. They can describe repeated actions in the past, like habits. Any time that you say that you ‘used to’ do something, you want to use the imperfect tense. You also use imperfect verbs to describe mental activities in the past, like thinking or to describe the scene, location or environment where something in the past happened.
For the imperfect tense, you use the forms of estar that you see in the chart. Like we saw with the present indicative, some subject pronouns share the same forms of estar. When you have the same form of estar for more than one subject pronoun, you’ll want to make it clear what the subject is. You can do this by putting the subject pronoun before the form of estar in the sentence. So, if you have the sentence Estaba triste ( _____ was sad), it isn’t clear who was sad. You can make it clear by adding the subject pronoun before estaba, such as Él estaba triste. (He was sad.)
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