As you probably noticed by now, if you want to become a master at conjugation, eventually you just have to memorize each irregular verb in the preterite tense. Today we’re looking at how to conjugate the estar preterite tense. Luckily, it’s one of the easier verbs to conjugate, but it still takes a bit of time and effort to get it down completely.
So in this article, we’ll take the opportunity to review how to use the verb estar in Spanish, as well as master its conjugation in the preterite.
The Spanish verb estar simply means “to be”. Of course, the main problem that Spanish learners come across is understanding how to differentiate the verb estar from ser. Since they both mean “to be”, it can be a bit complicated sometimes.
In a general sense – you can consider estar to describe temporary conditions, locations, or states. This means things like emotions, feelings, and current location.
It’s not a perfect definition. There are a lot more factors (and exceptions) that play into this confusing differentiation, but it’s a good guideline if you’re a beginner. But don’t worry! Little by little, you’ll turn into a pro at the language.
Need some help on the difference between ser and estar? Check out our ultimate guide on Ser vs Estar.
Estar Present Tense Conjugation
It’s a good idea to start with the basics. Let’s review the estar conjugation in the present tense so there’s no confusion before moving on to more complicated tenses.
Here we have the estar conjugation chart for the present indicative tense. Pay attention to the fact that in the indicative mood, the Spanish verb estar is irregular in just about every conjugation form.
|Tú / Vos||Estás|
|Él / Ella / Usted||Está|
|Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes||Están|
Besides the fact that the yo form is completely irregular – it’s also important to pay attention to the accent marks! Él/ella está is perfectly fine, but Él/ella esta most likely isn’t correct.
Estar Preterite Tense Conjugation
So now that we’ve had our quick review, let’s move on to the point of today’s lesson – the estar preterite tense.
|Tú / Vos||Estuviste|
|Él / Ella / Usted||Estuvo|
|Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes||Estuvieron|
The good news – NO accent marks!
That’s always a cause for celebration. However, there are some peculiarities that we should keep in mind. The estar conjugation will change its stem in the preterite tense from est- to estuv-.
So when we memorize the estar preterite tense, it’s important to not make mistakes like yo esté or tú estaste but rather yo estuve and tú estuviste.
Notice something else? The endings also aren’t the same ones as for other AR verbs. In other words – estar is just completely irregular and you’ll have to memorize it separately.
Luckily, some verbs follow a similar pattern (i.e., andar). So it’s not a complete lone wolf!
Past Subjunctive Mood
Before we move on to the uses of estar, we should do another review of the past subjunctive. There’s an obvious connection between the pretérito perfecto simple and the past subjunctive.
Since the preterite and the subjunctive share a similar root, it’ll save you some struggling later on if you work on both at the same time.
Even if you don’t think you’re ready to take on this tricky grammar concept just yet, it’s worth the effort to take a few moments to memorize this past tense conjugation. And later on, you can focus on the meaning.
|Yo||Estuviera / Estuviese|
|Tú / Vos||Estuvieras / Estuvieses|
|Él / Ella / Usted||Estuviera / Estuviese|
|Nosotros||Estuviéramos / Estuviésemos|
|Vosotros||Estuvierais / Estuvieseis|
|Ellos / Ellas / Ustedes||Estuvieran / Estuviesen|
What’s the first thing you noticed? All past subjunctive forms have the same stem from the third-person singular preterite.
So since we say él / ella estuvo, we use that same estuv- root to conjugate estar in the past subjunctive.
The great news is that by learning this rule for one conjugation, you’re learning something you can apply to practically any verb. So Spanish grammar doesn’t always need to be so difficult!
How to use Estar in the preterite tense
Now we can move on to real practice. Let’s look at specific ways to use estar in the preterite tense. In general, estar means “to be”, but only in certain situations. But we’ll also see some expressions where you can use estar in Spanish in ways you might not have expected.
Let’s look at some examples of the different ways you can use estar in the preterite tense.
The first time you can use estar is when you’re referring to a specific location. In other words, you’re describing where something was. Just make sure that usually, in order to use the estar preterite tense conjugation, you’ll probably need some sort of time marker – otherwise, you might need to use the imperfect.
- ¿Dónde estuviste anoche? – Where were you last night?
- Estuvimos en Lisboa por una semana. – We were in Lisbon for a week.
As you can see, in both of these – you’re talking about where you were.
Notice the usage of por in the second one? Since you’re talking about time duration, we use por and NOT para.
State / Condition
This explanation is definitely the most complicated for Spanish learners. Whenever we have a temporary state or condition, we tend to use estar to describe it. So when you want to describe a feeling or a state in the past, you can use estar. But just like in the last example, it’s usually accompanied by a time marker.
- El lunes estuve muy cansado porque no había dormido bien. – On Monday I was really tired because I hadn’t slept well.
- El mes pasado, la peluquería estuvo cerrada por vacaciones. – Last month, the hair salon was closed (on vacation).
So in both cases, we’ll need a time marker to make the preterite tense necessary. So if the states/conditions are temporary, you can use estar in the preterite tense.
With a gerund
This last use of estar is definitely the least common – but it’s important to know that it’s completely possible. When you use estar in the preterite tense followed by a gerund, you can express an ongoing action for a specific period of time. Let’s look at some examples quickly:
- Ayer estuvieron corriendo durante 3 horas – Yesterday, they were running for 3 hours.
The reason this is less frequently used is because oftentimes, you’ll just use the second verb (the gerund one) in the preterite tense instead.
However, using estar + gerund highlights the ongoing connotation. So, it’s a small difference – but nonetheless, an important one to understand!
Expressions with estar
Estar is a fairly common verb, and like any other Spanish verb like this – you’ll find it’s used in a lot of Spanish expressions. It’s always a great idea to remember some common expressions so you can sound like a native!
So all of these expressions can use this irregular verb in the preterite tense, or in just about any other tense. So stay on the lookout!
Estar de + Noun
To be on (noun)
- Estuvo de vacaciones en julio – He was on vacation in July
Los profesores estuvieron de guardia – The teachers were on (playground) duty.
This is a great structure to turn any noun into an adjective!
Estar en la luna
To have your head in the clouds
- Ese niño estuvo en la luna, nunca presta atención – That boy had his head in the clouds, he never pays attention.
A great vocabulary word that has the same meaning: despistado.
Estar hecho polvo
To be worn out
- Estuve hecho polvo anoche. Después de trabajar tanto, solo quería dormir – I was worn out last night. After working so much, I just wanted to sleep.
Estar al tanto
To be on top of it
- Esa chica es muy trabajadora, siempre está al tanto – That girl is a hard worker, she’s always on top of it.
You’re now officially a master at using the estar conjugation! This irregular verb is far from simple, so it definitely takes some practice to get it under control. But once you’re able to practice it a bit more, you’ll be speaking Spanish like a native.
Congratulations on working your way through another one of these tricky irregular preterite tense conjugation articles!
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