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How do you say I am in Spanish?

How to say I am in Spanish depends on what type of word or phrase follows the phrase I am. For nouns and adjectives:

  • when it is followed by an adjective describing your "state"— tired, sad, happy, busy, old, fat etc— then usually the Spanish word "I am" is estoy: for more information, see the ser; estar tutorial for more information and an interactive exercises;
  • when it followed by (a) a noun or noun phrase (e.g. I am his uncle, I am a client), or (b) an adjective that describes a "characteristic" rather than a state (e.g. nationality— I am English), then the usual Spanish word for "I am" is soy: so I'm English is soy inglés;
  • ser is also generally used with professions, but without un(a): soy profesor = I'm a teacher; soy estudiante = I'm a student.

When followed by a verb ending in -ing ("I am working"), then there are two common translations in Spanish:

  • to say what you're doing now, you use estoy plus a form of the Spanish verb called the gerund, which for a regular -ar verb is formed by changing -ar to -ando (so from the verb trabajar, to work, to "I am working" becomes estoy trabajando in Spanish)— for more information, see the section on continuous forms in Spanish;
  • to say what you're doing in the future, Spanish uses the simple present tense, which for the "I..." form generally ends in -o: so "I'm working tomorrow" would be trabajo mañana.

How do you say I was in Spanish?

Saying I was is a little bit more complicated in Spanish, because there are essentially two words for to be (ser and estar), plus two main past tenses (preterite and imperfect). So that gives no less than four possible combinations for the simple phrase I was! The four forms look as follows:

Different forms for I was in Spanish
(characteristic, profession)
("I used to be..."; "at that moment I was...")
cuando era niño
when I was a child
antes era professor y ahora soy plomero
before I was a teacher but now I'm a plumber
Feedback Suggest a change / Cambios sugeridos
estaba muy cansado
I was really tired
estaba viendo la tele cuando...
I was watching TV when...
Feedback Suggest a change / Cambios sugeridos
(when specific duration/endpoint mentioned)
fui professor durante 10 años
I was a teacher for 10 years
Feedback Suggest a change / Cambios sugeridos
estuve cansado todo el día
I was tired all day
estuve viendo la tele toda la noche
I was watching TV all night

As these examples show, the process for choosing between them is generally as follows:

  • make the choice between ser and estar as above (ser is always used with a noun; estar is used with many "state" adjectives like "tired", but not with nationality);
  • if there's a specific period of time and/or end point mentioned such as "for X years" (durante X años), "all night" (toda la noche) etc, then usually the preterite is used;
  • otherwise, where we're not really "viewing the specific endpoint" of your tiredness, profession etc, the imperfect is usually used.

A clue as to when to use the Spanish imperfect forms (estaba, era) is that you can replace was with used to be, or that you can insert "at that moment", as in "I was watching TV (at that moment) when he came in". For a translation of I was, these are probably the more common forms.

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