Difference between hay, ahí and ay

These three Spanish words may sound very similar to non-Spanish speakers but they have very different meanings:

Hay = there is/there are

Ahí there

¡Ay! = ouch!/ oh!/ ow!

Their spelling is also similar so this can create confusion!

Let's see some sentences with these words in context so the difference is clear:

Hay mucho tráfico hoy.There is a lot of traffic today.

No hay cerveza en la nevera.There isn't any beer in the fridge.

-¿Dónde están mis gafas? -Ahí, encima de la mesa.-Where are my glasses? -There, on the table.

Ahí está Luisa.There's Luisa.

¡Ay! Me duele mucho el estómago.Ow! My stomach really hurts.

¡Ay! ¿Qué haces aquí?Oh! What are you doing here?

  • Hay is the verb in the sentence; it comes from haber. If it's followed by que it indicates obligation.
  • Ahí is an adverb of place, like allí and aquí.
  • Ay is an interjection used generally as an exclamation (with corresponding exclamation marks [¡ !]), indicating surprise or pain.

Hay and ay are pronounced the same but there is more emphasis on ay  because of the exclamation: ¡ay! 

Ahí is not pronounced the same hay and ay. The stress and accent are on the , so it is more recognizable and distinguishable from the other two words because of the emphasis at the end.

Remember that you do not sound the "h" in Spanish. It's very common mistake to mispronounce "hay" as a kind of English "hey!"

See also:

 

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Examples and resources

¡Ay! ¿Qué haces aquí?Oh! What are you doing here?
Hay mucho tráfico hoy.There is a lot of traffic today.
¡Ay! Me duele mucho el estómago.Ow! My stomach really hurts.
Ahí está Luisa.There's Luisa.
-¿Dónde están mis gafas? -Ahí, encima de la mesa.-Where are my glasses? -There, on the table.
No hay cerveza en la nevera.There isn't any beer in the fridge.
I'll be right with you...