Essere vs. stare
Both essere and stare are very common verbs in Italian. Sometimes, it is hard for English speakers to differentiate them and to use them correctly.
What makes it confusing is the fact that, in some cases, they can both be translated with the verb “to be”.
However, there are a few rules you need to know to avoid this confusion. Once you get the difference, you will be able to use them correctly.
Before we go into more details, let’s quickly review the conjugation of both verbs:
- essere: io sono, tu sei, lui/lei è, noi siamo, voi siete, loro sono.
- stare: io sto, tu stai, lui/lei sta, noi stiamo, voi state, loro stanno.
For now, just have a look at some sentences and see if you can tell the difference:
Laura è molto intelligente.
Laura is very intelligent.
Loro sono spagnole.
They are Spanish.
Mia mamma non sta bene.
My mum is not feeling well.
Sto facendo i compiti.
I’m doing my homework.
Essere + adjective
1. Essere can be used to express someone’s feelings, personality, and physical characteristics.
This is why we need an adjective which, as you might already know, needs to agree with the subject in terms of gender and number.
Perché sei triste?
Why are you sad?
Maria e Letizia sono molto alte.
Maria and Letizia are very tall.
Mia sorella è molto furba.
My sister is very cunning.
2. Essere can also be used to describe something’s condition or quality.
Il computer è nuovo.
The computer is new.
Quella penna è blu?
Is that pen blue?
3. Essere can also be used to talk about someone’s nationality, religion, ethnicity, ideology, origin, and identity.
Mio papà è turco.
My dad is Turkish.
Karim è arabo.
Karim is an Arab.
Essere + location
Essere can also be used to express where someone or something is.
Sei in Argentina?
Are you in Argentina?
Io sono a Barcellona.
I’m in Barcellona.
Stare + adverb
Stare is used to ask or express how someone is feeling. In the latter case, it is followed by an adverb like bene, male, meglio, etc.
A: Come stai?
A: How are you?
B: Sto molto meglio, grazie.
B: I’m much better, thanks.
Practice with QuizletHere's a set of flashcards and quizzes to practice this grammar topic.
Stare + gerund
We also use stare to form the present continuous. Stare is followed by a gerund, that word that ends in –ndo (the equivalent of -ing words in English) like mangiando, correndo, leggendo, etc.
A: Cosa state facendo?
A: What are you doing?
B: Io sto guardando la TV e Marco sta cucinando.
B: I’m watching TV and Marco is cooking.
Stare can also be used to express the imminence of an action or event, as in “it’s about to rain”.
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