Essere (to be) in the present tense: Italian grammar lesson 1


Unlock the secrets of the Italian verb essere with our guide! Dive into its essential uses, from describing characteristics to expressing origins, and master the art of Italian conversation with ease. 🇮🇹✨

  • Describing Characteristics: Use essere when you’re painting a picture with words about people, places, or things. It’s all about those adjectives, folks! 🎨
  • Origin Stories: Whether you’re from Milan or Mars, essere + di is your go-to for sharing where you or something else hails from. 🌍
  • Nationality Pride: Flaunt where you’re from with essere + nationality. It’s like wearing your country’s flag, but with words. 🚩
  • Claiming Possessions: That’s my gelato! Use essere to stake your claim on what’s yours. Possessives have never been so easy. 🍨
  • Conjugation Is Key: Essere is irregular, so toss out those regular verb rule books. Memorize its unique forms to avoid sounding like a lost tourist. 📚
  • Drop the Pronouns: In Italian, verbs often show who’s doing what, so feel free to ditch those pronouns and sound like a local. 👋
  • Compound Tenses: Get cozy with essere as an auxiliary verb. It’s the backbone of many tenses, so you’ll want this verb in your corner. 💪
  • Practice Makes Perfect: Dive into those free lessons and get chatty with an AI tutor. The more you use essere, the more natural it’ll feel. 🗣️
  • Essere vs. Stare: Don’t mix up essere with its cousin stare. Know when to use each to avoid awkward mix-ups. 😬

My thoughts

When to use Essere in Italian

Essere, o non essere, questo è il dilemma.”

Do you recognize that phrase?

It’s the translation of what Hamlet said: “To be or not to be, that is the question”.

Before we go into more detail, it’s essential that you know when we use the verb essere in Italian:

  • To describe someone/something
  • To talk about someone’s origin/nationality
  • To indicate possession

Let’s get started!

Why learn the auxiliary verb Essere

Learning the essere conjugated form is essential if you want to learn Italian because it is the most common verb (together with avere).

Essere is an auxiliary verb, meaning it can be used to form other verb tenses.

Because Essere is an irregular verb, you’ll have to memorize all of its forms.

But don’t worry—once you understand how compound tenses are formed, you’ll be halfway there.

Let’s look at the irregular conjugations of the verb essere and how it’s used in everyday Italian phrases.

The essere’s finite moods

In Italian, there are four moods: indicative, subjunctive, conditional, and imperative.

Conjugation in the Indicative Mood

The indicative mood is composed of eight tenses: four simple tenses, and four compound tenses. It is used to express certainty that an action happened or that it will happen.

Essere conjugation: the present tense

As mentioned before Essere follows an irregular conjugation, – this means that you can’t apply the rules of regular verbs when conjugating essere, but you need to learn it by heart.

Let’s first see how we conjugate the irregular verb essere in the present tense:

Io sono I am
Tu sei You are
Lui/lei è He, she is
Noi siamo We are
Voi siete You are
Loro sono They are

In Italian, unlike in English, we don’t always use a personal pronoun (io (I), tu (you), etc.) with a verb.

We don’t need it because the verb indicates who we’re referring to.

If we do use it, we sound like a textbook.


A: Sei inglese?
B: Are you English?

A: No, sono scozzese.
B: No, I’m Scottish.

Learn more about Italian verb conjugation.

Practice with Quizlet

Here's a set of flashcards and quizzes to practice this grammar topic.

When to use essere?

As we said, we use essere a lot.

In fact, we probably say it hundreds of times a day, like English speakers use the verb “to be” without realizing it.

Isn’t it true? 😉

For general descriptions

We use essere to describe people, objects, and places.

When we describe something or someone we usually talk about their characteristics, like color, personality, age, shape, size, etc.

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How to Learn Languages Fast

This is why, in this case, we usually use the verb to be followed by an adjective, like in the examples below:

Mia sorella è simpatica.

My sister is fun.

Quel fiore è rosa.

That flower is pink.

To indicate the city of origin

When we want to say which city a person or object is from, we use the following structure essere + di. For example:

Io sono di Milano.

I am from Milan.

Il dottore è di Bologna.

The doctor is from Bologna.

To indicate nationality

When we want to talk about the country of origin of someone or something, we use essere + nationality. For example:

Luca è francese.

Luca is French.

A: Di dove sei?
B: Sono tedesco.

A: Where are you from?
B: I’m German.

To indicate possession.

We use the verb essere to talk about possessions.

Here are two examples:

Questo è il cane di Lucia.

That is Lucia’s dog.

Questa è la mia borsa.

This is my bag.

For more practice, check out the free preview of the first 10 lessons of the course.

Check also the Irregular Past Tense of the verb essere and the difference between Essere and Stare.

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How do you conjugate the verb essere in the present tense?

Essere is an auxiliary verb, meaning it is used to create other verbal tenses. Essere is also irregular, so you'll need to memorize all of its forms.

Is essere to be?

Essere, and its conjugation are fundamental parts of Italian grammar. The most common word in the language has the meanings of "to be," "to exist," and "to be from somewhere" when used with the preposition di. Its applications match those of English.

What verbs take essere in Italian?

Intransitive verbs that take the auxiliary essere are the verbs of movement, reflexive verbs, pronominal verbs, and impersonal verbs.

Italian word of the day
Hai voglia di fare una passeggiata?
Do you feel like going for a walk?
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10 Responses

    1. Ciao Anna! To say “He lives in Rome” in Italian, you would say “Lui vive a Roma”. The verb “vivere” (to live) is used here, not “essere”. Remember, “essere” is typically used for descriptions, origins, and possessions. Hope this helps! If you have more questions, don’t hesitate to ask. Keep up the good work with your Italian!

    2. Ciao Anna, to say “He lives in Rome” in Italian, you would say “Lui vive a Roma”. Here, we’re using the verb “vivere” (to live) instead of “essere” (to be). Remember, “essere” is used for descriptions, origins, and possessions. Keep practicing and don’t hesitate to ask if you have more questions!

    3. Ciao Anna, to say “He lives in Rome” in Italian, you would say “Lui vive a Roma”. The verb “vivere” (to live) is used here instead of “essere”. Keep practicing and don’t hesitate to ask if you have more questions!

    1. Ciao Anna! To say “He is from Rome” in Italian, you would say “Lui è di Roma”. Here, “Lui” means “He”, “è” is the third person singular of the verb “essere” (to be), and “di” is used to indicate origin. So, “Lui è di Roma” translates directly to “He is of Rome”. Italian is a beautiful language, isn’t it? Feel free to ask if you have more questions. Keep practicing!

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