Essere and stare are two important Italian verbs which have many similarities and are sometimes (but not always) interchangeable.
What creates a lot of confusion among students of Italian language is the fact that, in some cases, both can be translated with the verb to be.
In this article we’ll see when it’s appropriate to use one or the other and all the differences you need to know about Essere vs Stare.
Uses Of Essere
Essere literally means “to be”, while stare translates as “to stay”. However, the latter is sometimes used when English speakers use the verb to be. So let’s learn how to differentiate them, starting with essere. In Italian, the verb essere is used in all these cases:
Essere to express feelings
Same as in English, you use the verb essere before an adjective to say that you’re happy, angry, sad and so on
- Sono felice – I’m happy
- Maria è arrabbiata – Maria is angry
- Luca e Paolo sono tristi – Luca and Paolo are sad
Essere to tell where you’re from
- Sono italiano/americano/spagnolo – I’m Italian/American/Spanish
Essere to describe someone or something
You use essere to describe someone physically and also for his/her personality traits:
- Laura è bella/intelligente/estroversa – Laura is beautiful/smart/outgoing
- Questo libro è nuovo – This book is new
Essere to say where something is located
You use essere to say where someone or something is located
- Marco è a scuola – Marco is at school
- Roma è in Italia – Rome is in Italy
Essere to talk about one’s profession
- Mio padre è avvocato – My father is a lawyer
- Luca è medico – Luca is a doctor
Esserci to express the presence of something
Whether it’s abstract or not, you can express the presence of something or someone with the forms “c’è” (there is) or “ci sono” (there are):
- C’è tanto lavoro da fare – There’s a lot of work to do
- Ci sono molti libri sul tavolo – There are may books on the table
Esserci to check if something is clear or not
For instance, during a lesson or an explanation:
- Ci sei fin qui? – Are you following me?/ Is it clear so far?
Sì, ci sono – Yes I am (it’s clear)
Essere to tell the date or time
- Che ore sono? – What time is it?
Sono le dieci – It’s ten o’ clock
Essere to form compound tenses
Essere is used as an auxiliary, followed by the past particle of the acting verb, when forming all compound tenses, for example in the passato prossimo, futuro anteriore . Essere is always used as an auxiliary with reflexive verbs and intransitive verbs.
- Ieri non sono andato in ufficio – Yesterday I didn’t go to the office
- Ti sei pettinato i capelli? – Did you comb your hair?
Essere means to be. But occasionally you can find that the verb stare is used in Italian when English uses to be, too. Let’s see why.
Uses Of Stare
Stare is also widely used in Italian. We’ve said before that it literally translates as “to stay”, and occasionally as the verb “to be”, which may confuse some students. Stare is used in the following situations:
Stare to ask someone how he or she is
- Come stai? – How are you?
Sto bene, grazie – I’m fine, thank you
Stare to say where someone is
You can use stare to indicate where someone is located or will be located:
- Questo weekend starò a Napoli – I’ll be in Naples this weekend
- Tuo figlio è grande abbastanza per stare a casa da solo – Your son is old enough to stay home alone
Stare to say where something is located
- L’ufficio di Andrea sta in centro città – Andrea’s office is downtown
Stare to form the continuous tense
Stare is used together with some verbs to form the continuous tense:
- Che stai facendo? – What are you doing?
- Dove stai andando? – Where are you going?
- Luca sta studiando – Luca is studying
Stare to form the imperative mood or express an invitation
Stare is used together with some adjectives such as “solo”, “calmo”, “zitto”, “tranquillo”, to invite someone to act in a certain way or to do something:
- Sta’ zitto – Be quiet
- Stai tranquillo – Don’t worry
- Vorrei stare solo – I’d like to be alone
- State calmi – please calm down
Stare to describe or talk about someone’s health
- Sta molto male – He’s really sick
- Ieri avevo la febbre, oggi sto molto meglio – Yesterday I had a fever, today I feel (I am) better.
Stare to describe a position
- Stare in piedi troppo a lungo fa male alla salute – Standing for too long is bad for your health
Stare to mean “to fit”, “to suit”
Stare can be used as a synonym for the verbs “to fit”, “to suit”:
- La macchina è già piena, un’altra valigia non ci sta – The car is already full, there’s no room for another suitcase
- Questa giacca mi sta benissimo – This blazers suits me well
Stare to say that you agree to do something
Stare can be used to agree to someone’s plan, meaning “I’m in”.
- Andiamo al cinema, vieni? Sì, ci sto! – We go to the cinema, are you coming? Sure, I’m in!
Stare + infinitive: to indicate that someone is about to do something
The combination of stare + infinitive means that someone is just about to do something. For instance:
- Sto per andare al supermercato. Ti serve qualcosa? – I’m about to go to the supermarket. Do you need anything?
Stare to form the present continuous
You can form the present continuous by using stare + the gerundive of the acting verb:
- Luca sta mangiando – Luca is eating
- Dove stai andando? – Where are you going?
Stare to say “leave it”
In Italy the sentence “lascia stare” is used a lot, meaning “don’t do it”, “leave it”, or “it’s not necessary”.
- Nel pomeriggio vado a fare la spesa. Lascia stare, sono andata io stamattina
I’m going to do grocery shopping today. Leave it, I went this morning
- Ti serve aiuto? Lascia stare, riposati pure
Do you need help? It’s not necessary. Take a rest
Are Essere And Stare Interchangeable?
So far you can tell that there are some situations where you only use essere, and others where you must use only stare. Sometimes you can either pick one or another, but most of the times, they are not interchangeable. Let’s clarify how to use them.
You can pick one or another when talking about the location of someone or something.
- Casa mia è in centro / casa mia sta in centro
My home is downtown
- I tuoi occhiali sono in cucina / I tuoi occhiali stanno in cucina
Your glasses are in the kitchen
When telling where someone is, you can choose either essere or stare and they both mean “to stay”, “to be located”, “to remain”
- Luca è a casa oggi / Luca sta a casa oggi
Luca is at home today
- Dalle 8 alle 13 sono a scuola / Dalle 8 alle 13 sto a scuola
I stay at school from 8 until 1pm
Use of Stare to indicate willingness
In some sentences, it is grammatically correct to use either stare or essere, but the meaning will be different. The subtle difference is that essere indicates a state, while stare can indicate voluntariness in the action described. An example to better understand this concept is the following:
- Sono in piedi / Sto in piedi
In the first sentence you’re just describing your position (standing up), while in the second you’re implying that you are voluntarily standing. Let’s imagine you are in a crowded room, looking for your friend, but you can’t find him. You call him and tell him:
- Sono in piedi al centro della sala – I’m standing in the middle of the room
Here you are just describing where you are and what you are doing, for a purpose (to let your friend find you). On the contrary, let’s imagine a friend invites you to his home for a party, but there are not enough chairs for everyone and he stands up to allow you to sit. You say:
- Non importa, sto in piedi – It doesn’t matter, I’m standing
The difference is that in this example you will use stare to highlight that you are voluntarily standing (you want to be polite, allowing your friend to sit).
When You Can’t Use Stare Instead Of Essere
Essere (to be) is used to indicate a state. You use essere to identify yourself or others. You must use essere to tell where you’re from, to tell what’s your job and to describe people, places or things. In all these cases, it’s unacceptable to use stare. For instance:
- Sono di Roma – I’m from Rome
- Sono un insegnante – I’m a teacher
- Luca è molto alto – Luca is very tall
- Parigi è bellissima – Parigi is very beautiful
- Questo libro è interessante – This book is interesting
You have no choice but essere when talking about the time and date too.
- Sono le diciotto
It’s 6 pm
- Oggi è lunedì
Today is Monday
These cases are quite easy to understand, because English uses the verb to be too. You can’t use stare here, because the verb stare actually means “to stay”. So why Italians sometimes use stare where English speakers use “to be”?
When You Can’t Use Essere Instead Of Stare
Stare is always used with bene (good, well), male (not good, not well), meglio (better), or peggio (worse), when you are describing somebody’s health.
- Come sta tua sorella? Sta meglio, grazie
How is your sister? She’s better, thanks
The verb stare has a more transitory meaning when indicating a condition. You must use stare to talk about one’s health (sto male – I’m ill) or to tell where someone is located in a certain moment.
- Ieri stavo molto male, oggi va meglio – Yesterday I was really ill, today I’m better
- Non mi piace stare a casa da solo – I don’t like staying home alone
In these cases, stare is required because the action is temporary. When you say “Sto male” (I’m ill), you know won’t be ill forever. The same happens when you talk about staying home alone, you use stare to highlight that it’s a transitory condition.
When talking about your health or inquiring about someone else, you must ask “come stai” and not “come sei”.
The first actually means “how are you?”, while the second sentence is never used to ask how someone feels, rather to ask how they look like (e.g: how tall/thin/fat they are).
We’ve seen that stare is also used to mean “to suit”, “to fit”. In all these cases you can’t use essere.
- Quel vestito arancione non mi sta bene
That orange dress doesn’t suit me
It’s also important to remember that stare vs essere are not interchangeable when constructing the present continuous, which is only formed by stare + the gerundive of the acting verb. Here, you cannot use essere, like English does.
- Sto andando al cinema – I’m going to the cinema
- Marco sta leggendo – Marco is reading
Regional Uses Of Stare vs Essere
No Essere vs Stare comparison would be complete without talking about the regional uses of these two verbs. We’ve seen how to choose among them properly, however, people speaking dialects tend to prefer one over the other.
You can sometimes hear that stare is used more often in some parts of Italy, even in sentences that normally require essere.
For instance, the Roman dialect uses stare a lot. Stare is always chosen instead of essere when talking about the location of objects, places or people.
- ‘Ndo stai? (Dove stai?)
Where are you?
Stare is widely used especially in southern regions. The most common situation is to use stare before adjectives, when essere would be required. For instance:
|Regular use with “essere”||Regional use with “stare”|
|Sono stanco – (I’m tired)||Sto stanco|
|Sono nervosa – (I’m nervous)||Sto nervoso|
|Sono contento – (I’m happy)||Sto contento|
|Sono arrabbiato – (I’m angry)||Sto arrabbiato|
These are just a few examples; there are many other adjectives which are used together with stare in southern dialects. Stare is especially used with adjectives describing someone’s mood or mental conditions.
- Stai arrabbiato?
Are you angry?
- Lascialo perdere, oggi sta nervoso
Leave him alone, today he’s nervous
Regional uses of essere and stare are widely accepted and people will still be able to understand, however, in more “formal” context you cannot mix them up.
It is not difficult to choose between essere vs stare once you understand the different situations where they are used.
Stare means “to stay”. Sometimes, it means “to be” too. Essere means “to be” or “to exist”.
Stare is the preferred choice in some regions. But keep in mind that dialects are different from standard language. In case you have doubts, always refer to the rules we presented.
Keep in mind the situations where each word is used and pay attention to the use of essere vs stare by native speakers. That way you will be able to always pick the correct word in the correct context.