Essere and Stare: The Difference.

In Italian, there are two verbs that have just one equivalent in English: stare and essere. They are not interchangeable, though. 

The good news is that in 95% of the cases, the verb to use is essere. So, when in doubt, use essere! However, there are cases where use stare is expected and mandatory. 

In this article, I clarify when to use essere and especially when it is necessary to use stare

How to use ESSERE

You should use essere to talk about:

Yourself and Your Nationality:

Sono Serena e sono italianaI am Serena and I am ItalianDescribing oneself and nationality

Your Job:

Sono un’insegnante di italiano per stranieriI am a teacher of Italian for foreignersDescribing one’s profession

Origins:

Sono di MilanoI am from MilanDescribing one’s place of origin

Your Physical Appearance and Personality:

Sono alta e sono simpaticaI am tall and I am friendlyDescribing physical appearance and personality

Essere also indicates the state of being and is used to:

Describe Locations:

Roma è una bella città.Rome is a beautiful city.Describing the location of Rome

Describe Objects:

La mia casa è grande e luminosa.My house is large and bright.Describing the characteristics of one’s house

Locate Objects:

Dove è la mia borsa? E’ sulla sedia.Where is my bag? It’s on the chair.Inquiring about the location of an object (bag) and providing the location (on the chair)

Essere is also widely used in combination with “ci” in the verb esserci (c’è/ci sono, in English, there is/there are). Esserci states the existence of someone or something. 

C’è un bambino nuovo a scuola.There is a new kid in the school.Describing the presence of a new student in the school
Ci sono quattro sedie in cucina.There are four chairs in the kitchen.Indicating the number of chairs in the kitchen

How to use STARE

Stare has a variety of uses, some of which are idiomatic expressions. We can generally say that stare indicates location, health, and appearances. It is also used in a good number of idiomatic expressions and with the present continuous tense.

Location

In this case, stare means rimanere (to remain or to stay in English).

Oggi sto a casaToday I’m staying home

Health

Come stai?How’re you?
Sto beneI’m good
Sto maleI’m not good
Sto meglioI’m better

Appearance

Stare bene and stare male mean that something (e.g. a piece of clothing) looks great on you or not. In English you would say “it suits me/you, etc”.

Questa giacca mi sta benissimoThis jacket looks great on me!Describing how something suits someone
Quel cappello ti sta maleThat hat does not suit youDescribing how something doesn’t suit someone

Idioms 

Stare means to be in a variety of idiomatic expressions, as in the following examples:

Stare in piediTo be standing/To stand
Stare sedutoTo be seated
Stare zitto/aTo be quiet
Stare attentoTo pay attention
Stare calmoTo stay calm
Stare a cuoreTo have at heart
Stare conTo be in a relationship with someone

Stare vs. Essere 

In some of the above expressions, stare and essere are interchangeable. There is a subtle difference between them, though. Essere states a quality or a statement, while stare implies a voluntariness in the action described.

sono in piediI standDescribing the state of standing
sto in piediI voluntarily standEmphasizing the voluntary nature of standing
sono sedutoI’m seatedDescribing the state of being seated
sto sedutoI’m voluntarily seatedEmphasizing the voluntary nature of being seated
sei calmoYou are calmDescribing the quality of being calm
stai calmo!Please, try to stay calmEncouraging someone to remain calm voluntarily

The Present Continuous with STARE 

The present continuous describes an action that is happening at the moment that you speak, right now. The present continuous in Italian is expressed by the present tense of the verb stare plus the gerund. 

Sto cucinandoI am cookingDescribing the ongoing action of cooking
Sto parlando al telefono con MariaI am on the phone with MariaDescribing the ongoing action of talking on the phone with Maria

Stare + Per + Infinitive 

When stare appears in combination with per and an infinitive, it describes an action that will happen in the near future.

Italian SentenceEnglish TranslationContext/Explanation
La lezione sta per finireThe lesson is about to finishIndicating that the lesson is reaching its end
Sto per uscireI am leaving at any momentExpressing the imminent action of leaving

About the Author

Serena Capilli

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

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Ciao, I'm Serena!

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

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