ESSERE vs. STARE. What’s the difference?
In Italian there are two verbs have just one equivalent in English: stare and essere. They are not interchangeable, though. Let’s start by saying that in 98% of the cases, the verb to use is essere. However, there are cases where using stare is expected and mandatory. In this article, I clarify when using essere and especially when it is necessary to stare .
Essere indicates the state of being and it used to identify:
- yourself and your nationality: sono Serena e sono italiana.
- your job: sono un’insegnante di italiano per stranieri.
- origins: sono di Milano.
- physical appearance and personality: sono alta e simpatica
- describing locations: Roma è una bella città.
- describing objects: la mia casa è grande e luminosa.
- locating objects: dove è la mia borsa? E’ sulla sedia
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 ragazzo nuovo a scuola – there is you a new kid in the school
- Ci sono quattro sedie in cucina – there are four chairs in the kitchen
Stare has a variety of uses, some of those are idiomatic expressions. We can generally say that stare indicates location, health, appearances. It is also used in a great deal of idiomatic expressions and with the present continuous.
In this case stare means also rimanere (to remain, to stay in English)
- Oggi sto a casa – today I stay home
- come stai?
- sto bene
- sto male
- sto meglio
Stare bene and stare male mean that something (e.g. a piece of clothing) is looking great on you or not. Other possible translations into English are to suit, to fit.
- Questa giacca mi sta benissimo – this jacket looks great on me!
- Quel capello ti sta male – that hat does not suit you
Stare means to be in a variety of idiomatic expressions, as in the following examples
- Stare in piedi – to be standing
- Stare seduto – to be sitting
- Stare zitto/a – to be quiet
- Stare attento – to pay attention
- Stare calmo – to stay calm
- Stare a cuore – to have at heart
- Stare con – to be in a relationship with someone
In some of the above expressions, stare and essere are interchangeable. There is a subtle difference between them, though. ESSERE would state a quality or being a statement, while STARE would rather indicates a voluntariness in the action described.
- sono in piedi – I stand / sto in piedi – I voluntarily stand
- sono seduto – I sit / sto seduto – I voluntarily sit
- sei calmo – you are calm person (quality) / stai calmo! – please, try to stay calm (voluntarily)
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 cucinando – I am cooking
- Sto parlano al telefono – I am on the phone with Maira
STARE PER + INFINITIVE
When stare appears in a sentence in a combination with per and an infinitive, it describes an action that will happen in the nearest future.
- La lezione sta per finire – the lesson is about to finish
- Sto per uscire – I am leaving any moments