Essere and Esserci: The Difference
Essere vs. esserci
Essere and esserci are different verbs.
Essere is the infinitive verb (the stem verb) meaning “to be”.
Esserci is the infinitive verb of the common forms “c’è” and “ci sono“, which state the presence and existence of something or someone. They express the idea of being in place.
- Nel giardino, c’è un albero di mele – In the garden, there is an apple tree
- Nel giardino, ci sono molti fiori – In the garden, there are many flowers
A common mistake I hear is to default to the use of c’è for both plural and singular. This error, I believe, stems from the fact that it is very common in spoken American English to use both “there’s” for singular and plural nouns, which is wrong in Italian.
In Italian we use “c’è” only in front of singular nouns, and “ci sono” in front of plural nouns.
When to use “esserci” in a sentence?
Esserci is simply the infinitive form of the forms “c’è” and “ci sono”. It’s not used very often, although it often appears in conjugation with the modal verbs “deve = it has to/must” or “dovrebbe = it should”.
- Deve esserci un libro sul tavolo – there must be a book on the table
- Dovrebbero esserci le mie chiavi nel cassetto – my keys (there) should be in the drawer
È vs c’è
There’s a clear difference between è and c’è and they can’t be interchanged.
” È”means it is and “c’è” means there is (and ci sono means there are)
However, sometimes it’s confusing to understand when to use one or the other.
This is a simple rule to keep in mind whenever you’re in doubt
If the first bit of information in a sentence is the position of something or someone, you should use the “c’è” or “ci sono”
- Sul tavolo, c’è un libro – on the table, there’s a book
- A sinistra, c’è una piazza – on the left, there’s a piazza
- Sotto il tavolo, c’è un gatto – under the table, there’s a cat
If the information about the position is provided but not in the initial part of the sentence, you shouldn’t use the forms “c’è” or “ci sono”.
- Il libro è sul tavolo – the book is on the table
- La piazza è a sinistra – the piazza is on the left
- Il gatto è sotto il tavolo – the cat is under the table
The negative forms
To make the negative forms of esserci just place a “non” before “c’è” and “ci sono”.
- Non c’è – there is not, there isn’t
- Non ci sono – there are not, there aren’t
In English, when you’re asking a question with there’s and there’re, you’re making an inversion and saying “is there? Are there?. In Italian, we don’t have this.
All it takes to ask a question with these forms is to simply raise the pitch of your voice, as in Italian we formulate questions only with the use of intonation.
C’è and ci sono stay at the beginning of the question.
- C’è un bagno qui? – Is there a restroom here?
- C’è un bancomat qui vicino – Is there an ATM nearby?