È stato vs. era: Which one to choose?

Passato Prossimo vs. Imperfetto of essere

If you’re learning Italian as a native English speaker, you might be wondering when to use è stato or è stata versus era.

È stato/a is the third person singular of the passato prossimo tense of the verb essere, meaning “it was” or “it has been.”

Era is the third person singular of the imperfetto tense of the verb essere, meaning “it was” or “it used to be.”

Both the passato prossimo and the imperfetto refer to past actions, but they are used in different ways.

è stato / è statait was / it has been
erait was / it used to be
sono stati / sono statethey were / they’ve been
eranothey were / they used to be
è stato vs era

Comparison: passato prossimo vs. imperfetto (è stato vs. era)

Example:

ll viaggio in Sardegna è stato bellissimo. 
The trip to Sardinia was wonderful
Le spiagge erano bellissime, il clima era stupendo e il cibo era molto buono.
The beaches were beautiful, the weather was wonderful, and the food was very good.
Passato prossimo: a specific, completed action occurred in the past.Imperfetto: a description of the setting and background to the specific event.
è stato vs. era

Passato Prossimo vs. Imperfetto: The Difference Explained

Passato Prossimo:

  • Usage: used to describe a complete past action that occurred at a specific point in time, such as two days ago, last night, three years ago, last year, twenty years ago, in 2020, and so forth. It answers the question “What happened?”
  • Example: Ti ricordi la vacanza che abbiamo fatto in Sardegna nel 2024? È stata bellissima.Do you remember the vacation we took in Sardinia in 2024? It was wonderful.

Imperfetto:

  • Usage: To answer the questions “What was it like?” or “What used to happen?”
  • Example: “La spiaggia era bellissima!” (The beach was beautiful!). Here, the imperfetto sets the scene by describing the ongoing state of the beach.

More practical examples

La festa di compleanno di Luca è stata indimenticabile. La casa era piena di amici, la musica era alta e tutti erano felici.
complete event in the past = passato prossimo description of the context / setting = imperfetto
è stato vs era

Il concerto dei Coldplay è stato fantastico.Il palco era enorme, le luci erano spettacolari e il pubblico era entusiasta. 
complete event in the past = passato prossimo description of the context / setting = imperfetto
è stato vs. era

on.

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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