Essere and Esserci: The Difference

Essere and esserci are different verbs.

Essere means “to be”. 

Esserci means “to be there”.

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.

For instance,

  • 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.

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 libroOn the table, there’s a book
A sinistra, c’è una piazzaOn the left, there’s a piazza
Sotto il tavolo, c’è un gattoUnder 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 tavoloThe book is on the table
La piazza è a sinistraThe piazza is on the left
Il gatto è sotto il tavoloThe 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 

Interrogative questions

In English, when you ask a question using ‘there’s’ and ‘there’re,’ you make an inversion, saying ‘Is there? Are there?’ In Italian, we don’t have this.

All it takes to ask a question with these forms is to 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?

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”.

For example,

Deve esserci un libro sul tavoloThere must be a book on the table
Dovrebbero esserci le mie chiavi nel cassettoMy keys (there) should be in the drawer

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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