Now it’s time to explain the differences between essere and stare. Essere means “to be” or “to exist”, while stare usually means “to stay” but can be used where English idiomatics use “to be”. The rules are summarized here:
Essere is used to indicate more permanent aspects of people or things, such as -
- Identity – Io sono Carla. (“I am Carla”)
- Profession – Egli è un professore. (“He is a professor.”)
- Origin – Noi siamo di Milano. (“We are from Milan.”)
- Religious or political affiliation – Tu sei cattolico? (“You are Catholic?”)
- Time of day or date – Sono le otto. (“It is 8 o’clock.”)
- Possession – La casa è di Giovanna. (“It is Giovanna’s house.”)
- Nationality – Sono Italiano. (“I am from Italy.”)
- Physical aspects or characteristics of something – Le sedie sono verdi. (“The chairs are green.”)
- Essential qualities of something or someone – Sono vecchio. Sei antipatico. (“I am old. You are unpleasant.”)
- Location – La sedia è in cucina. (“The chair is in the kitchen.”), but also, more rarely – La sedia sta in cucina. (“The chair is in the kitchen.”)
- Condition or emotion that is subject to change – Sono malato. (“I am sick.”)
- Personal observations or reactions, how something “seems” or “feels” – La cucina è pulita. (“The kitchen is/ seems clean.”).
Stare is used to indicate precise locations, in idioms and as auxiliary, such as -
- Idiomatic sentences – Sto bene. (“I am well.”)
- Idiomatic sentences – Sto male. (“I feel bad.”)
- Location – La sedia sta in cucina. (“The chair is in the kitchen.”)
- Continuous tense – Sto correndo. (“I am running.”).
The above lists of when to use essere and stare have to be memorized – using them incorrectly means you will be less likely to be understood, and people will definitely know you are not a native speaker. The same goes for the conjugations of essere and stare. Every Italian verb has a conjugation, and memorizing them just goes along with learning the language.