Difference between STARE and ESSERE

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 –

  1. Identity – Io sono Carla. (“I am Carla”)
  2. Profession – Egli è un professore. (“He is a professor.”)
  3. Origin – Noi siamo di Milano. (“We are from Milan.”)
  4. Religious or political affiliation – Tu sei cattolico? (“You are Catholic?”)
  5. Time of day or date – Sono le otto. (“It is 8 o’clock.”)
  6. Possession – La casa è di Giovanna. (“It is Giovanna’s house.”)
  7. Nationality – Sono Italiano. (“I am from Italy.”)
  8. Physical aspects or characteristics of something – Le sedie sono verdi. (“The chairs are green.”)
  9. Essential qualities of something or someone – Sono vecchio. Sei antipatico. (“I am old. You are unpleasant.”)
  10. 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.”)
  11. Condition or emotion that is subject to change – Sono malato. (“I am sick.”)
  12. 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 –

  1. Idiomatic sentences – Sto bene. (“I am well.”)
  2. Idiomatic sentences – Sto male. (“I feel bad.”)
  3. Location – La sedia sta in cucina. (“The chair is in the kitchen.”)
  4. 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.

27 thoughts on “Difference between STARE and ESSERE

  1. Can you really say that “essere” is for permanent conditions and “stare” for temporary? Look at all of your examples, and you’ll see that it isn’t that simple. You can also say “sono qua/qui” “I am here” even though it isn’t a permanent condition. Unfortunately, so many instructors of Romance languages use this “simple” rule, but it isn’t really true. Thank you anyway.

    1. Thanks so much for your interasting comment.
      First of all it’s a post for beginners, it means that in every language, not only the Italian one, students need simple but true rules. Then at an advanced level, they can learn how to manage the exceptions.
      Second, I can really assert that “essere” is for permanent condition and “stare” for temporary. Io sono qui means “I’m here till you watch at me” so express a permanent condition (“permanent” doesn’t mean “till the end of the world”), Io sto qui means “I’m here, but in few minutes I’ll be in another place, no matter if you’ll watch at me or not”, so temporary.
      Thanks for your comment anyway and please, do not forget that Romance instructors do not exist, no one can teach perfectly a language, but tutors can help to understand better it with simple rules and tips.

      1. I also liked your reply. I found your blog very informative. Nevertheless, I am still struggling with essere (permanent) and stare (temporary). I think, that definition works perfect for Spanish (Ser/Estar) but not at all in Italian (in despite of the common exceptions in any language). Maybe, it might help if we “classify” some Italian adjectives as “temporary”? Could you tell me please, what would be those “temporary” adjectives? (Male, contento?). Grazie!

  2. I agree with Memoria’s comment.

    I am Spanish and I’m living from 3 months in Italy, and when I was just arrived I had lot of troubles to understand the difference on using Essere/Stare.

    The example you wrote above is quite proper for the Spanish language; there we use always “Estar” for temporary actions and “Ser” for permanent situations. So in spanish it´s easier to understand them, but for learning the Italian way, I seriously reccomend to memorize each action with its respective auxiliar verb.

    Thanks anyway for the help.

  3. Ciao Serena,, A pleasure to find a blog for italian.. I am italoAmerican and studied in Perugia many years ago. I retain a lot but want to remember more.
    I read you above lesson on stare and essere” and comfortable using the verbs. One question.. when you used example..:( la sedia sta in cucina ).. isn’t it more proper to write: ( la sedia sta nella cucina )? I was taught to always use articles before nouns.. Giacomo/Jim

  4. Thanks so much for this explanation .. I find it really difficult to understand when to use essere & when to use stare, some times it seems completely random. The way I make sense of it, is to think of stare as helping describe what’s happening *now*, or in some particular moment (sto bene, stiamo cuocendo, or even a moment in the past, such as stavo mangiando, etc) .. whereas essere seems more general. Which is probably way too simplistic, but seems to help a little.

  5. Per piacere, when using the continuous tense (-ando, endo), do you always use “stare”? For example, to say, “We are entering” do you say “Stiamo entrando” or “Siamo entrando” or are they both correct? Grazie!

  6. I find your blog interesting. Thank you for your informative blog post, it helps me a lot especially for me as beginner in learning italian.

    I want to ask about passato prossimo. For example, La mia zia è arrivato. or La mia zia è andata. I want to ask which one is correct?

  7. when speaking in the past, how do I know the difference and the use between stare and the essere (imperfetto), ero, era. (I know that in the past stare is conjugated with essere., as I show in my eg.Yes no?)
    eg. the statue was built last year. La statua e` stato costruito l`scorso anno.(is correct I know.) Why not la statua era costruito l`anno scorso? How do I know when to use one or the other?
    Jack La Spina

    1. The difference is the same as for the present.
      La statua è stata costruita l’anno scorso. In this case we use stare because the action of “building the statue” is already finished.

  8. Hi, Serena. I really like your blog and explanation of this topic for essere/stare. As I’m more native in Portuguese and Spanish and I feel that essere is much used than stare with exception of greetings. I’ve tried to understand the use of stare because most of expressions I use in verbs ‘estar’ of Portuguese/Spanish I find in Italian for essere. Thanks and auguri!

  9. Many thanks!
    How do I access your blog to ask a question? I googled “Serena Italian Blog” and I couldn`t get it ( got a lot of very nice Italian “narratives”.)Found your answer quite accidentally
    Italian question: I still get occasionally confused when conjugating the PP in the past as to the use of essere or avere. I know most verbs are conjugated with avere(transitive) and most remaining verbs(intransitive )are also conjugated with avere, and the “remainder” are conjugated with essere(eg motion or change of status etc) and I have to “memorize” the list of them. But if I`m not sure, is there a way to distinguish? The dictionary? And see which are VT or VI and then sort out the ones that are VI if they are avere or essere? Any help is appreciated.
    Jack La Spina

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