Essere and Stare are very important Italian verbs. It’s easy to get lost, since sometimes they both mean “to be”
The use of two important Italian verbs essere and stare can generate some confusion with English speakers. The reasons behind this confusion are several.
To be and to stay roughly correspond to essere and stare, but in some cases they do not. You probably learned in your first Italian class that “How are you?” is “Come stai (tu)?”.
- Sto bene / Sto male.
- Sono stanco / Sono felice.
We use adverbs with stare (bene, male) and adjectives with essere (stanco, felice) for expressing a physical or mental condition. Stare in this case is very close to essere.
Stare as to be in a place
- Il cane sta fuori. – The dog stays outside.
- Il cane è fuori. – The dog is outside.
In the first sentence I say that the dog is usually outside, so it needs to stay out; in the second, the dog is outside now. Stare indicates “being” in a place for an amount of time, while essere is just now.
As a side note, quite relevant, in Central and Southern Italy, stare is used quite frequently in sentences where we should use essere. People often say:
- Federico adesso sta a Firenze (instead of è a Firenze).
- Mia madre sta parecchio arrabbiata (instead of è arrabbiata).
- Ci sta un una macchina davanti a casa (instead of c’è).
A rather confusing difference between English and Italian is in the construction of the progressive form:
“I am doing…” VS “(Io) Sto facendo…”. To be (essere) in English, to stay, stare in Italian.
Once you learn the rule, it’s quite easy to remember it.
Finally, a very important and quite overlooked oddity of the Italian language. The past participles of essere and stare (been and stayed) are the same: “stato”.
Io sono stato can mean both “I have been” and “I have stayed” (or I was and I stayed).
All the reasons above can explain why essere and stare are so connected, similar and at first confusing. Apparently the big part of the confusion comes from the use of stare. Let’s look at a few examples.
Stare for expressing behavior
- Sto sempre sveglio di notte. – I am always awake at night.
- I bambini non stanno mai zitti. – Children are never silent.
Stare as imperativo
- Stai zitta! – Be silent!
- State attenti alla lezione. – Stay focused during the the class.
Stare for expressing feelings
- I miei genitori stanno bene. – My parents are fine.
- Tua madre sta in ansia per te. – Your mother is worried for you.
Stare in a place for a period of time
- Sono a casa. (I’m home now)
- Sto a casa. (I stay home, I won’t go out)
In Southern Italy, people would say “sto a casa” to indicate “I’m home now” instead of “sono a casa”. So you don’t have to worry, Italians are confused too.
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