top of page

Italian Grammar

When to use STARE and when ESSERE

Profile Portrait

Stare and Essere can be very confusing especially for native English speaker, since Stare is sometimes used when English speakers use the verb to be.


Now you may ask " doesn't Stare mean to stay?" And yes. The answer is yes.

And that's exactly what creates a lot of confusion among Italian language students. In fact, both can be translated with the verb to be. 

These verbs have many similarities and are sometimes (but not always) interchangeable.

There are a lot of rules to learn, and this can not only be confusing but also overwhelming and stressful. I've seen a lot of people trying to explain the difference between these two verbs, and they would just teach all the rules, leaving the student lost.

That's why I have created these simple principles.

So, with today Italian lesson I'll provide an easy and comprehensible explanation of when to use Essere or Avere.

But first, let’s quickly review the conjugation of both verbs:

  • essere: io sono, tu sei, lui/lei è, noi siamo, voi siete, loro sono.

  • stare: io sto, tu stai, lui/lei sta, noi stiamo, voi state, loro stanno.

Uses Of Essere:

Essere is the general one for translating to be. 

So, as we said Essere means literally "to be" and in 95% of the cases when translating from English to Italian the verb you'll have to use will be Essere. 

Simple as that.

We are not going to focus specifically on WHEN to use it because as already said most of the time this is the one and only verb that you must use. There is no need to overwhelm yourself with all the details. 

On the other hand, I think that, knowing when to use Stare is one of the most effective and easiest ways to really get and remember the difference between the usage of both verbs.

Uses Of Stare:

Stare is the special one for some SPECIFIC CASES

Stare is also widely used in Italian. We’ve said before that it literally translates as “to stay”, and occasionally as the verb “to be”, which may confuse a lot of students. 

There are three cases that need stare. Let's take a look at them:

1) When talking about HEALTH in general.

Think about how you would ask "how are you?" in Italian. You probably know how to say it, which is Come stai?.

Maybe you learned it without really asking yourself why in this case you put stai with is second person conjugation of STARE. 

This is because the question "how are you?" is referring to a general condition of wellness. You are not asking if the person is sick. You are just interested to know about his or her general health.

Let's see some examples:

  • Come stanno i tuoi nonni? – How are your grandparents?

  • Non sta bene. – He's not feeling well                you have to use stare since you don't know what he has. The only thing that you know is that he is not feeling well (general statement)

It is never "SONO bene". It is Sto bene  

Keep in mind: 

Essere doesn’t want an ADVERB AFTER (well, bad...), but needs an ADJECTIVE (sick, happy, confused....)

  • I’m well (adverb, generic)       

                   Sto bene


  • I’m ill (adjective, specific)

           Sono ammalato

2) When talking about STAYING in a place as in REMAINING THERE for a while.

So, in this case:  TO STAY = TO REMAIN for a predetermined amount of time 


  • Sto a Venezia per 2 giorni – I’m in Venice for 2 days (I’m staying in Venice for 2 days)

  • Stiamo in albergo stanotte – We are staying in a hotel tonight

Here tonight, two days are setting the amount of time the person is remaining in that specific place.

3) When talking about something that’s happening right now or a work in progress


  • Sto leggendo un libro – I'm reading a book


Keep in mind: 

NEVER, EVER use “ESSERE” when making the present progressive (-ing form)

  • Stanno preparando la cena – They are making dinner

Let’s review the 3 cases where you must use STARE:

1) When talking about HEALTH in general

2) When talking about STAYING in a place as in REMAINING THERE for a while.

3) When talking about something that’s happening right now or a work in progress

That's the guideline that will help you speak more correctly in Italian.

These are not all the rules, but as I said you don't need them. Trust me! You'll grasp all the different and subtle nuances while you'll progress with your learning, but to start, this is all you really need.


Now in class try to keep in mind the situations where each rule is used and pay attention to the use of essere vs stare by our native teachers. You can also ask them why they used that particular expression if you have doubts. Don't be shy!! That way you will be able to always pick the correct word in the correct context. 

A phrase: Top 3 cases that need stare and the teacher with a red dress
  • I’m not well (adverb, generic)

       Non sto bene / Sto male

  • I’m healthy (adj, specific)

                  Sono sano

Join our REAL-TIME Italian online course

Enrollment are now opened. Limited spots left. Hurry!!

Get CELI class preparation for free by enrolling to one of our regular courses

bottom of page