Conjugations of stare and essere in Italian passato prossimo

I'm confused about the exact difference between the verbs stare and essere in Italian, and how to conjugation each in the passato prossimo. Googling seems to indicate that they are conjugated identically in that tense -- is that right?

April 14, 2017

  • (1) The main purpose of essere is to describe the subject of the sentence by means of an adjective or a noun, answering the questions "how is (the subject)?" or "what is (the subject)?":

La penna è rossa. = The pen is red.

Il cavallo è un mammifero. = The horse is a mammal.

Unlike most other verbs, essere does not describe an action. It belongs to the small group of so-called copular verbs, which act as a link ('copula' in Latin) between the subject and an adjective (called an adjectival predicate) or a noun (nominal predicate).
When whatever follows essere stands after a preposition, it is called a prepositional predicate:

Il libro è per te. = The book is for you.

Il suo amico è con lei. = Her friend is with her.

So essere never takes an object, neither direct nor indirect.

  • (2) A second purpose of essere is to indicate the position or location of someone or something, answering the question "where is (the subject)?":

Il giornale è sul tavolo. = The newspaper is on the table.

Il mio amico è a Berlino. = My friend is in Berlin.

A more formal verb with the same meaning is trovarsi (reflexive conjugation):

Il giornale si trova sul tavolo. = The newspaper is on the table.

Il mio amico si trova a Berlino. = My friend is in Berlin.

  • (3) A third purpose of essere is to act as an auxiliary, in forming the compound tenses of several intransitive verbs:

Paolo è venuto. = Paul has come.

Maria è uscita. = Mary has gone out.

Sua sorella era partita. = His/Her sister had left.

Stefano sarà tornato. = Stephen will have returned / might have returned.

  • (4) A fourth purpose of essere is to act as an auxiliary in forming the passive voice of verbs (remember that only transitive verbs can form the passive voice).
    Also the verb venire can be used with the same purpose, in place of essere.

Paolo è invitato. / Paolo viene invitato. = Paul is invited.

Sua sorella era aiutata. / Sua sorella veniva aiutata. = His/Her sister was helped.

Stefano sarà visto. / Stefano verrà visto. = Stephen will be seen.

Stare can mean either "to stay" or "to be".

  • (1) When it means "to stay", it answers the question "what does (the subject) do?"

La domenica sto a casa. = On Sundays I stay at home.

A similar verb with the same meaning is rimanere:

La domenica rimango a casa. = On Sundays I remain at home.

  • (2) A second purpose of stare is to indicate the position or location of someone or something, answering the question "Where is (the subject)?".

·····[edited 29 Aug 2017]·····

Stare can be used when the location of the subject is permanent or habitual:

Il Colosseo sta a Roma. = Il Colosseo si trova a Roma. (formal) = The Colosseum is in Rome.

L'automobile sta in garage. = The car is in the garage.

Paolo sta a Firenze. = Paul is in Florence. (informally, this can also be understood as "Paul lives in Florence", instead of using the proper verb vivere)

For this meaning, essere is considered a synonym of stare, so the two verbs overlap.

Instead, if the sentence expresses an occasional location, essere sounds more proper, while stare is considered informal; its use is common in the centre and south of the country, whereas in the north it is sometimes frowned upon as ungrammatical:

(Io) sto qui. (informal) = (Io) sono qui. (proper) = (Io) mi trovo qui. (formal) = I am here (temporarily).

Maria sta a Torino. (informal) = Maria è a Torino. (proper) = Maria si trova a Torino. (formal) = Mary is in Turin (temporarily).

Il libro sta sul tavolo. (informal) = Il libro è sul tavolo. (proper) = Il libro si trova sul tavolo. (formal) = The book is on the table.


Il libro sta sullo scaffale. = The book is on the shelf.

would be considered as correct as

il libro è sullo scaffale.

because the shelf is the natural place where a book belongs
[reference: Treccani dictionary, meaning no.5a]

·····[end of edited part]·····

  • (3) The construction stare + an adjective or an adverb can indicate a static attitude:

Il ragazzo sta seduto. = The boy is sitting.

Il ragazzo sta in piedi. = The boy is standing.

Il ragazzo sta sdraiato. = The boy is lying.

Il ragazzo sta in ginocchio. = The boy is kneeling.

The same construction is possible with the verb essere. The difference is that when stare is used, the attitude is described as a stative (still) action, while with essere it is described as a condition:

il ragazzo sta seduto. = The boy is sitting.  (literally, 'is staying seated' → an action)

Il ragazzo è seduto. = The boy is sitting.  (literally, 'is seated' → a condition)

  • (4) Stare is commonly used to express and/or to enquire about health conditions expressed by means of an adverb, and takes a meaning of "to be" or "to feel":

Come stai? = How are you?

Sto bene (male, meglio, etc.). = I am fine (ill, better, etc.).

When general conditions are expressed by means of an adjective, though, only essere can be used:

Sono stanco (malato, nervoso, etc.). = I am tired (ill, nervous, etc.).

  • (5) Stare is used as an auxiliary in the progressive form of all verbs, followed by the gerund:

(Io) sto scrivendo. = I am writing.

(Io) stavo mangiando. = I was eating.

  • (6) The construction stare per + infinitive of a second verb takes the meaning of "to be about":

(Io) sto per partire. = I am about to leave.

(Io) stavo per uscire. = I was about to go out.

In some common expressions essere is the proper verb; stare (more informal, common in the centre and south) can sometimes be used:

Essere in ritardo. / Stare in ritardo. = To be late.  (literally, "to be in a delay")

Essere in attesa. / Stare in attesa. = To be waiting.  (literally, "to be in a wait")

Essere in possesso. (stare is not used) = To hold (e.g. a ticket) / To be in possession.

The compound tenses of essere and stare have identical inflections.
The reason for this is that essere does not have a past participle of its own, and borrows that of starestato (for both verbs).
Both essere and stare are intransitive verbs and take essere as an auxiliary for compound tenses.
So both verbs form any compound tense according to this construction:

essere (inflected auxiliary) + stato (past participle)

essereIl ragazzo è qui. = The boy is here.

stareIl ragazzo sta qui. = The boy is here.

both essere and stareIl ragazzo è stato qui. = The boy has been here.

April 15, 2017

Wow. You. Are. Wonderful. Thank you! :)

April 15, 2017

Thank you!

April 15, 2017

You are welcome.

April 15, 2017
  • 1707

Complimenti Andrea!

April 15, 2017

Grazie - spiegazione splendidissimo

March 1, 2018

The three most common ways of using stare are

  • expressing how someone is doing in the general sense: Come stai? Sto bene. BUT you need essere for anything more specific when it is possible for the emotion/condition to change: Sono malato.
  • forming the continuous tense: Sto correndo.
  • using idiomatic expressions: Stai in guardia!

Here are some other ways of using stare.

The past participle for both verbs is indeed stato. :)

April 14, 2017

Thank you!

April 15, 2017
  • 1153

I don't know, but I have a question for anybody here, is essere like the Spanish ser and stare like the Spanish estar; does Italian have a true split 'to be' like Spanish? I've done a little bit of the Italian course and I've come across this. I haven't even gotten to the past tense yet. Sorry I couldn't really help you.

April 14, 2017

Yes and no. Italian does use both "essere" and "stare" for "to be," but the use of "stare" is much more limited than "estar" in Spanish. A lot of times (talking about emotions, conditions, location, etc.) you will use "essere" in Italian where Spanish uses "estar."

April 14, 2017
  • 1153

Oh, OK, thanks. I don't really know Italian almost at all. I do know a pretty good amount of Spanish, so that's what I had to compare it to. I know that Italian is pretty close to Spanish.

April 14, 2017
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