We get asked the difference between the verbs “essere” and “stare” all the time and, as always, while there are rules, there are also many times in which the two are interchangeable and things can get confusing.
Main uses of essere:
1. Indicate the existence of something or someone
Sono una ragazza – I am a girl
Il pane è un alimento – Bread is a food
2. Indicate the quality of something or someone (always use essere with adjectives)
Il vino è buonissimo! – The wine is very good
Marco è un brav’uomo – Marco is good man
3. Indicate the physical location of something
Il bagno è in fondo a desta – The bathroom is at the back on the right
Le chiavi sono sul tavolo – The keys are on the table
4. Auxiliary verb in the passato prossimo and other tenses
All this means is that “essere” is used as a supportive verb to form many different tenses.
Main uses of stare:
1. Indicate the physiological condition of someone
Sto bene – I’m well
Sto male – I’m sick
It’s worth noting that bene and male are adverbs not adjectives
2. The physical location of something or someone with an emphasis on the subject remaining there
Stasera sto a casa – Tonight I’m staying (as in remaining at home)
This would be in response of a question such as “Che fai stasera?”
What are you doing tonight?
Sono a casa – I’m am home
would be used more in response to “dove sei?” – Where are you?
Sono stato in Italia tante volte – I’ve been to Italy many times.
This can get quite confusing since both “essere” and “stare” can indicate the physical location of something and can at times be interchangeable.
Le chiavi stanno/sono sul tavolo – The keys are on the table
3. Auxiliary verb for present and past progressive (or continuous)
With time and practice you will be able to determine when to use one versus the other. I hope that this brief explanation can help clarify and as always, if you need further clarifications, one of our teachers will be happy to discuss it during a lesson.