giovedì, marzo 15, 2012

Understanding verbs — essere and stare

Do you ever get confused when to use essere and when to use stare?

Use of essere:

Essere can express existence, which refers to an intrinsic quality or a condition, both temporary and permanent, and can be followed by an adjective (felice, depresso, annoiato, stanco, allergico, malato, etc.):

Sei una persona magnifica.
You are a wonderful person.

Sono stanchissimo. Posso riposarmi un minuto?
I’m very tired. Do you mind if I rest for a moment?

Come sei brutto con questo maglione rosa!
How ugly you are with that pink sweater on!

Essere can also be used to express a state, indicating the place where one is (as a synonym for the verb trovarsi):

Sarò a Roma il prossimo fine-settimana.
I will be in Rome next week-end.

Non piangere. Sono qui per aiutarti.
Don’t cry. I am here to help you.

Sono in piedi davanti a voi; non mi vedete?
I’m standing still in front of you; can’t you see me?

Quanti saremo alla festa?
How many of us will be at the party?

Cultural Note: In the south of Italy, it’s not uncommon to hear people use ‘stare’ with adjectives, as in “sto stanco”, “sto depresso”, to indicate a temporary condition, as well as with a locative meaning, as in “sto a casa”, “sto per strada”. Nevertheless, these are regional, non-standard usages (derived from the Spanish language) which are considered inappropriate by native speakers themselves in official contexts and in writing.

Use of stare:

Stare indicates a temporary physical condition, as an answer to the question, “Come stai?” (and is followed by an adverb: sto bene/benissimo, sto male/malissimo, sto meglio di ieri, sto peggio di ieri ecc.):

Come stai oggi?
How are you today?

Sto benissimo, grazie!
I’m very well, thanks!

Let’s look at the following example where both verbs are used in contrast:

Come stanno i tuoi genitori? (‘come’=interrogative adverb, so ‘stare’ is used)
Sono esausti; hanno viaggiato tutta la giornata. (‘esausto’=adjective, so ‘essere’ is used)

How are your parents?
They’re exhausted; They travelled all day long.

Stare can also be used to describe a physical position, indicating the stillness and persistence of a condition, as a synonym for the verb ‘restare’ (stay):

Sto qui ad aspettarti da un’ora!
I’ve been waiting here for you for an hour!

Sta’ zitto! Ho mal di testa!
Shut up! [literally: stay silent] I’ve got a headache!

Stava con le mani sui fianchi.
She was akimbo.

With adjectives that can express both intrinsic qualities and physical positions, the contrast in meaning between “essere” and “stare” becomes more evident:

Sii fermo e risoluto e avrai successo in ogni situazione.
Be firm and resolute and you’ll succeed every time.

Sta’ fermo un attimo! Mi stai innervosendo!
Hold still for a moment! You are annoying me!

In the following example, we can see a clear contrast between the indication of a position and the persistence of that position:

Dov’è seduta tua madre? Non la vedo.
Where is your mother seated? I can’t see her.

Dille di stare seduta ancora un po’.
Tell her to stay seated a little longer.

Other grammatical uses of stare and essere:

Stare is used to form the present and past progressive (il presente progressivo and il passato progressivo):

Sto andando al supermercato.
I’m going to the supermarket. (That is, you are going right now)

Non ti arrabbiare! Stavamo solo scherzando!
Don’t be mad! We were only joking!

Essere is used, along with avere, as the auxiliary verb in compound tenses such as the passato prossimo:

Sono stato alla biblioteca oggi.
I was at the library today.

Sono arrivati alle 5 di mattina.
They arrived at 5am.

NB: Take note that stato is the past participle for essere and stare.

Essere is also used in passive constructions:

Le piccole squadre come la nostra sono sempre penalizzate!
Small teams like ours are always penalised!

Stare per + infinitive means to be about to do something:

Il treno sta per partire.
The train is about to depart.

created and edited by Vittorio Tavini
and Keith Preble

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