To be or not to be. Many people ask why the Italian language has two verbs, essere and stare, to express this. Well, there is no why, it just happened and it is not just the case in Italian. Other romance languages, such as Spanish and Portuguese, make the same distinction as well. French does not. The “how” of this usage can be explained and is traced back to a time when the Italian language did not even exist. In some late Latin and early romance dialects, “to stay” started to be used instead of “to be” when a transient state or quality was implied by the speaker.
In the present tense, the conjugations follow the patterns shown below:
|Pronoun||essere||stare||Meaning: to be|
Essere is the verb generally used to translate “to be.”
|Cosa sono?||What are they?|
|È italiana.||She’s Italian.|
|Sono io.||It’s me.|
|È un problema.||It’s a problem.|
|Siete pronti?||Are you ready?|
However, stare is used for “to be” in some common contexts. To say or ask how someone is:
|Come stai?||How are you?|
|Sto bene, grazie.||I’m fine, thanks.|
|Mio nonno sta male.||My grandfather isn’t well.|
To say where someone is:
|Luigi sta a casa.||Luigi’s at home.|
|Starò a Roma due giorni.||I’ll be in Rome for two days.|
To say where something is situated:
|La casa sta sulla collina.||The house is on the hill.|
With the adjectives zitto and solo:
|Vuole stare solo.||He wants to be alone.|
|Sta’ zitto!||Be quiet!|
To make continuous tenses:
|Sta studiando.||He’s studying.|
|Stavo andando a casa.||I was going home.|
In Italian, the present continuous is used instead of the present simple to talk about what is happening at the moment, when you want to emphasize that it’s happening right now.
|Arrivano.||They are coming.|
|Stanno arrivando!||They’re coming!|
The Italian present continuous is made with the present tense of stare and the gerund of the verb. The gerund is a verb form that ends in –ando (for –are verbs), or –endo (for –ere and –ire verbs) and is the same as the –ing form of the verb in English, for example, walking, swimming.
|Sto cercando il mio passaporto.||I’m looking for my passport.|
|Sta scrivendo.||He’s writing.|
|Stanno dormendo.||They’re sleeping.|
|Cosa stai facendo?||What are you doing?|
To make the gerund of an –are verb, take off the ending and add –ando, for example, mangiando (meaning eating), cercando (meaning looking for).
To make the gerund of an –ere or –ire verb, take off the ending and add –endo,
for example, scrivendo (meaning writing), partendo (meaning leaving).
Tip: Only use the Italian present continuous to talk about things that are happening at this very minute. Use the present simple tense to talk about things that are continuing, but not necessarily happening at this minute.
|Studio medicina.||I’m studying medicine.|
Only use the present continuous in Italian for actions that are happening right now.
To make the present continuous, use the present tense of stare and the gerund of the main verb.
This month’s proverb
Italiano: Pollo, pizza e pani si mangiano con le mani.
English: “Eat chicken, pizza and bread with your hands.”
Figuratively: Knives and forks may be fine, but when you really want to enjoy a moment, get down to business and use your hands.
This month’s falso amico
It is cauzione, which doesn’t mean caution. It means bail or deposit. Caution in Italian is rendered as cautela.