Italian Language Blog

To Be Or To Be? Posted by on Jun 18, 2015 in Grammar, Italian Language

Stare or essere? …. that is the question … so often asked by students of Italian. If English is your mother tongue, the concept of two different verbs both meaning ‘to be’ can be pretty confusing. We’ve already covered this topic in depth here. But today I’m going to focus on an important, but easily confused usage of the two verbs: come + stare? vs come + essere?

1. come + stare? is used when we ask how someone is:



come stai? = how are you? (singular informal)

come sta? = how are you? (singular formal)

come state? = how are you? (plural)

come stanno? = how are they?

sto bene/male = I’m well/unwell

sto bene/male = I’m well/unwell

stiamo bene/male = we’re well/unwell

stanno bene/male = they’re well/unwell

N.B. Some typical colloquial replies to the question come sta/stai? are: si tira avanti = one carries on (lit. one pulls along), non ci si può lamentare = one can’t complain and non c’è male = not bad. Sometimes, when the answer is complicated and we don’t want to go into details we simply say: insomma!


Com’è il giardino in questo periodo? Bellissimo, è pieno di gigli profumati! Photo by Geoff

2. come + essere? is used when we ask what someone/something is like:



com’è il Signor Bartolini? = what’s Mr. Bartolini like?

come sono i fratelli di Lino? = what are Lino’s brothers like?

come sono gli spaghetti? = how’s the spaghetti?

com’è Pontremoli? = what’s Pontremoli like?

com’è? = how’s it going? (colloquial)

è un tipo molto simpatico … alto, con i capelli rossi … ecc. = he’s really likeable … tall, with red hair … etc.

Vincenzo è molto in gamba, ma gli altri due … lasciamo perdere! = Vincenzo is very capable, but the other two … forget it!

perfetti, grazie! = perfect thanks!

Pontremoli è una città abbastanza tranquilla … a volte anche troppo! = Pontremoli’s quite a quiet town … too quiet sometimes!

va tutto bene grazie = everything’s going fine thanks

E voi, cari lettori, come state oggi?

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  1. Lornezo:

    As some who speaks both English and Spanish, I find myself speaking “Spitaliano” sometimes. Where “estar/stare” are used for impermanent states and “ser/essere” for permanent states. THough When I read or hear ITalian I notice that this is not really a distinction that Italians make. USually they understand what i mean/am trying to say but I don’t sound colloquial. IS there a generalize rule for when to differ or is more based on idiom or context. At least they don’t assume i’m an English speaking monoglot American. 😉

    • Geoff:

      @Lornezo Ciao Lorenzo, I recognise your problem because the first Latin language I learned was Portuguese, which follows exactly the same rules as Spanish for essere and stare. If only it was that simple in Italian!
      Have you checked out this link?:

      A presto, Geoff 🙂

  2. Andrej:

    Sto bene, grazie(rispondendo alla tua domanda)
    Ciao Geoff.
    Che giardino molto bello. E’ vostro?

    • Geoff:

      @Andrej Sì, è il nostro giardino, abbiamo circa 500 metri di terreno, e questo è un piccolo angolo fin in fondo dove ho messo giù degli alberi e qualche fiore. A me piacciono i giardini un po’, diciamo, ‘selvatici’, cioè, non troppo ordinati come il classico giardino inglese.
      E tu, il giardino ce l’hai?

      Saluti da Geoff

  3. Andrej:

    Solo moltissime piante a casa(nell’appartamento). Mi piacciono molto delle piante tropicali. Ma recentemente ho comprato una rosa di David Austin per il balcone
    Saluti da Andrej

  4. Transparent Language:

    Comment via email from Carolina:

    Grazie tante! Sto molto felice!

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