Learning the conjugation of the verb essere is fundamental if you want to learn Italian, as it is by far the most used verb of the language. Essere is an auxiliary verb, which means it is used to make other verbal tenses.
Essere is also irregular, so you will have to learn all of its forms by heart. But don’t worry—once you learn how the compound tenses are made, you will already be halfway through. Let’s see how to conjugate essere, and how it is used in common Italian phrases.
The finite moods of essere
There are four finite moods in Italian: indicative, subjunctive, conditional, and imperative.
Essere – Conjugation in the Indicative Mood
The indicative mood is made up of eight tenses, four simple tenses, and four compound tenses. It is used to express certainty that an action happened or that it will happen.
|Io sono||I am|
|Tu sei||You are|
|Lui / Lei è||He / She is|
|Noi siamo||We are|
|Voi siete||You are|
|Essi sono||They are|
- Io sono un ingegnere. (I am an engineer.)
As you can see, you don’t have to add the subject to the sentence when it is implied by the verb. You could get rid of io in the first example and the sentence would still be grammatically correct.
|Io ero||I was|
|Tu eri||You were|
|Lui / Lei era||He / She was|
|Noi eravamo||We were|
|Voi eravate||You were|
|Essi erano||They were|
The imperfect tense is used when talking about an action that was going on at the time of speaking, for example:
- I vicini erano in vacanza ieri. (The neighbors were on holiday yesterday.)
|Io fui||I was|
|Tu fosti||You were|
|Lui / Lei fu||He / She was|
|Noi fummo||We were|
|Voi foste||You were|
|Essi furono||They were|
The remote past tense is used when describing events that happened a long time ago. The verb essere itself is seldom used in this form—mostly as an auxiliary to other verbs, for example:
- Quella notte fummo fermati dalla polizia. (We were stopped by the police that night.)
|Io sarò||I will be|
|Tu sarai||You will be|
|Lui / Lei sarà||He / She will be|
|Noi saremo||We will be|
|Voi sarete||You will be|
|Essi saranno||They will be|
- Domani saremo a casa. (We will be home tomorrow.)
- Arianna sarà a Roma settimana prossima (Arianna will be in Rome next week.)
This tense can also be used to express doubt, to give orders, or to provide an estimate. These ways of using the future tense are only used in colloquial speech.
These tenses are built by pairing the auxiliary verb with its respective past participle form.
There are four compound tenses in the indicativ. To create them, all you have to do is use the conjugated simple form of essere in the tense you need, and add the participle stato to it. Once you learn how to conjugate essere in the simple tenses, you will be able to easily construct the following tenses as well.
|Io sono stato||I have been|
|Tu sei stato||You have been|
|Lui / Lei è stato/a||He / She has been|
|Noi siamo stati||We have been|
|Voi siete stati||You have been|
|Essi sono stati||They have been|
The most versatile past tense, passato prossimo is used to indicate an action that happened and reached its conclusion in the past, compared to imperfetto, where the action was still happening at the time of speaking.
- Sono stato in chiesa. (I have been to church.)
- Ieri siamo stati al museo. (We have been at the museum yesterday.)
|Io ero stato||I had been|
|Tu eri stato||You had been|
|Lui / Lei era stato/a||He / She had been|
|Noi eravamo stati||We had been|
|Voi eravate stati||You had been|
|Essi erano stati||They had been|
- Marco era appena stato dal parrucchiere ieri, quando ha ricevuto una chiamata. (Marco had just been to the hairdresser yesterday, when he received a call.)
- Io e Giulia eravamo stati a scuola la mattina, e siamo tornati a casa insieme. (Giulia and I had been at school in the morning, and we came home together.)
This tense is used to talk about an action or event already performed in the past, which precedes another to which it is connected and which is expressed by a past tense. Nowadays, it is only used very rarely.
|Io fui stato|
|Tu fosti stato|
|Lui / Lei fu stato/a|
|Noi fummo stati|
|Voi foste stati|
|Essi furono stati|
This tense does not have an English equivalent, and it is rarely used in Italian as well. Like the passato remoto, we use this tense when we refer to events that happened a long time ago, that were then followed by another event, for example:
- Dopo che Anna fu stata dal commercialista, si imbatté in Luca. (After Anna was at the accountant’s, she came across Luca.)
It is archaic and being gradually replaced by passato prossimo, so you will mostly find it in older works of literature.
|Io sarò stato||I will have been|
|Tu sarai stato||You will have been|
|Lui / Lei sarà stato/a||He / She will have been|
|Noi saremo stati||We will have been|
|Voi sarete stati||You will have been|
|Essi saranno stati||They will have been|
This tense is used when you want to talk about what is going to happen once the action will have happened in the future, for example:
- Dopo che sarò stato in banca, andrò a visitare Carlo in ospedale. (After I will have been to the bank, I will visit Carlo in the hospital.)
Essere – Conjugation in the Subjunctive Mood
The subjunctive (congiuntivo) mood is used to express subjectivity, uncertainty, or doubt.
It is used in subordinate clauses—clauses that cannot exist as a complete sentence because they do not express a complete thought—and always introduced by the word che (that). Like the indicative, it has simple and compound tenses. Let’s see how to conjugate essere in the subjunctive mood.
|Che io sia||I am|
|Che tu sia||You are|
|Che lui / lei sia||He / She is|
|Che noi siamo||We are|
|Che voi siate||You are|
|Che essi siano||They are|
- Penso che Giacomo sia triste. (I think that Giacomo is sad.)
- Credo che siate in ritardo. (I believe that you are late.)
|Che io fossi||(that) I were|
|Che tu fossi||(that) you were|
|Che lui / lei fosse||(that) he / she were|
|Che noi fossimo||(that) we were|
|Che voi foste||(that) you were|
|Che essi fossero||(that) they were|
- Vorrei tu fossi qui. (I wish you were here.)
- Credevo fossimo i migliori. (I thought we were the best.)
You create these by adding stato to the corresponding auxiliary.
|Che io sia stato||I have been|
|Che tu sia stato||You have been|
|Che lui / lei sia stato/a||He / She has been|
|Che noi siamo stati||We have been|
|Che voi siate stati||You have been|
|Che essi siano stati||They have been|
- Credo che Marco e Giulia siano stati qui ieri. (I believe that Marco and Giulia have been here yesterday.)
|Che io fossi stato|
|Che tu fossi stato|
|Che lui / lei fosse stato/a|
|Che noi fossimo stati|
|Che voi foste stati|
|Che essi fossero stati|
This tense is used to express a past possibility or a need that has not happened or been realized, for example:
- Credevo tu fossi stato al McDonald’s del paese ieri. (I thought you had been at the town’s McDonald’s yesterday.)
Essere – Conjugation in the Conditional Mood
The conditional (condizionale) mood is used to indicate an event that will happen only if a certain condition is satisfied.
Below is the conjugation of essere in the two tenses of the conditional mood.
|Lui / Lei sarebbe|
- Tu e Mario sareste in grado di vincere, se vi impegnaste di più. (You and Mario would be capable of winning, if you worked harder.)
|Io sarei stato|
|Tu saresti stato|
|Lui / Lei sarebbe stato / a|
|Noi saremmo stati|
|Voi sareste stati|
|Essi sarebbero stati|
- Luigi e Anna sarebbero stati promossi se non fosse capitato quell’incidente. (Luigi and Anna would have been promoted if that accident hadn’t happened.)
The English language does not have the conditional mood. To create hypothetical sentences, it uses conditional sentences instead.
Essere – Conjugation in the Imperative Mood
The imperative mood is used to give commands and orders.
In English, it is rendered with the present simple.
|Lui / Lei sia|
This mood isn’t used at all outside of works of literature or movies to add a dramatic effect to what’s being said, for example:
- Che sia portata in prigione. (Take her to jail.)
The indefinite moods of essere
These moods do not have a subject, hence the name “indefinite”. They are used in subordinate sentences, where you can figure out the missing subject from the context.
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