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Everything You Need to Know About the Conjugation of “Essere” in Italian

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 essere is conjugated, 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.

Conjugation of essere 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.

Simple tenses

Presente
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.

Imperfetto
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.)
Passato remoto
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.)
Futuro semplice
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.

Compound tenses

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.

Passato prossimo
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.)
Trapassato prossimo
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.

Trapassato remoto
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.

Futuro anteriore
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.)
Notes:

  • Three out of the four compound tenses are only used to describe events in relation to other events. They do not make sense in standalone sentences. Passato remoto is the only compound tense that works by itself.
  • Essere can be an auxiliary to itself, unlike in English.
  • The phrase that follows one with the compound tense has to be in the corresponding simple tense. So, if you use trapassato remoto, the following phrase has to be in passato remote, and if you use future anteriore, the following phrase has to be in future semplice.

Conjugation of essere 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.

Simple tenses

Presente
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.)
Imperfetto
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.)

Compound tenses

You create these by adding stato to the corresponding auxiliary.

Passato
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.)
Trapassato
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.)
Notes:

  • The word che can be omitted when the verb expresses doubt or uncertainty. It cannot be omitted when expressing will.
  • The subjunctive mood does not have its own conjugation in English.

Conjugation of essere 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.

Presente

Io sarei
Tu saresti
Lui / Lei sarebbe
Noi saremmo
Voi sareste
Essi sarebbero
  • 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.)

Passato

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.

Note:

  • The subordinate phrase of a conditional sentence is always in the subjunctive mood.

Conjugation of essere in the imperative mood

The imperative mood is used to give commands and orders.

In English, it is rendered with the present simple.

Tu sii
Lui / Lei sia
Noi siamo
Voi siate
Essi siano

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.

Infinitive

Present Past
Essere Essere stato

Participle

Present Past
Essente Stato

Gerund

Present Past
Essendo Essendo stato
Notes:

  • The infinitive present is the base form of the verb, so this is the form you look for when looking up a verb in a dictionary.
  • Do not expect to see essente anywhere. Stato on the other hand is all over the conjugation.
  • The gerund is used to express the contemporaneity, anteriority, causality, or consequentiality of one action with respect to another. Here’s an example:
    • Essendo stato già tre volte a Barcellona, l’anno prossimo andrò a Madrid. (Having been to Barcelona three times already, next year I’m going to Madrid.)

Challenge yourself with Clozemaster

Learning the conjugation of essere might seem daunting at first, but don’t worry, it comes naturally with practice.

Test your skills and see what you’ve learned from this article by playing a selection of Italian sentences with conjugated forms of essere.

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