ESSERE - to be

Essere - to be, Present Tense, Use, Context, Lesson & Worksheet from Via Optimae,

to be

'ESSERE' is the most commonly used verb!  It is used to describe a plethora of people of places and also occurs in other verb tenses.

It is easy to remember its meaning because it's related to the English word essence — or the intrinsic nature of something— what something REALLY IS.

ESSERE in the Present Tense
It is an irregular verb— meaning it does not follow a predictable pattern of conjugation— but don't worry!  You'll use it so much that you'll have it memorized in no time.

ESSERE - to be, Present tense conjugations: io sono, tu sei, lui/lei è, noi siamo, voi siete, loro sono on Via Optimae,

As the number one verb, it's no surprise that it occurs in a multitude of contexts and expressions.  To start with, let's focus on its use in three areas: Describing what it is, what it's like, and where it is.

ESSERE - What it is
ESSERE can be used to describe what something is...

essere… to be                          
un ragazzo
a boy
una ragazza
a girl
un animale
an animal
una rosa
a rose

È un ragazzo.
He's a boy.

Sei una ragazza.
You're a girl.

L'elefante è un animale.
The elephant is an animal.

Queste sono rose.
These are roses.

ESSERE - What it's like
ESSERE can also be used to describe the physical characteristics or personality traits of the thing in question, as well as it's nationality or place of origin.

essere… to be                         

Sono alta.
I am tall.

La mia amica è bassa.
My friend is short.

essere… to be                         

Siete stupidi!

You're all dumb!

Perché sei così pessimista?
Why are you so pessimistic?

essere… to be                          

di Los Angeles
from Los Angeles
di Madrid 
from Spain

Maria e José sono di Madrid—sono spagnoli.

Maria and José are from Madrid, they are Spanish.

Lui è di San Francisco ed io sono di Los Angeles— siamo americani. 
He is from San Francisco and I am from Los Angeles, we are American.

For lots more adjectives and the verb "ESSERE" see: Adjectives of Personality 
For a very complete list of nationalities, see: Adjectives of Nationality 

ESSERE - Where it is
ESSERE can also be used to describe where something is…

essere… to be  
a Roma.
in Rome.
in Italia.
in Italy.
on the corner.
sul tavolo.
on the table.

Il Colosseo è a Roma.
The colosseum is in Rome.

Le pizzerie migliori sono in Italia.
The best pizzerias are in Italy.

Il bar è all'angolo.
The bar's on the corner.

Le chiavi sono sul tavolo.
The keys are on the table.

ESSERE is NOT used to describe your current mood… that's the verb STARE which sometimes is translated as "to stay".  Italian uses STARE and not ESSERE, because STARE describes temporary states and ESSERE is used to describe more permanent or lasting ways of being.

Come stai? (STARE)
How are you? (as in your current mood or state)

Come sei? (ESSERE)
What are you like? (as in your general characteristics— either physically or personality-wise)

Did you notice that the IO (I) and LORO (they) forms are the same?  This might be confusing at first since Italian doesn't always include the pronouns and you'll often just see "SONO" alone, but you can use context to figure it out.

For example, the following nouns and adjectives will be in the SINGULAR for IO and in the PLURAL for LORO.

Sono una persona intelligente.
I am an intelligent person.

Sono intelligenti.
They are intelligent.

È and the subject "it"
In English, we use the pronoun "it" when the subject is an inanimate object or when the subject is an abstract concept:

It is red. (IT= The book)
It is strange that… (IT is abstract)

In both cases, Italian uses no pronoun.  Instead, è is used alone and the "it" is implied:

È rosso.
It's red.

È strano che...
It's strange that...

As we covered in a previous lesson, ESSERE is combined with "CI" to talk about What there is/What there are.  
To review this concept, please see:  C'è & Ci sono.

As I said, there are MANY ways to use the verb 'ESSERE', which we'll cover more in depth later.   In the meantime, get comfortable with the present tense conjugations and practice what you've learned by printing & completing the exercises on pages 16 & 17 of the Beginner's Italian Workbook*.  
*not currently available on mobile devices!

ITALIAN: Workbooks Beginner's Workbook, Part One, from Via Optimae,

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Buono studio!
Alex on

How to print pages from Via Optimae's Digital Workbooks,
TIP: Open the workbook to the desired page(s),
then click the printer icon in the upper left!

All lessons in the Beginner's Italian series:
  (1) How Italian verbs work(Intro to verbs & grammar terms)
  (5) La negazione - Negation
  (6) Ogni quanto? Quante volte? (Adverbs of frequency)
  (7) C'è & Ci sono (There is & There are)
  (8) Essere - to be  — CURRENT PAGE

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Buoni propositi per l'anno nuovo

New Year's Resolutions


Buon anno!
Happy New Year!

I hope you all had lovely holidays and are enjoying the start of a lovely new year!  

The beginning of the year is the time when we start thinking about changes, improvements, and goals that we'd like to realize in our lives.

If you follow VIA OPTIMAE regularly, one of your buoni propositi (resolutions) is probably to "Learn Italian."

As with most goals, it is helpful to break it down into manageable bits that include action steps.  I talk about how to do this in a previous post:

How to teach yourself Italian… Step 01: Goals How to choose the right ones for language success, Via Optimae,

Once you've determined your new, more specific goal, you can use the new Site Map page for help navigating Via Optimae and finding what you need!

Looking back at 2014 (Top Posts)

The beginning of the year is also a great time to take stock of our experiences from the previous year and reflect on what we've done and accomplished. 

In that spirit, I took a look at some of the top posts from Via Optimae's site and various social media pages: (Check them out and be sure to like/follow!)

Via Optimae: (subscribe here)

(How to talk about more than one thing)

(a song by Ligabue)

(quote & translation)

(How to say 'THE' for more than one thing)

(How to say A/AN in Italian)

Thank you for all the support in 2014 and here's to our continued mutual success in 2015!

Alex on

*The video at the beginning also appears in the digital magazine: 
Click through to hear the song & see the lyrics in translation!
(not currently available on mobile devices)

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See also:

Frasi celebri su Via Optimae

Frasi celebri su Via Optimae
Acque del sud (To Have and Have Not) original: "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow."