Italian Verbs

Verbs are doing words, and with Italian verbs, just like in English, they're used to denote an action performed by someone or something.

Anything you or anyone else does needs a verb so that you can do it. You can't run without verbs, you can't sing without verbs. Let's face it, without verbs you just can't do anything at all.

Love, breathe, live... All verbs.

So let's hear it for the mighty verb, and let's find out more about exactly how verbs work in Italian...

Italian verbs are divided into three patterns of conjugation, according to the ending of the infinitive form:

Italian verbs ending in the infinitive with - ARE:

cantare

to sing

ballare

to dance

sognare

to dream

Italian verbs ending in the infinitive with - ERE:

correre

to run

vedere

to see

temere

to fear

Italian verbs ending in the infinitive with - IRE:

Regular verbs have always the same stem, but most of the Italian verbs are irregular, which means that they use more stems, according to their Latin origin. For ex. the verb andare (to go) has the following stems: and-, v-, vad- .

 

The verbs are divided into 2 forms, for a total of 7 moods - the personal form, which is related to a noun or a pronoun (indicative, subjunctive, imperative, conditional), and the impersonal form (infinitive, gerund and participle).

Simple and Compound Tenses

The Italian verbs have 21 tenses, divided in two classes: simple tenses (one word in the active form, two words in the passive form) or compound tenses (two words in the active form, three words in the passive form). The compound tenses express an action that has happened before the corresponding simple tense form.

Dopo che ho fatto i compiti, posso mangiare

After I have done my homework, I can eat

The imperative has just a simple tense form.


The compound tenses are built with the auxiliary verb of the corresponding simple tense + the past participle. In the active form, the transitive verbs use the auxiliary avere, while the intransitive ones the auxiliary essere. The following verbs also require the auxiliary essere:

  • verbs meaning movement: (andare, to go; venire, to come; etc.): io sono andato, I went. Please note: camminare (to walk), nuotare (to swim) and sciare (to ski) require avere.

andare

to go

venire

to come

io sono andato

I went

camminare

to walk

nuotare

to swim

sciare

to ski

  • reflexive verbs (alzarsi, stand up): io mi sono alzato, I stood up

alzarsi

stand up

io mi sono alzato

I stood up

  • piacere (like): mi è piaciuto, I liked it

piacere

like

mi è piaciuto

I liked it

The past participle with essere follows the usual adjective agreement rules concerning genre and number.

Practice phrases containing compound forms:

Active compound tense:

Luigi ha mangiato il pollo

Luigi has eaten the chicken

Passive compound tense:

Il pollo è stato mangiato da Luigi

The chicken has been eaten by Luigi

Intransitive compound tense:

Luigi è andat-o

masculine, singular

Luigi e Paolo sono andat-i

masculine, plural

Lucia è andat-a

feminine, singular

Lucia e Catia sono andat-e

feminine, plural

Scheme of connection between simple and compound tenses

Indicativo

Simple tense

Compound tense

Io canto

Io ho cantato

I sing (Presente)

I have sung (Passato Prossimo)

Io cantavo

Io avevo cantato

I used to sing (Imperfetto)

I had sung/I had used to sing (Trapassato Prossimo)

Io cantai

Io ebbi cantato

I sang (Passato Remoto)

I had sung (Trapassato Remoto)

Io canterò

Io avrò cantato

I will sing (Futuro Semplice)

I will have sung (Futuro Anteriore)

Condizionale

Simple tense

Compound tense

Io canterei

Io avrei cantato

I would sing (Presente)

I would have sung (Passato)

Congiuntivo

Simple tense

Compound tense

che io canti

che io abbia cantato

that I sing (Presente)

that I have sung (Passato)

che io cantassi

che io avessi cantato

that I sang (Imperfetto)

that I had sung (Trapassato)

Infinito

Simple tense

Compound tense

cantare

avere cantato

to sing (Presente)

to have sung (Passato)

Gerundio

Simple tense

Compound tense

cantando

avendo cantato

singing (Presente)

having sung (Passato)

Participio

Simple tense

Compound tense

cantante

cantato

singing (Presente)

sung (Passato)

Practice phrases about simple and compound tenses

Simple tense: Presente - Compound tense: Passato Prossimo

Esco, dopo che ho mangiato

I go out, after I have eaten

Simple tense: Imperfetto - Compound tense: Trapassato Prossimo

Ero famoso, perché avevo ucciso il re

I was famous, because I had killed the king

Simple tense: Passato Remoto - Compound tense: Trapassato Remoto

Imparai l’italiano, dopo che ebbi sposato Luisa

I learned Italian, after I married Luisa

Simple tense: Futuro Semplice - Compound tense: Futuro Anteriore

Io mangerò, dopo che avrò fatto i compiti

I will eat, after I will have done my homework

Anything else important about Italian verbs

The verbs are the core of the Italian language. Any tense has its own meaning and function inside the sentences. This is particularly relevant in the past tense. For example, while the passato prossimo (io ho mangiato - I have eaten) is commonly used instead of the passato remoto (io mangiai - I ate) in the daily language, the two tenses have different meanings: the first indicates the recent past, the second the historic past. Although a compound tense, the passato prossimo, which is the present perfect in English, is also commonly used as a simple tense. Otherwise this form cannot be used when the verb is related to an action repeated more than once. In that case, it is used the imperfetto.

Quando ero bambino, avevo sempre la febbre

When I was a kid, I always had a fever

Quando ero bambino, ho avuto la varicella

When I was a kid, I had the chickenpox (it can happen only once)

Italian verbs summary

  • Three patterns of conjugation, following the infinitive forms: - ARE, -ERE, -IRE.
  • Regular verbs have one stem, while irregular verbs are built with more stems, following their Latin origin.
  • The tenses can be referred to a noun - personal forms - or not - impersonal forms -.
  • Seven moods: indicative, conditionalsubjunctive, imperative, infinitive, participle, gerund.
  • There are 21 tenses in the Italian language and all of them are commonly and currently used.
  • Simple and compound tenses are strictly connected and related.
  • The auxiliary verbs are avere and essere and they are used in order to build the compound tenses.
  • In the modern Italian language the passato prossimo is commonly used as the past form in substitution of the passato remoto.
  • Don't confuse the passato prossimo/passato remoto (the fact happened once) with the imperfetto (the fact happened more times).
  • The Italian verbs are the core of the Italian language.
For more on Italian grammar check out these lessons! A presto!
Maria Di Lorenzi
Rocket Italian

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