In Italian, most verbs end in a common pattern, such as -are, -ere, and -ire. These are the 1st, 2nd and 3rd conjugations respectively.
- 1 Present tense (Presente indicativo)
- 2 The Present Perfect (Passato Prossimo)
- 3 The Future Indicative (Il futuro indicativo)
Present tense (Presente indicativo)
The present tense in Italian is essentially the same as in English. The only difference is that it can also be used as the present continuous, so "I do" and "I am doing" are conjugated the same way. The English present continuous, however, is expressed in a better way by a more complex construction with the verb "stare" and the "gerundio" form (the English -ing form).
Also note that the subject pronoun can be dropped from a conjugated verb because the ending of the conjugated verb communicates the subject of the action.
Present Tense Conjugations 1, 2 and 3
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Category 1 words in the infinitive end in ARE: for example parlare (to speak), giocare (to play), amare (to love) and so on. Similarly, category 2 words in the infinitive end in ERE: vendere (to sell), vedere (to see). Category 3 words in the infinitive end in IRE. There are two (2) subcategories of this case: those requiring no special treatment and those requiring an -ISC- be inserted prior to inserting the ending. Some authors have classified the second subcategory as class 3 and the first subcategory as class 4, thus reclassifying to 4 cases. Using this method, in class 3 we have: capire (to understand), finire (to finish),preferire (to prefer) and in class 4 we have: sentire (to feel),dormire (to sleep). The A and the I in -are and -ire verbs are always stressed in the infinitive form. The E in -ere infinitives can either be stressed (like in temere, "to fear") or not (as in mettere, "to put"), but there are no differences in stress in any other conjugated form of those verbs.
To conjugate regular verbs in the indicative present follow this method:
- Drop the ending from the infinitive to give the stem.
Eg.: lavorare (to work) → lavor-
- Add the correct ending:
Eg.: lavorare → lavor- → lavoro
The accents on some endings in the table must not be written: they are used only here to show which endings are normally stressed.
So, for example, parlare (to speak) would be conjugated as follows:
- (Io) parlo ("I speak / am speaking")
- (Tu) parli ("You speak / you are speaking")
- (Egli/ella/Lei/Lui) parla
- (Noi) parliamo
- (Voi) parlate
- (Essi/Loro) parlano
Note: Words egli, ella, and essi are older versions of lui, lei, and loro, respectively, but are still used today only in formal, written Italian.
3rd Conjugation Verbs taking "-isc-"
Many 3rd Conjugation verbs add the letters -isc- between the stem and the ending for the present tense. This is constructed as follows:
Remember that, when followed by i or e, -sc- sounds like the English 'shake' (/ʃ/). If a, o or u follow, -sc- will be read as in the English word 'sky' (/sk/).
The Present Perfect (Passato Prossimo)
The Passato Prossimo is one of the most commonly used past tenses in Italian. It is a compound tense, therefore the auxiliary verbs avere and essere are used in conjugation. Note that the following conjugations are both irregular.
The Past Participle
The past participle is used with the verbs avere and essere to form the passato prossimo. To form the past participle, the ending of the verb (-are, -ere, -ire) are changed as follows:
- verbs ending in -are take -ato for their past participle (e.g.: parlare ("to speak") → parlato)
- verbs ending in -ere take -uto for their past participle (e.g.: cadere ("to fall") → caduto)
- verbs ending in -ire take -ito for their past participle (e.g.: finire ("to end/stop/finish") → finito)
Note that the past participle of avere is avuto and the past participle of essere is stato.
The majority of the -ere verbs, some -ire ones and fare (meaning "to do", "to make") actually form irregular past participles which don't follow any specific rules and have to be memorised (e.g.: vedere ("to see") → visto).
Formation of the Passato Prossimo with Avere
To form the passato prossimo, you have to use avere or essere plus the past participle. Most verbs take avere for the passato prossimo; all reflexive verbs take essere and a few select verbs of motion take essere.
For now, we deal with the verbs that take avere. First, you conjugate avere for the appropriate subject, then place the past participle after it; an example follows:
|Parlare (to speak)|
The literal translation of this is "I have spoken", "you have spoken", "he/she has spoken", etc. However, this tense is the main past tense used in Italian and can be loosely translated as "I spoke", "you spoke", "he/she spoke", etc. Note that almost all verbs are conjugated this way with the passato prossimo.
Formation of the Passato Prossimo with Essere
The passato prossimo is generally conjugated with avere; however there are some situations in which essere is used. Many verbs of motion as well as all the reflexive verbs, require essere.
Some of the most common verbs that take essere are:
- arrivare (to arrive)
- andare (to go)
- uscire (to go out)
- entrare (to enter)
- venire (venuto) (to come)
- essere (stato) (to be)
- partire (to leave)
- stare (stato) (to stay, to be)
- sparire (to disappear)
- tornare (to come back/return)
- nascere (nato) (to be born)
- morire (morto) (to die)
- rimanere (rimasto) (to remain)
Note that irregular past participles are in parentheses.
And before we get to an example, there is just one other difference between essere and avere for the passato prossimo. While in conjugations with avere, the past participle does not agree with the subject, it must in essere.
E.g., when a feminine subject wants to say 'I spoke', she would say 'io ho parlato'. But if she wants to say 'I was', she would use essere and the respective form of the participle: 'io sono stata'. Similar changes occur for plural subjects, such as noi, which can have a past participle ending in -i or -e. An example of a passato prossimo with essere follows:
|Nascere (to be born)|
The Future Indicative (Il futuro indicativo)
The future indicative is the equivalent of 'will + a verb' or 'be going to + a verb' in English. It is not a compound tense in Italian (it is not formed with avere/essere like the passato prossimo).
The verbs avere and essere are irregular in the future indicative. Their conjugations are:
Regular Verbs in the Future Tense / Verbi regolari al futuro
The verbs ending by -are and -ere are conjugated by adding the same set of endings for the future indicative. These endings are -erò, -erai, -erà, -eremo, -erete, and -eranno.
The endings for -ire verbs are similar but exactly the same; the difference is that the first e of the ending is replaced by i. Therefore the endings are: -irò,-irai, -irà, -iremo, -irete, -iranno.
There is a small group of verbs whose infinitive ends with -gare or -care. In the formation of the future indicative, these verbs require an h to keep the consistency with the rules of pronunciation. An example of such case follows:
|Dimenticare (to forget)|