In one of our previous articles, we got to know Il Passato Prossimo, the past tense which expresses events and states related to the near past. The Perfect tense in Italian is used when we want to indicate that some actions took place recently or at some point in the past.
We’ve seen that il Passato Prossimo is formed by the present tense of the auxiliary verbs essere or avere, with the past participle of the verb following them:
Fabio è andato a casa. – Fabio went home.
Ho mangiato un cornetto a colazione. – I ate a croissant for breakfast.
The auxiliary verb avere, with some exceptions, is used with transitive verbs:
Alessia ha comprato un vestito. – Alessio bought a dress.
Avete dormito stanotte? – Did you sleep tonight?
The auxiliary essere is used with intransitive verbs, for example, the verbs of movement:
Federico non è venuto in ufficio stamattina. – Federico didn’t come to the office this morning.
But let’s turn to the forms of past participles in Italian. As seen previously, the past participles of regular verbs in –are, -ere, and –ire will have such endings as –ato, -uto, -ito:
Portare (to take, to bring) – portato
Ricevere (to receive) – ricevuto
Partire (to leave, to take off) – partito
This time let’s take a closer look at the irregular forms of the passato prossimo.
A lot of verbs in –ere have irregular past participles, while only a few –are and –ire verbs are irregular. Most of the irregular past participles should be learned simply by heart:
-atto fare (to do, to make) – fatto
Giulia non ha fatto i compiti (Giulia didn’t do her homework).
-etto dire (to say) – detto
Cosa hanno detto i tuoi? (What did your parents say?)
-itto scrivere (to write) – scritto
Hai scritto la lettera? (Did you write the letter?)
-otto rompere (to break) – rotto
Ho rotto la tazza (I broke the cup.)
tradurre (to translate) – tradotto
Ha tradotto il libro in inglese. (He/She translated the book into English)
-utto distruggere (to destroy) – distrutto
Avete distrutto la casa! (You destroyed the house!)
-asto rimanere (to stay) – rimasto
Sono rimasto a casa perché pioveva. (I stayed home because it was raining.)
-esto chiedere (to ask) – chiesto
Le ha chiesto di chiamarlo dopo. (He asked her to call him later.)
-isto vedere (to see) – visto
Avete visto qualcosa? (Did you see anything?)
-osto rispondere (to answer) – risposto
Non hai risposto alla mia chiamata. (You didn’t answer my call.)
-erso perdere (to lose) – perso
Ho perso la mia chiave! (I lost my key!)
-orso correre – corso (to run)
Pay attention that the verb correre can be used both with the auxiliaries essere and avere. You should use essere when you want to express the idea of a fast movement towards something or someone:
Mario è corso in ospedale. – Mario ran to the hospital.
Instead we use avere as the auxiliary when correre means a physical activity:
Hanno corso la maratona. – They ran a marathon.
or in such an expression as “correre il rischio” (to take the risk)
Ho corso il rischio. – I took the risk.
-eso prendere (to take) – preso
Ho preso una mela dal tavolo. (I took an apple from the table.)
-iso decidere (to decide) – deciso
Abbiamo deciso di partire oggi. (We decided to leave today.)
-uso chiudere (to close) – chiuso
Hai chiuso la porta? (Did you close the door?)
-esso mettere (to put) – messo
Lucia ha messo una penna in borsa. (Lucia put a pen in the bag.)
-osso muovere (to move) – mosso
Non ha mosso un dito. (He didn’t do anything.)
-usso discutere (to discuss) – discusso
I colleghi hanno discusso il progetto. – (The colleagues discussed the project.)
-ento spegnere (to turn off) – spento
Ha spento la luce. (He switched the light off.)
-into vincere (to win) – vinto
Abbiamo vinto il premio. (We won the prize.)
-elto scegliere (to choose) – scelto
Hai scelto il regalo? – (Did you choose the gift?)
-olto togliere (to take off) – tolto
Ha tolto la giacca. – (He took off his coat.)
-erto aprire (to open) – aperto
Laura ha aperto la finestra. (Laura opened the window.)
-orto morire (to die) – morto
La scrittrice è morta nel 1961. (The writer died in 1961.)
Conoscere (to get to know) – conosciuto
Hanno conosciuto Lorenzo a Firenze 3 anni fa. – They got to know Lorenzo in Florence 3 years ago.
Piacere (to like) – piaciuto
Ti è piaciuto il libro? – Did you like the book?
Venire (to come)– venuto
Non è venuta in ufficio perché aveva mal di testa. (She didn’t come to the office because she had a headache.)
Vivere (to live) – vissuto
Note that this verb can be used both with essere and avere as an auxiliary.
Abbiamo vissuto negli Stati Uniti per 15 anni. (We lived in USA for 15 years.)
Siamo vissuti in Francia. (We lived in France.)
The verb vivere belongs to the verbs describing a condition, a state of things, which permit the use of both auxiliaries, though sometimes the meaning can slightly change:
Durare – to last
Il film è durato 2 ore. – The film lasted for 2 hours.
La lavatrice ha durato per 10 anni. – The washing machine has lasted for 10 years.
The verbs describing atmospheric phenomena can also be used with both auxiliaries:
Piovere – to rain
È /Ha piovuto ieri -It rained yesterday
Tuonare – to thunder
È/Ha tuonato per tutta la notte. – It thundered all night.
È/Ha grandinato tutto il Marzo. – It hailed all March long.
Normally, you conjugate it with “essere” when you simply want to say “it rained/thundered” and with “avere” when you have additional information regarding how long it rained, thundered etc.
When talking about past tenses in Italian we cannot ignore such an important group of verbs as I verbi riflessivi (The reflexive verbs). Reflexive verbs are verbs that describe an action you do to yourself.
Lavarsi le mani – to wash your hands
Farsi la doccia – to take shower
Divertirsi – to have fun
Arrabbiarsi – to get angry
As you can see, an ending si (reflexive pronoun) is added to the verb to indicate that it’s reflexive. Reflexive verbs are conjugated the following way:
|(io) Mi lavo le mani||(I wash my hands)|
|(tu) Ti lavi le mani||(You wash your hands)|
|(lei/lui/Lei) Si lava le mani||(She/he/formal you washes his/her/your hands)|
|(noi) Ci laviamo le mani||(We wash our hands)|
|(voi) Vi lavate le mani||(You (plural) wash your hands)|
|(loro) Si lavano le mani||(They wash their hands)|
When we use reflexive verbs in Passato Prossimo, it’s always required to use the auxiliary essere:
|Mi diverto (I have fun)||Mi sono divertito(a) (I had fun)|
|Ti diverti (You have fun)||Ti sei divertito(a) (You had fun)|
|Si diverte (He/She/Formal You has fun)||Si è divertito(a) (He/She/Formal You had fun)|
|Ci divertiamo (We have fun)||Ci siamo divertiti(e) (We had fun)|
|Vi divertite (You (plural) have fun)||Vi siete divertiti(e) (You had fun)|
|Si divertono (They have fun)||Si sono divertiti(e) (They had fun)|
Barbara si è svegliata tardi oggi. – Barbara woke up late today.
Mi sono addormentato subito dopo pranzo. – I fell asleep right after lunch.
Le ragazze si sono sedute sul divano. – The girls sat on the sofa.
Never forget to change the ending of the past participle according to the number and gender of the subject (male/female, singular/plural).
Try to complete the sentences using the correct auxiliary and past participle of the irregular verbs learnt in this article:
Now try to complete the next set of sentences with the correct forms of reflexive verbs in Past Perfect:
Memorizing conjugation forms for irregular and reflexive verbs in Past Perfect in Italian may seem a really hard task to do, but as you already know, it’s a question of constant practice and time. Go on with your studies and don’t be discouraged by the number of things to learn, as we’re here to help you out on your journey to mastering the Italian language. Stay tuned!
(Note: This article was originally written for Italy Magazine by Pat Eggleton on October 28th 2010. It has been updated and expanded.)