The Italian perfect tense is non-negotiable. You just can’t skip around it. In Italian, it’s called il passato prossimo. It’s used to talk about an action that happened recently or that still has a bearing on the present. Decided to learn Italian? Learn how to conjugate the Italian perfect tense below.
Conjugating For The Italian Perfect Tense
The Italian perfect tense is formed using the auxiliary verbs “to have” (avere) or “to be” (essere), conjugated in the present tense, to which you add the past participle of the main verb.
For verbs ending in -are, the past participle ends in -ato
Example: ho parlato (“I have spoken”) from the verb parlare (“to speak”)
For verbs ending in -ire, the past participle ends in -ito
Example: ho capito (“I have understood”) from the verb capire (“to understand”)
For verbs ending in -ere, the past participle ends in -uto
Example: ho creduto (“I have believed”) from the verb credere (“to believe”)
Here’s a quick reminder of how to conjugate the present tense of avere and essere in Italian:
|(io) ho||(noi) abbiamo|
|(tu) hai||(voi) avete|
|(egli) ha||(loro) hanno|
First things first: you need to know which auxiliary verb to use for the Italian perfect tense. The auxiliary verbs are conjugated with themselves, so you get ho avuto (I have had) and sono stato (I have been). Note the irregular form of the past participles for “to have” and “to be” in Italian.
The past participle of the auxiliary essere has four forms: stato (masculine singular), stata (feminine singular), stati (masculine plural) and state (feminine plural). The same applies to all past participles that take essere, agreeing with the subject in gender and number. Furthermore, all reflexive verbs are conjugated with essere in the Italian perfect tense. For example: ti sei alzata (“you got up,” feminine singular) from alzarsi (to get up).
The following verbs are conjugated using essere:
- nascere (“to be born”) — sono nato
- arrivare (“to arrive”) — sei arrivata
- restare (“to stay”) — è restato
- passare (“to pass”) — siamo passati
- tornare, ritornare (“to return”) — siete tornate
- andare (“to go”) — sono andati
- partire (“to leave”) — sono partito
- venire (“to come”) — sei venuto
- uscire (“to go out”) — è uscita
- morire (“to die”) — siamo morti
- scendere (“to go down”) — siete scesi
- cadere (“to fall”) — sono cadute
Did you know? The other past tenses to remember in Italian are the imperfect (imperfetto dell’indicativo) and the simple past (passato remoto). The imperfect expresses a repeated action, whereas the simple past is used to talk about a completed action without any bearing on the present. The latter is highly literary, and you’ll rarely encounter it in spoken language.
Regular And Irregular Verbs In The Italian Perfect Tense
Hopefully, you can see the Italian perfect tense isn’t so hard. The tricky part is knowing how to use irregular verbs in Italian. That’s because there are quite a few of them. In this case, there’s no other option but to learn which verbs are irregular in Italian and when to use them. And because there’s more to life than simply book-learning, practice is key when you’re learning Italian!
A couple of notes here. Certain verbs can have two past participles. This goes for perdere, which has both perduto (regular) and perso (irregular). Both forms are correct, but most Italians tend to use perso, perduto having acquired a more poetic sense. For example, people talk about a città perduta in reference to a lost city. Or the iconic ’80s movie, Indiana Jones e i predatori dell’arca perduta (Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark). Or Alla ricerca del tempo perduto (In Search of Lost Time), to quote Proust in the language of Dante. Other irregular verbs in Italians follow a similar pattern. For example: vedere (“to see”) with veduto (regular) and visto (irregular), and seppellire (“to bury”) with seppellito (regular) and sepolto (irregular).
When in doubt, it’s safer to use the irregular form of these verbs, which will always feel more natural. You may also want to learn the main Italian verbs to be fully prepared for the Italian perfect tense.
A version of this article was originally published on the French edition of Babbel Magazine.