Verb Tenses

There is a number of tenses in Italian. Verbs are conjugated and they take various forms depending on number and person. Each tense has different regular and irregular conjugation patterns. Just like in English tenses can refer to present, past and future.

Present

1. Presente

The present tense (presente) is used for events happening now.

There are three main regular conjugation patterns in Italian. We distinguish verbs that end in -are, -ere and -ire.

Verbs ending in -ARE

Let us use as an example the verb cantare (to sing). To obtain a form ready for conjugation, you need to drop the -are ending. Then you have to add new endings to the remaining stem (cant). The endings are different for each person, like in the below example:

SingularPlural
Io canto - I singNoi cantiamo - we sing
Tu canti - You singVoi cantate - you sing
Lui, lei canta - He, she singsLoro cantano - they sing

The above conjugation pattern applies to regular verbs. The conjugation of irregular verbs is unpredictable so it has to be memorized. Here are the most important irregular verbs ending in -are:

ANDARE - to go

SingularPlural
Io vadoNoi andiamo
Tu vaiVoi andate
Lui, lei vaLoro vanno

FARE - to do

SingularPlural
Io faccioNoi facciamo
Tu faiVoi fate
Lui, lei faLoro fanno

STARE - to stay (but also to be)

SingularPlural
Io stoNoi stiamo
Tu staiVoi state
Lui, lei staLoro stanno

Verbs ending in -ERE

To conjugate verbs ending in -ere, you need to follow the same process as with the -are verbs. The endings are provided in this exemplary conjugation of the verb credere:

SingularPlural
Io credo - I believeNoi crediamo - We believe
Tu credi - You believeVoi credete - You believe
Lui, lei crede - He, she believesLoro credono - They believe

The most important irregular verbs ending in -ere are:

BERE - to drink

SingularPlural
Io bevoNoi beviamo
Tu beviVoi beviamo
Lui, lei beviLoro beviamo

TENERE - to hold

SingularPlural
Io tengoNoi teniamo
Tu tieniVoi tenete
Lui, lei tieneLoro tengono

SCEGLIERE - to choose

SingularPlural
Io scelgoNoi scegliamo
Tu scegliVoi scegliete
Lui, lei sceglieLoro scelgono

Verbs ending in -IRE

The regular verbs in the group ending in -ire follow this conjugation pattern:

SingularPlural
Io sento - I feelNoi sentiamo - We feel
Tu senti - You feelVoi sentite - You feel
Lui, lei sente - He, she feelsLoro sentono - They feel

Here is the list of the most useful irregular verbs ending in -ire:

VENIRE - to come

SingularPlural
Io vengoNoi veniamo
Tu vieniVoi venite
Lui, lei vieneLoro vengono

DIRE - to say

SingularPlural
Io dicoNoi diciamo
Tu diciVoi dite
Lui, lei diceLoro dicono

USCIRE - to exit, leave

SingularPlural
Io escoNoi usciamo
Tu esciVoi uscite
Lui, lei esceLoro escono
2. Stare + gerundio

The gerund in Italian (gerundio) has many different uses, among them the construction with the verb “stare” with a similar meaning as the Present Continuous tense in English (e.g. I am eating). The gerund is formed in the following way:

  • for -are verbs by adding -ando (parlando, comprando)
  • for -ere verbs by adding -endo (scrivendo, leggendo)
  • for -ire verbs also by adding -endo (partendo, uscendo)

Important irregular gerunds include:

bere (to drink) - bevendo
dare (to give) - dando
dire (to say) - dicendo
fare (to do, to make) - facendo

To use the construction with “stare” a conjugated form of this verb is needed with the gerund of another verb.

Sto mangiando - I’m eating
Stiamo uscendo - We’re going out

This construction is used to emphasise that something is happening at the very moment.

Past

There are a number of past tenses in Italian. The most often used ones are: passato prossimo, imperfetto and trapassato prossimo.


1. Passato prossimo

This tense expresses a singular event that happened in the past or that has some effect on the present. The formation of the tense is either:

  • the conjugated verb “avere” + participio passato - “avere” is used in most cases

or

  • the conjugated verb “essere” + participio passato - “essere” is used with verbs of movement, expressing a change of state and reflexive verbs

Participio passato is a form of a verb constructed in the following way:

  • for -are verbs by adding -ato (parlato, comprato)
  • for -ere verbs by adding -uto (avuto, voluto)
  • for -ire verbs by adding -ito(partito, uscito)

These are some important irregular forms of participio passato:

aprire (to open) - aperto
bere (to drink) - bevuto
chiedere (to ask) - chiesto
dare (to give) - dato
dovere (have to) - dovuto
essere (to be) - stato
fare (to do, to make) - fatto
leggere (to read) - letto
morire (to die) - morto
nascere (to be born) - nato
prendere (to take) - preso
scrivere (to write) - scritto
venire (to come) - venuto
vivere (to live) - vissuto


! Important note !

When participio passato is used with essere it needs to be in agreement with the subject’s gender and number like in the following examples:

Sono uscita di casa alle 9. -> I left the house at 9. (singular, feminine)
Sei uscito di casa alle 9. -> You left the house at 9. (singular, masculine)
Siamo usciti di casa alle 9. -> We left the house at 9. (plural, masculine)
Sono uscite di casa alle 9. -> They left the house at 9. (plural, feminine)

The rules regarding the choice between essere and avere apply to all two-part tenses

Here are some examples of passato prossimo being used in practice:

L’anno scorso sono andata a Parigi. (Last year I went to Paris.)
Io e mio marito ci siamo sposati 10 anni fa. (My husband and I got married ten years ago)
Hai fatto una bella cosa! (You’ve done a beautiful thing!)


2. Imperfetto

This Italian tense is used to talk about past habits, repetitive actions and conditions. The regular formation of verbs in imperfetto is as follows:

-ARE verbs such as preparare (to prepare)

SingularPlural
Io preparavoNoi preparavamo
Tu preparaviVoi preparavate
Lui, lei preparavaLoro preparavano

-ERE verbs such as prendere (to take)

SingularPlural
Io prendevoNoi prendevamo
Tu prendeviVoi prendevate
Lui, lei prendevaLoro prendevano

-IRE verbs such as capire (to understand)

SingularPlural
Io capivoNoi capivamo
Tu capiviVoi capivate
Lui, lei capivaLoro capivano

Some commonly used verbs have an irregular conjugation in imperfetto.

ESSERE - to be

SingularPlural
Io eroNoi eravamo
Tu eriVoi eravate
Lui, lei eraLoro erano

FARE - to do, to make

SingularPlural
Io facevoNoi facevamo
Tu faceviVoi facevate
Lui, lei facevaLoro facevano

BERE - to drink

SingularPlural
Io bevevoNoi bevevamo
Tu beveviVoi bevevate
Lui, lei bevevaLoro bevevano

DIRE - to say

SingularPlural
Io dicevoNoi dicevamo
Tu diceviVoi dicevate
Lui, lei dicevaLoro dicevano

DIRE - to say

SingularPlural
Io davoNoi davamo
Tu daviVoi davate
Lui, lei davaLoro davano

Here are some examples of the use of imperfetto:

Volevamo andare in America. - We wanted to go to America.
Mio padre mi diceva sempre “Studia duro, figlia mia!”. - My father would always tell me “Study hard, my daughter!”
Andavo al bar quando ho sentito qualcosa di strano. - I was on my way to the bar when I heard something strange.


3. Trapassato prossimo

Trapassato prossimo is very similar to the Past Perfect Tense in English. It means that it is used to indicate an event in the past that happened before a different event. Trapassato prossimo requires the use of:

A form of “essere” or “avere” in imperfetto + participio passato like in the following examples:

Mangiare (to eat) requires the use of “avere”:

SingularPlural
Io avevo mangiatoNoi avevamo mangiato
Tu avevi mangiatoVoi avevate mangiato
Lui, lei aveva mangiatoLoro avevano mangiato

Uscire (to leave) requires the use of “essere”:

SingularPlural
Io ero uscito/uscitaNoi eravamo usciti/uscite
Tu eri uscito/uscitaVoi eravate usciti/uscite
Lui, lei era uscito/uscitaLoro eravano usciti/uscite

Some examples of the use of trapassato prossimo:

Quando mi ha detto che voleva comprare questo libro, l’avevo già venduto. - When he told me he wanted to buy this book, I had already sold it.
Non potevo fare niente, Marco era partito. - I couldn’t do anything, Marco had left.
Gli faceva male lo stomaco perché aveva mangiato tre panini. - His stomach was sore because he had eaten three sandwiches.


Future

Italian has two main tenses that can be used to talk about the future, namely, futuro semplice and futuro anteriore.


1. Futuro semplice

This future Italian tense is the most frequently used tense referring to future events. Like any other tense, it follows three main conjugation patterns:

-ARE verbs such as studiare (to study)

SingularPlural
Io studieròNoi studieremo
Tu studieraiVoi studierete
Lui, lei studieràLoro studieranno

-ERE verbs such as credere (to believe)

SingularPlural
Io crederòNoi crederemo
Tu crederaiVoi crederete
Lui, lei crederàLoro crederanno

-IRE verbs such as mentire (to lie)

SingularPlural
Io mentiròNoi mentiremo
Tu mentiraiVoi mentirete
Lui, lei mentiràLoro mentiranno

Unfortunately, some important verbs have irregular forms in futuro semplice:

ANDARE - to go

SingularPlural
Io andròNoi andremo
Tu andraiVoi andrete
Lui, lei andràLoro andranno

ESSERE - to be

SingularPlural
Io saròNoi saremo
Tu saraiVoi sarete
Lui, lei saràLoro saranno

AVERE - to have

SingularPlural
Io avròNoi avremo
Tu avraiVoi avrete
Lui, lei avràLoro avranno

SAPERE - to know

SingularPlural
Io sapròNoi sapremo
Tu sapraiVoi saprete
Lui, lei sapràLoro sapranno

VEDERE - to see

SingularPlural
Io vedròNoi vedremo
Tu vedraiVoi vedrete
Lui, lei vedràLoro vedranno

Here are a few sentences showing how the tense is used in practice:

L’anno prossimo andrò in vacanze al mare. - Next year I’ll go on holiday to the seaside.
Luigi dovrà cercare un lavoro, dopo l’Università. - Luigi will have to look for work, after (he graduates from) University.
Angela avrà dieci anni in septembre. - Angela will be ten years old in September.


2. Futuro anteriore

Futuro anteriore is used to indicate a future event that happens before a different future event. The tense is formed in the following manner:

A form of “essere” or “avere” in futuro semplice + participio passato as in the examples:

Comprare (to buy) requires the use of “avere”:

SingularPlural
Io avrò compratoNoi avremo comprato
Tu avrai compratoVoi avrete comprato
Lui, lei cavrà compratoLoro avranno comprato

Diventare (to become) requires the use of “essere”:

SingularPlural
Io sarò diventato/diventataNoi saremo diventati/diventate
Tu sarai diventato/diventataVoi sarete diventati/diventate
Lui, lei sarà diventato/diventataLoro saranno diventati/diventate

The tense can be used in practice as follows:

Quando avrò finito di studiare, ti chiamerò. - When I will have finished studying, I will call you.
Dopo che avremo passato qualche settimana in campania, torneremo in città. - After spending a few weeks in the countryside, we’ll come back to the city.
Appena sarà scesa dal treno, prenderà un taxi. - As soon as she gets off the train, she will take a taxi.


Conditional

Condizionale presente is an Italian tense used in a similar manner as English constructions with “would” such as “I would go but I can’t” (Ci andrei ma non posso). Italian Present Conditional follows the following regular conjugation patterns:

-ARE verbs such as parlare (to talk)

SingularPlural
Io parlereiNoi parleremmo
Tu parlerestiVoi parlereste
Lui, lei parlerebbeLoro parlerebbero

-ERE verbs such as credere (to believe)

SingularPlural
Io credereiNoi crederemmo
Tu crederestiVoi credereste
Lui, lei crederebbeLoro crederebbero

-IRE verbs such as sentire (to feel)

SingularPlural
Io sentireiNoi sentiremmo
Tu sentirestiVoi sentireste
Lui, lei sentirebbeLoro sentirebbero

Here are some important irregular verbs in condizionale presente:

ANDARE - to go

SingularPlural
Io andreiNoi andremmo
Tu andrestiVoi andreste
Lui, lei andrebbeLoro andrebbero

VENIRE - to come

SingularPlural
Io verreiNoi verremmo
Tu verrestiVoi verreste
Lui, lei verrebbeLoro verrebbero

SEDERE - to sit

SingularPlural
Io siedereiNoi siederemmo
Tu siederestiVoi siedereste
Lui, lei siederebbeLoro siederrebbero

The following sentences show the exemplary use of the tense:

Vorrei comprare un panino con petto di pollo. - I’d like to buy a chicken breast sandwich.
Questa pillola ti aiuterebbe a ricordare. - This pill will help you remember.
Canterei con te ma ho vergogna. - I’d sing with you but I’m shy.


The following sentences show the exemplary use of the tense:

English subjunctive is used less and less frequently. In Italian, however, it is a widely used mode. There are four different types of congiuntivo: presente, passato, imperfetto, trapassato.

This resource only discusses congiuntivo presente. It is a mode used for expressing feelings, uncertainty, doubt and similar. Some of the most important expressions requiring congiuntivo are:

Credere che... - to believe that...
Avere l’impressione che... - to have an impression that...
Pensare che... - to think that...
Sperare che... - to hope that...
Volere che... - to want that…

Below you can find tables showing you how to create the forms of a verb in congiuntivo presente for:

- the verbs ending in -ARE such as parlare:

SingularPlural
Io parliNoi parliamo
Tu parliVoi parliate
Lui, lei parliLoro parlino

- the verbs ending in -ERE such as credere:

SingularPlural
Io credaNoi crediamo
Tu credaVoi crediate
Lui, lei credaLoro credano

- the verbs ending in -IRE such as dormire:

SingularPlural
Io dormaNoi dormiamo
Tu dormaVoi dormiate
Lui, lei dormaLoro dormano

Here are a few examples of sentences in congiuntivo presente:

Spero che tu venga presto a Roma. - I hope you will come to Rome soon.
Credo che la mia ragazza non mi capisca. - I believe my girlfriend does not understand me.
È probabile che sia vero. - It is probable that it is true.

Imperative - Imperativo

To give orders in Italian it is necessary to use a special mode. The forms can be initially a bit confusing. The easiest way to study the forms is by comparing them throughout the three regular conjugation patterns. Note: There is no form for the first person singular as one cannot give an order to oneself.

SingularPlural
TuLui, leiNoiVoiLoro
Verbs ending in -ARECantaCantiCantiamoCantateCantino
Verbs ending in -EREScriviScrivaScriviamoScriveteScrivano
Verbs ending in -IREPartiPartaPartiamoPartitePartano

The following examples show how imperativo can be used:

Andiamo! - Let’s go!
Vada al diavolo! - Go to the devil!
Giri a sinistra e poi… - Turn left and then…

Reflexive verbs

A reflexive verb is a verb referring to an action that a person performs on themselves. An example of a reflexive verb is innammorarsi (to fall in love). This is how it would be conjugated in the present tense:

SingularPlural
Io mi innamoroNoi ci innamoriamo
Tu ti innamoriVoi vi innamorate
Lui, lei si innamoraLoro si innamorano

As the example shows the conjugation is the same as it would be for any other verb finishing in -are. The only difference is the presence of the reflexive pronoun: mi, ti, si, ci, vi and si. The verb radersi (to shave oneself) would follow the conjugation for -ere verbs and the verb sentirsi (to feel) for -ire verbs. It is true for all simple tenses. For instance, the same verb innamorarsi in imperfetto would conjugate like this:

SingularPlural
Io mi innamoravoNoi ci innamoravamo
Tu ti innamoraviVoi vi innamoravate
Lui, lei si innamoravaLoro si innamoravano

In the case of complex tenses such as passato prossimo reflexive verbs always require to be conjugated with essere so the form of the verb has to be in agreement with the subject and number as presented in the following example of a conjugation of the verb divertirsi (to have fun):

SingularPlural
Io mi sono divertito/itaNoi ci siamo divertiti/ite
Tu ti sei divertito/itaVoi vi siete divertiti/ite
Lui, lei si è divertito/titaLoro si sono divertiti/ite

Here is a short list of important reflexive verbs:

Chiamarsi - to be named
Svegliarsi - to wake up
Lavarsi - to wash “oneself”
Sposarsi - to get married
Vestirsi - to get dressed
Sedersi - to sit down

This is how they can be used in practice:

Mi chiamo Andrea. - My name is Andrea.
Luigi si sveglia alle 7. - Luigi wakes up at 7 o’clock.
Si siedono al ristorante pronti per ordinare qualcosa. - They sit in the restaurant ready to order something.