Regular Imperfect: Italian grammar lesson 83

stefano lodola italian teacher
Stefano
Italian language tutor, course author. MEng, MBA. Member of the International Association of Hyperpolyglots (HYPIA). After learning 12 languages, I can tell you that we all master languages by listening and mimicking. I couldn’t find an app to recommend to my students, so I made my own one. With my method, you’ll be speaking Italian from Lesson 1.
Italian for beginners can be a pain to learn. Not with this polyglot's video guide with 8 solutions to get started! The best way to survive and avoid pitfalls.
Struggling with listening? An Italian polyglot has valuable advice about comprehensible input. A quick guide to master any language fast. From pain to joy!
Activities to improve communication skills in a foreign language shift the focus of teaching from the language itself to actually doing things in that language.
What makes a good method of learning a language? To me, a study method is good if it delivers results. Typically, people want to learn Italian to communicate. Thus, progress...
Language learning is an artificial exercise that occupies time, money, and effort that could be better spent doing language acquisition. Learn to communicate!
Struggling with new words? An Italian polyglot has valuable advice about spaced repetition. A quick guide to memorize vocabulary fast, from pain to joy!
What is active recall? In the last years, there has been so much hype around active recall as it is believed to improve your study results and get you better...
How to practice speaking alone? For best results, turn virtually any study time (reading, listening, writing) into speaking practice for language immersion!
How long does it take to learn Italian? Is it hard? How fast you improve depends on your study method. Learn why in this honest guide by an Italian polyglot!

Summary

Dive into the heart of Italian storytelling with the imperfetto tense! Uncover when to use this past tense to paint vivid pictures of habitual actions, ongoing events, and states of being with our comprehensive guide. 🇮🇹✨

  • Describing the Past: Use imperfetto to illustrate past scenarios, like “Da piccola avevo i capelli ricci” (When I was a child, I had curly hair). It’s perfect for setting the scene. 🎨
  • Continuous Actions: To express actions that were ongoing or habits, imperfetto is your go-to. It’s like saying, “We used to meet every Friday” with “Ogni venerdì ci incontravamo.” 🔄
  • States of Mind: Feeling nostalgic? The imperfetto can help share past emotions or health, like “Ieri ero triste” (I was sad yesterday). 😔
  • Simultaneous Actions: Juggle two past actions with imperfetto for the background action and passato prossimo for the interrupting one. “Mentre studiavamo, ha squillato il telefono” (While we were studying, the phone rang). 📞
  • Conjugation Clues: Regular verbs in imperfetto are a breeze! Just tweak the verb root with “avo,” “evo,” or “ivo” based on the conjugation. “Mangiare” becomes “mangiavo” (I was eating). 🍝
  • Irregular Verbs: Keep an eye out for irregulars like fare, essere, and dire. They’re the rebels of the imperfetto world but just as important. “Facevo,” “ero,” and “dicevo” will be your new pals. 😉
  • Time Expressions: Pair imperfetto with time expressions for that authentic Italian touch. “Sempre,” “mai,” and “ogni giorno” will transport your listeners straight to your past experiences. ⏳

What is the imperfetto?

The Italian imperfetto (imperfect tense in English) is a tense that we use to talk about the past.

It is the second most used past tense in Italian, after the passato prossimo.

The Italian imperfetto is sometimes similar (not equal) to the English past simple: when you use the past simple of “to be”, we generally use the imperfetto of “essere”, as in “I was at home” (“Io ero a casa.”).

However, we don’t always translate it with an English past simple.

We mainly use it to express a continued and prolonged action that happened in the past or a habit in the past.

More precisely, imperfetto means “not exact”, so we cannot use this tense when we talk about an action that happened at an exact moment in time.

Instead, we use the imperfetto to talk about events that happened at some point in the past, but we don’t say exactly when.

What is the Italian imperfetto

When to use the imperfetto

We use the imperfetto in the following cases:

1. To describe the way people, objects, or places were in the past.

Da piccola avevo i capelli ricci.

When I was a child, I had curly hair.

Era un uomo coraggioso.

He was a brave man.

2. To describe ongoing situations and facts which happened over a continuous or unspecified period.

In this sense, it is often used in literature and storytelling to set or describe a scene.

I bambini giocavano per strada.

The children were playing in the street.

La città era deserta e i negozi erano chiusi.

The town was empty, and the shops were closed.

Era buio e la pioggia cadeva gentilmente.

It was dark, and the rain was falling lightly.

3. To describe states of mind or health.

Avevo sonno.

I was sleepy.

Laura non si sentiva molto bene.

Laura wasn’t feeling very well.

Ieri ero triste.

I was sad yesterday.

4. To describe what used to happen, such as habits and repeated actions in the past.

Ogni venerdì ci incontravamo al bar.

We used to meet at the bar every Friday.

D’estate andavamo sempre al mare.

In the summer we always used to go to the sea.

Da bambino mangiavo pane e marmellata tutti i giorni.

When I was a kid, I used to eat bread with jam every day.

5. To describe two past actions happening at the same time.

We use the imperfetto for the ongoing “background” action, and we use the passato prossimo for the “interrupting” action which happened for a shorter time.

In this situation, the imperfetto is often introduced by mentre (=while).

Mentre andavo in ufficio, ho incontrato Claudia.

While I was on my way to the office, I met Claudia.

Studiavamo quando improvvisamente ha squillato il telefono.

We were studying when suddenly the telephone rang.

Mi sono addormentata mentre leggevo.

I fell asleep while I was reading.

How to use the imperfetto

How to conjugate regular verbs in the imperfetto

The conjugation of regular verbs for the imperfetto past tense is pretty straightforward, which makes it fairly easy to recognize:

First conjugation Second conjugation Third conjugation
Infinitive form: (-are)

mangiare

(= to eat)

(-ere)

cadere

(= to fall)

(-ire)

capire

(= to understand)

io mangiavo cadevo capivo
tu mangiavi cadevi capivi
lui mangiava cadeva capiva
noi mangiavamo cadevamo capivamo
voi mangiavate cadevate capivate
loro mangiavano cadevano capivano

As you may have noticed by looking at the table above, the imperfetto tense looks very similar for all three conjugations.

The only difference is the first letter (the vowel a, e, or i) of the tense suffix. Therefore, we just need to keep in mind the following rules:

  • Verbs ending in –are (first conjugation) will have an a immediately following the verb root. Ex: for “parlare” (= to sing): io parl + a + vo (= parlavo)
  • Verbs ending in –ere (second conjugation) will have an e immediately following the verb root. Ex: for “leggere” (=to read) io legg + e + vo (= leggevo)
  • Verbs ending in –ire (third conjugation) will have an i immediately following the verb root. Ex: for “dormire” io dorm +i + vo (= dormivo)

Learn more about Italian verb conjugation.

How to use the Italian imperfetto

Three common irregular verbs in the imperfetto

Let’s now have a look at the conjugation of three common irregular verbs:

Fare – To do/ To make

  • Facevo – I did
  • Facevi – You did
  • Faceva – He/she/it did
  • Facevamo – We did
  • Facevate – You (all) did
  • Facevano – They did

Essere – To be

  • Ero – I was
  • Eri – You were
  • Era – He/she/it was
  • Eravamo – We were
  • Eravate – You (all) were
  • Erano – They were

Dire – To say/ To tell

  • Dicevo – I said
  • Dicevi – You said
  • Diceva – He/she/it said
  • Dicevamo – We said
  • Dicevate – You (all) said
  • Dicevano – They said

Italian imperfetto

Time expressions with the imperfetto

The imperfetto usually goes together with a time expression referring to the past, like the ones you can see below:

  • sempre – always
  • mai – never
  • spesso – often
  • tutti i giorni – every day
  • ogni giorno – each day
  • da piccolo – when I was a kid
  • a volte – at times, sometimes
  • ogni tanto – once in a while

How to use the imperfetto in Italian

Imperfetto: examples

Free Guide
How to Learn Languages Fast

Let’s have a look at some examples:

Volevamo sempre andare in Italia.

We always wanted to go to Italy.

Il cielo non era mai blu.

The sky was never blue.

Nel 2000, avevo vent’anni.

In 2000, I was twenty years old.

Loro credevano sempre a tutto.

They always believed everything.

L’anno scorso andavamo a ballare ogni fine settimana.

Last year we would go dancing every weekend.

Quando ero piccola, mangiavo la pasta ogni giorno.

When I was a kid, I would eat pasta every day.

Giocavo a calcio ogni pomeriggio.

I used to play soccer every afternoon.

Italian imperfetto conjugation

Practice with Quizlet

Here's a set of flashcards and quizzes to practice this grammar topic.

What to remember about imperfetto?

The Italian imperfetto is also known as the imperfect tense in English and is the second most used past tense in Italian after the passato prossimo.

The Italian imperfetto is sometimes similar to the English past simple, however, it is not always the case.

We mainly use the imperfetto to talk about continued and prolonged actions that happened in the past or a habit in the past.

We cannot use this tense when we talk about an action that happened at a specific point in time instead, the imperfetto is used to talk about events that happened at some point in the past but we don’t say exactly when.

We use the imperfetto in the following cases:

  • To describe the way things were in the past.
  • To describe ongoing situations and facts which happened over a continuous or unspecified time.
  • To describe states of mind or health.
  • To describe habits and repeated actions in the past.
  • To describe two past actions happening at the same time.

Conjugating regular verbs in the imperfetto is quite easy. The conjugation looks very similar for all three conjugations, the only difference being the first letter (the vowel a, e, or i) of the tense suffix.

If you want to talk about events that happened in the past, the Italian imperfetto is the tense to use!

Learn in the car with Think in Italian
Play Video about Learn in the car with Think in Italian

FAQs on Regular Imperfect: Italian grammar lesson 83

How do you know when to use imperfetto or passato prossimo?

When anything happened and prevented us from finishing what we were doing, we use the imperfetto to describe it. The ongoing "background" action is described by the imperfetto, and the brief "interrupting" action is represented by the passato prossimo.

What is the difference between imperfetto and passato remoto?

The imperfetto is used to describe past occurrences that were repeated and have relevance for the speaker in the present. The passato remoto is used for previous events that happened within a specific time frame. 

What is the imperfetto of essere?

The imperfetto of the verb Essere is as follow: Ero - I was, Eri - You were, Era - He/she/it was, Eravamo - We were, Eravate - You (all) were, Erano - They were

Italian word of the day
cappuccino
Example
Vorrei un cappuccino, per favore.
I’d like a cappuccino, please.
Follow me to fluency​

Receive my free resources once a week together with my best offers! 

Create a free lifetime account to get access to all the free lesson and other resources.

Leave a Reply

Share:

Take a free lesson today!

Create a free lifetime account to get access to all the free lessons and other resources.

I’ll also deliver my free resources my best offers to your mailbox (opt out at any time).

Read more about Italian grammar lessons
Sapere vs conoscere. Two Italian verbs that mean "to know". Learn the differences with this grammar lesson. Rules, examples, conjugations, sentences, exercises.
What is the progressive tense? In Italian, how can you say that something is happening at the time you’re speaking? This idea can be described in English using the present...
What is quando in Italian? Quando is one of the Italian Five Ws (chi, cosa, dove, quando, perché) and is a must-know for Italian students. Overcome your barriers in 3 minutes What's holding you...
What does ora che mean in Italian? Before we start with today’s post, we recommend listening to this song to get in the mood: “Ora che ho te” by Claudio...
Try my courses for free​
Stefano

Log in

Reset password or get in touch.

Not a member yet? Join today!

How long to fluency?

Find out how long it will take you to master Italian!
Get on the right track in 3 minutes.

dolce vita logo

We're already friends!

Coming from Luca and Marina?
Here's a special deal for you!
Just tell me where I should send the coupon.

50% OFF
all language resources

We're already friends!

Coming from All Language Resources?
Here's a special deal for you!
Just tell me where I should send the coupon.

50% OFF
GRAB A COUPON NOW, REDEEM IT LATER
50% OFF

To receive free resources once a week together with my best offers, just tell me where to send everything. Opt out at any time.

Create a free lifetime account to get access to all the free lesson and other resources.