The Past Infinitive II: Italian grammar lesson 237

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Key Takeaways

Dive into the world of Italian verbs and master the art of the past infinitive! This guide will teach you how to form and use this essential tense to talk about actions that happened before others. 🇮🇹✨

  • Know Your Verbs: Italian verbs end in -are, -ere, or -ire. Get these basics down, and you’re halfway to speaking like a local!
  • Infinitive Basics: The infinitive is your go-to verb form. In Italian, it’s all about avere or essere plus the past participle. Keep it simple, folks!
  • Drop the ‘e’: Italians love to keep it casual. So, feel free to drop the final -e in avere and essere. Say aver mangiato instead of avere mangiato – it’s cooler. 😎
  • Matchy-Matchy: When using essere, make sure your past participle agrees with the subject’s gender and number. It’s like matching your shoes with your belt – it just works.
  • Regulars vs. Rebels: Most verbs play by the rules with past participles ending in -ato, -uto, and -ito. But watch out for those irregulars – they’re the James Deans of verbs.
  • Timing is Everything: Use the past infinitive to dish on actions that happened before something else. It’s like saying, “First I conquered Rome, then I had gelato.”
  • After & Before: Pair dopo and prima di with the past infinitive to sequence your stories like a pro. It’s like setting the stage for a drama – but in Italian!

Quick facts

What are the three types of Italian infinitives?

Italian infinitives end in -are, -ere, and -ire, such as cucinare (to cook), bere (to drink), and dormire (to sleep).

How do you form the Italian past infinitive?

The past infinitive is formed using avere or essere in the infinitive, followed by the past participle, e.g., avere mangiato (to have eaten).

When is it common to drop the final -e of avere and essere?

The final -e of avere and essere is often dropped in past infinitive constructions, like aver mangiato or esser venuta.

Which verbs use "essere" in the past infinitive?

Verbs of movement, reflexive verbs, and verbs indicating a state use "essere," such as andare (to go) and svegliarsi (to wake up).

How do past participles agree in gender and number with essere?

When using essere, past participles must agree in gender and number, like tornati for multiple men returning.

What is the ending for past participles of regular -are verbs?

Regular -are verbs take -ato in the past participle form, e.g., mangiare becomes mangiato.

Can you list some irregular Italian past participles?

Irregular past participles include fatto (done), detto (said), and visto (seen).

When do you use the Italian past infinitive?

Use the past infinitive to indicate an action that occurred before the action in the main sentence.

How does the past infinitive relate to chronological order in sentences?

The past infinitive places actions in chronological order, indicating which occurred first.

How do you use "dopo" and "prima di" with the past infinitive?

"Dopo" (after) and "prima di" (before) precede the past infinitive to sequence events, like dopo aver visto (after having seen).

My Thoughts

What is the Italian infinitive?

To understand what an infinitive is, you need to know what a verb is.

A verb is a word that refers to an action. Examples are eating, reading, and playing.

The infinitive is the base form of a verb.

In Italian there are three types:

  • -are verbs, like cucinare (to cook), cantare (to sing), andare (to go).
  • -ere verbs, like bere (to drink), cadere (to fall), rimanere (to stay).
  • -ire verbs, like dormire (to sleep), venire (to come), morire (to die).

There are two types of infinitives in Italian: the present infinitive and the past infinitive.

In today’s post, we’re going to focus on the Italian past infinitive.

How to form the Italian past infinitive?

Here are some examples of the past infinitive:

  • Avere mangiato (to have eaten)
  • Avere cucinato (to have cooked)
  • Avere parlato (to have talked)
  • Avere dormito (to have slept)
  • Essere andato (to have gone)
  • Essere venuta (to have come)
  • Essere caduti (to have fallen)
  • Essere scese (to have gone down)

You probably guessed we use either avere or essere in the infinitive, followed by the past participle.

By the way, we often drop the final -e of avere and essere. For example, we could say aver mangiato and esser venuta.

The Italian past infinitive: essere or avere?

We use avere with most Italian verbs.

We use essere with the following verbs:

  • Verbs of movement (i.e.: andare – to go; venire – to come)
  • Reflexive verbs (i.e.: svegliarsi – to wake up; lavarsi – to wash oneself)
  • Verbs that indicate the state of something or someone (i.e.: essere – to be; stare – to be or feel).

When we use the past infinitive with the verb essere, the past participle agrees in number and gender with the noun it refers to, like in the example below:

Dopo essere tornati a casa, hanno deciso di rimanerci.

After having returned home, they decided to stay.

As you can we said tornati and not tornato or tornate, since we’re referring to more than one man.

How to form the past participles?

In case you don’t know or don’t remember, the past participles of regular verbs are conjugated as follows:

  • Verbs ending in -are take -ato (i.e.: mangiare–> mangiato, ballare–> ballato)
  • Verbs ending in -ere take -uto (i.e.: cadere–>caduto, avere–> avuto)
  • Verbs ending in -ire take -ito (i.e.: capire–>capito, dormire–> dormito)

There are some irregular past participles:

  • Essere (to be): stato
  • Fare (to do): fatto
  • Dire (to say): detto
  • Chiedere (to ask): chiesto
  • Leggere (to read): letto
  • Mettere (to put): messo
  • Vedere (to see): visto
  • Vivere (to live): vissuto

When to use the Italian past infinitive?

We use the Italian past infinitive to refer to an action that happened before the one in the main sentence. 

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So, if the action expressed by the infinitive occurred before the main verb, we use the past infinitive.

Have a look at the examples below:

Teresa dice di aver visto Maria.

Teresa says to have seen Maria. (Teresa says she saw Maria.)

Marta crede di aver capito tutto.

Marta thinks to have understood everything. (Marta thinks she understood everything.)

Avere parlato con lei mi ha aiutata.

Having talked to her helped me.

As you can see, there are two actions in each sentence. And there’s a chronological order which is given by verb tenses.

How to use dopo and prima di + past infinitive?

We usually use the Italian past infinitive with the following time words:

Here’re some examples:

Dopo aver visto la casa, ho deciso di comprarla.

After having seen the house, I decided to buy it.

Dopo aver visitato il museo, ho capito tante cose sulla storia.

After having visited the museum, I understood many things about history.

Prima di essere andato a fare la spesa, ho fatto le pulizie.

Before going to do the grocery, I did the cleaning.

Prima di avere visto quel film, pensavo fosse interessante.

Before seeing that movie, I thought it was interesting.

Test your knowledge in 10 quick questions

How to form the Italian past infinitive?

We use either avere or essere in the infinitive + the past participle.

The Italian past infinitive: essere or avere?

We use avere with most Italian verbs. And we use essere with verbs of movement, reflexive verbs and verbs that indicate the state of something or someone.

When to use the Italian past infinitive?

We use the Italian past infinitive to refer to an action that happened before the one in the main sentence. 

Italian word of the day
l’influenza
Example
Hai la febbre! Sì, mi è venuta l’influenza.
You have a fever! Yes, I got influenza.
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2 Responses

  1. Re Lesson 237
    These English translations don’t read well.

    Teresa dice di aver visto Maria.
    Teresa says to have seen Maria. <- We would not say this in English.
    Maybe, 'Teresa says/said she saw Maria.'

    Marta crede di aver capito tutto.
    Marta thinks to have understood everything. <- We would not say this in English.
    Maybe, 'Marta thinks she understood everything.'

    1. Ciao @donaldbell09@gmail.com!

      Thank you for letting us know there were issues with the English translations.

      We’ve edited the grammar note for marking it clear.

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