Regular past tense (passato prossimo): Italian grammar lesson 31

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Key Takeaways

Dive into the heart of Italian grammar with our guide on the passato prossimo! Master this essential past tense to narrate completed actions and events, and learn the tricks to avoid common pitfalls with auxiliary verbs and participles.

  • Get the Basics Down: The passato prossimo is your go-to for discussing finished past actions. Remember, it’s a combo of “to have” or “to be” with the main verb’s past participle. 📘
  • Auxiliary Verbs Are Key: Nail the use of essere and avere as auxiliaries. Most verbs use avere, but verbs of motion and changes often pair with essere. 🚶‍♂️➡️🏃‍♀️
  • Match It Up: When essere is your helper, align the past participle’s gender and number with the subject. With avere, though, the participle won’t change. Consistency is key! 🔓
  • Memorize Irregulars: Irregular past participles are a pain but super common. Bite the bullet and memorize these bad boys – your fluency will thank you. 🤓
  • Practice Makes Perfect: Use online quizzes and audio lessons to drill the passato prossimo into your brain. Repetition is your friend here, folks. 🎧✅
  • Don’t Mix Up Tenses: The passato prossimo isn’t the imperfetto. Use the former for specific, completed actions and the latter for ongoing past actions. Context is everything! 🕒

Quick facts

What differentiates passato prossimo from imperfetto in Italian?

Passato prossimo describes completed past actions, while imperfetto describes ongoing or habitual past actions.

How is the passato prossimo formed grammatically?

It's formed using the present tense of an auxiliary verb (essere or avere) plus the past participle of the main verb.

When do you use "essere" as the auxiliary verb in passato prossimo?

"Essere" is used with verbs of motion, change, and common intransitive verbs.

What is a key rule when using "essere" in passato prossimo?

The past participle must agree in gender and number with the subject.

When do you use "avere" as the auxiliary verb in passato prossimo?

"Avere" is typically used with transitive verbs and some intransitive verbs.

How does the past participle behave when "avere" is the auxiliary verb?

The past participle remains invariable, regardless of the subject's gender or number.

What is the general pattern for forming regular past participles in Italian?

-ARE verbs end in -ATO, -ERE verbs end in -UTO, and -IRE verbs end in -ITO.

Why is passato prossimo challenging for non-native speakers?

Many frequently used verbs have irregular past participles that must be memorized.

Can passato prossimo and imperfetto be used together?

Yes, they can be combined in the same sentence to describe different aspects of past events.

What resource can help practice passato prossimo effectively?

The Italian audio course "Ripeti con me!" offers structured lessons and quizzes to master passato prossimo.

My Thoughts

What is the passato prossimo in Italian?

In Italian, the passato prossimo is a tense used to express past finished events and actions.

It is composed of the auxiliary verb “to have” or “to be and the past participle of the main verb.

It is not to be confused with the imperfetto; another frequently used the past tense. However, these two past tenses can be used together in the same sentence.

You can cover virtually any past situation or event with these two tenses, while you can get by without passato remoto, which is only found in novels and history books.

This post is about the passato prossimo of regular Italian verbs. There’s also a post about the passato prossimo of irregular Italian verbs.

Trivia: There’s a movie called “Passato prossimo“.

Passato prossimo: what is it for?

When studying Italian, one of the most important things to learn is how to use Italian verbs.

Let’s talk about the passato prossimo (present perfect) of Italian verbs.

First of all, in the Italian language, we do not have only one past tense, but two: passato prossimo and imperfetto.

The present perfect (passato prossimo) is used when you are referring to actions completed in the past.

Basically, it is one of the tenses that we use when we talk about actions, events, and facts that happened in the past but not long ago.

What is the passato prossimo? Let’s first look at a couple of examples of common Italian verbs:

Io ho mangiato una mela.

I’ve eaten an apple.

With this sentence, you are describing recent past events that are now completed.

All’improvviso è arrivato Marco.

Suddenly, Marco came in.

This verb tense can also be used to describe sudden actions.

By the way, remember to spell “passato prossimo” correctly: it’s not “pasato prosimo” (double the s’s!).

ItalianoVero - Passato prossimo - Italian past tense #learnitalian

Passato prossimo: conjugation rules and examples

Now let’s talk about the grammar rule behind the Italian passato prossimo (past tense). How do we form it?

The passato prossimo is a compound tense (formed with 2 words).

The first one is the present tense (presente) of an auxiliary verb; the second word is the past participle (participio passato) of the verb that we are conjugating.

To create a sentence with a present perfect in it, you should follow this scheme:

SUBJECT + AUXILIARY VERB + PAST PARTICIPLE

Please note that:

In Italian, there are two different auxiliary verbs: essere (to be) and avere (to have).

Let me tell you now, most students of Italian don’t get this right, even after years of studying Italian!

Even students who consider themselves advanced—and they may well be in many areas of the language—still struggle with this concept.

Let’s look into:

  • Passato prossimo: examples with the verb essere
  • Passato prossimo: examples with the verb avere

Passato prossimo with essere

The verb “essere” is mostly used with verbs of motion, verbs that express a change, and the most common intransitive verbs.

Here are some examples of the Italian passato prossimo including the verb andare.

Passato prossimo: examples with essere

Verb of motion: “andare”, to go:

(Io – I) sono andato in palestra.

I went to the gym.

Verb of motion: “partire”, to leave:

(Loro – They) sono partiti ieri sera.

They left last night.

Verb of motion: “arrivare”, to arrive:

(Io, femminile – I, feminine) Sono arrivata a casa.

I arrived home.

Verb that expresses a change: “diventare”, to become:

(Tu – You) Sei diventato grande!

You’ve got big!

Verb that expresses a change: “nascere”, to be born:

(Lui – He) È nato in settembre.

He was born in September.

Verb that expresses a change: “crescere”, to grow up:

(Noi – We) Siamo cresciuti in campagna.

We grew up in the countryside.

Intransitive verb: “uscire”, to go out:

(Io – I) Sono uscito.

I went out.

Did you notice the participio passato (past participle)? When the auxiliary is “essere”, the past participle (participio passato) changes according to the number and gender of the subject. You need to conjugate it!

Now, this is actually not very hard to do and remember since you already know how Italian adjectives behave: they match the subject in gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural).

Since every past participle (including the irregular ones) ends with an –O in its base form, it’s a walk in the park to make them match the subject of the verb.

For the conjugation of the passato prossimo of essere (not as an auxiliary verb), check out our page about the irregular passato prossimo.

Italian passato prossimo with avere

The verb “avere” is used whenever verbs can be followed by an object.

These verbs are mostly transitive verbs (they are marked in every Italian dictionary with the letters “tr.”).

But there are some exceptions, and the auxiliary verb “avere” also has to be used for a few intransitive verbs.

Here are some examples of the passato prossimo with the verb avere.

Passato prossimo: examples with avere

Verb followed by an object: “mangiare”, to eat:

Io ho mangiato una pizza.

I ate a pizza.

Verb followed by an object: “sapere”, to know:

(Lei/Lui – She/He ) Ha saputo la verità.

He/she found out the truth.

Verb followed by an object: “sentire”, to hear:

(Noi – We) Abbiamo sentito un rumore.

We heard a noise.

Verb followed by an object: “capire”, to understand:

(Io – I) Ho capito.

I understood, I got it.

Intransitive verb: “camminare”, to walk:

(Loro – Them) Hanno camminato nel parco.

They walked in the park.

Intransitive verb: “viaggiare”, to travel:

(Lei/Lui – She/he) Ha viaggiato molto nella vita.

He / she travelled a lot in his / her life.

Intransitive verb: “sciare”, to ski:

(Tu – You) Hai sciato sulla montagna.

You skied on the mountain.

Intransitive verb: “nuotare”, to swim:

(Loro – Them) Hanno nuotato nel fiume.

They swam in the river.

Again, did you notice the participio passato (past participle)? When the auxiliary is “avere“, the past participle (participio passato) does not change according to number and gender, but it is invariable!

As you can see, no matter who the subject is (voi, tu, Luisa, Marco) and what the object is (questa macchina, questi libri, queste scarpe, questo libro) the past participle of the verb does not change.

For the conjugation of the passato prossimo of avere (not as an auxiliary verb), check out the page about irregular passato prossimo.

How to form the participio passato

Let’s see some rules to form the participio passato.

Usually, this is how the Italian past participle is formed:

  • Verbs ending in -ARE in the infinitive tense will end in -ATO: sognare (to dream) becomes sognato (dreamt);
  • Verbs ending in -ERE in the infinitive tense will end in -UTO: sapere (to know) becomes saputo (known)
  • Verbs ending in -IRE in the infinitive tense will end in -ITO: sentire (to hear) becomes sentito (heard)

However, there are a lot of irregular past participles and irregular passato prossimo. The best way to recognize them is to use a dictionary and memorize them.

Sadly, the most frequent and useful have irregular past participles. There’s no way of guessing what these are, so over time, you will develop your own list.

That’s why the passato prossimo in Italian is a pain in the neck for non-native speakers!

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For the conjugation of the passato prossimo of fare, check out the page about irregular passato prossimo.

Passato prossimo: test

Test your knowledge of the passato prossimo with this online Italian quiz.

It covers Lessons 31-45 of the Italian audio course “Ripeti con me!”.

At the end of the test, you’ll see the result together with a short explanation of each question.

This online grammar quiz is a chance to quickly practice the passato prossimoand other grammar patterns.

If you’re looking for exercises about the Italian past tense, you’ll also get recommendations for further practice.

Audio lessons to practice the passato prossimo

For a collection of Italian sentences to practice the passato prossimo, take lesson 31 of the Italian Audio course “Ripeti con me!”

Practice with Quizlet

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

Passato prossimo: what to remember

The passato prossimo is a tense used to express past finished events and actions. It’s one of the tenses we use when we talk about actions, events, and facts that happened in the past, but not long ago.

It is not to be confused with the imperfetto, another frequently used past tense.

However, these two past tenses can be used together in the same sentence. You can cover virtually any past situation or event with these two tenses, while you can get by without passato remoto, which is only found in novels and history books.

The passato prossimo is composed of the auxiliary verb “to have” or “to be” and the past participle of the main verb.

Usually, the Italian past participle is formed as follows:

  • Verbs ending in -ARE in the infinitive tense will end in -ATO: sognare (to dream) becomes sognato (dreamt);
  • Verbs ending in -ERE in the infinitive tense will end in -UTO: sapere (to know) becomes saputo (known);
  • Verbs ending in -IRE in the infinitive tense will end in -ITO: sentire (to hear) becomes sentito (heard).

However, there are a lot of irregular past participles and irregular passato prossimo. The best way to recognize them is to use a dictionary and memorize them.

Unfortunately, the most frequent and useful have irregular past participles.

We know it can be difficult, but don’t give up!

By familiarizing yourself with the rules of the passato prossimo, you’ll be able to use this important tense with ease.

Test your knowledge in 10 quick questions

How do you use passato prossimo in Italian?

There are various past tenses in Italian, including passato prossimo. You will need this one the most. It is used to describe actions that have been finished.

Is passato a Prossimo verb?

The passato prossimo in Italian grammar is a tense used to express past completed actions.

How do you conjugate Italian verbs in passato prossimo?

The passato prossimo in Italian grammar is made up of the auxiliary verb “to have” or “to be“ and the past participle of the main verb.

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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4 Responses

  1. Error in (translation)
    sognare (to dream) becomes sognato (dreamt);
    verbs ending in -ERE in the infinitive tense will end in -UTO: sapere (to dream) becomes saputo (dreamt)
    verbs ending in -IRE in the infinitive tense will end in -ITO: sentire (to dream) becomes sentito (dreamt)

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