The Italian passato remoto
In this post, we’re going to talk about the Italian passato remoto, not to be confused with the passato prossimo.
Both passato remoto and passato prossimo are Italian past tenses. However, they are used differently.
The passato remoto is the equivalent of the English past simple (i.e.: “walked”, “lived”).
On the other hand, the passato prossimo is similar to the English present perfect (i.e.: “have walked”, “have lived”), in terms of structure.
However, it’s usually translated with the past simple.
You may not be familiar with the passato remoto since it’s not a widely used tense in spoken Italian and is not usually taught to foreign students.
Compare the following two sentences:
Federico mi disse che mi stava aspettando.
Federico told me he was waiting for me.
Feferico mi ha detto che mi stava aspettando.
Federico (has) told me he was waiting for me.
In the first example, we used the passato remoto, whereas in the second one we used the passato prossimo. As you can see, they’re quite different.
Let’s now find out when to use the passato remoto in Italian.
Passato remoto or historical past
The passato remoto is a narrative tense.
We mainly find it in written texts, such as in literary and historical books, and newspapers.
It is usually used to talk about historical events or actions in the distant past. If it can help you, keep in mind remoto means remote.
For anything other than ancient history or things from relatively long ago, the passato remoto may sound odd to some Italians.
In fact, the passato remoto is considered old-style by some Italian speakers, since it’s increasingly losing ground to the more common passato prossimo, especially in the regions of Northern and Central Italy.
Where do Italians use the passato remote?
Even though we just told you the passato remoto may sound odd and old-fashioned for some Italians, you should know that the passato remoto is common in the South of Italy and in some parts of Central Italy.
In those regions, the passato remoto is even used to talk about recent events.
This may be due to the fact that some Southern dialects don’t have the equivalent of the passato prossimo (which is the most common past tense in Italian), so for some Southerners, it’s more natural to use the passato remoto.
This means both tenses (passato prossimo and passato remoto) are correct.
The passato prossimo is, overall, more common than the other one. It’s also more useful since it’s not exclusively used to talk about distant events and in written texts.
You may need to know how to conjugate verbs in the passato remoto if you want to write literary or historical texts, or if you’re going to move to or travel around the South of Italy.
So, let’s have a look at how to conjugate the passato remoto.
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Passato remoto: conjugation
There are three types of passato remoto verbs:
- Those with a regular conjugation
They follow a pattern of endings that only vary slightly among verb classes (-are, -ere, and -ire), i.e.: parlare (to talk), credere (to believe), and finire (to finish).
- Those with a completely irregular conjugation
Essere (to be), dire (to say), and fare (to do) are the most common verbs that are irregular in the passato remoto.
- Those with a partially irregular conjugation
These verbs have a combination of regular and irregular forms: the io, lui/lei, and loro forms are irregular, while the tu, noi, and voi forms are regular.
Vedere (to see) and leggere (to read) are examples of verbs belonging to this category.
Passato remoto: regular verbs
To form the passato remoto of regular verbs, we just remove the –are, –ere, –ire from the infinitive form and add the endings below, which are in bold:
You may have noticed that -ere verbs actually have a set of alternative endings, so feel free to use the one you feel more comfortable with.
Here are some examples of the remote past being used in Italian:
Dante si rifugiò a Ravenna.
Dante took refuge in Ravenna.
Petrarca morì nel 1374.
Petrarca died in 1374.
Passato remoto: essere, dire, and fare
These three verbs are completely irregular (especially the verb essere), which means they don’t follow the pattern of regular verbs at all:
Here some examples:
Albert Einstein fu un uomo di grande saggezza.
Albert Einstein was a man of great wisdom.
Con pochi soldi fecero un matrimonio bellissimo.
They set up a beautiful wedding with little money.
Facemmo tutto il possibile per riportare alla luce l’affresco di Raffaello.
We did everything possible to bring to light Raffaello’s fresco.
Cimabue disse: “L’allievo ha superato il maestro.”
Cimabue said: “The pupil has surpassed the teacher.”
Romeo e Giulietta si dissero parole d’amore che sono arrivate fino ai nostri tempi!
Romeo and Juliet said words of love to each other that have persisted until the present!
Passato remoto: partially irregular verbs
Let’s now have a look at the most common and useful partially irregular verbs.
As you will see, almost all of them are -ere verbs.
Since these verbs are only irregular in the io, lui/lei, and loro forms, we’ll just give you those:
|accendere||to turn on||accesi, accese, accesero|
|avere||to have||ebbi, ebbe, ebbero|
|cadere||to fall||caddi, cadde, caddero|
|chiedere||to ask||chiesi, chiese, chiesero|
|chiudere||to close||chiusi, chiuse, chiusero|
|conoscere||to know/meet||conobbi, conobbe, conobbero|
|convincere||to convince||convinsi, convinse, convinsero|
|correre||to run||corsi, corse, corsero|
|crescere||to grow up||crebbi, crebbe, crebbero|
|decidere||to decide||decisi, decisi, decisero|
|difendere||to defend||difesi, difese, difesero|
|discutere||to argue||discussi, discusse, discussero|
|distruggere||to distroy||distrussi, distrusse, distrussero|
|dividere||to divide||divisi, divise, divisero|
|esprimere||to express||espressi, espresse, espressero|
|leggere||to read||lessi, lesse, lessero|
|mettere||to put||misi, mise, misero|
|muovere||to move||mossi, mosse, mossero|
|nascere||to be born||nacqui, nacque, nacquero|
|perdere||to lose||persi, perse, persero|
|prendere||to get/to take||presi, prese, presero|
|rimanere||to stay||rimasi, rimase, rimasero|
|rispondere||to reply||risposi, rispose, risposero|
|rompere||to break||ruppi, ruppe, ruppero|
|sapere||to know||seppi, seppe, seppero|
|sconfiggere||to defeat||sconfissi, sconfisse, sconfissero|
|scrivere||to write||scrissi, scrisse, scrissero|
|spendere||to spend||spesi, spese, spesero|
|togliere||to remove||tolsi, tolse, tolsero|
|uccidere||to kill||uccisi, uccise, uccisero|
|vedere||to see||vidi, vide, videro|
|venire||to come||venni, venne, vennero|
|vincere||to win||vinsi, vinse, vinsero|
|vivere||to live||vissi, visse, vissero|
|volere||to want||volli, volle, vollero|
Michelangelo nacque nel 1475.
Michelangelo was born in 1475.
Learn more about Italian verb conjugation.
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