Passato remoto: Italian grammar lesson

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passato remoto italian grammar lesson
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Passato remoto: what is it?

The remote past tense aka Passato Remoto in Italian is typically used to talk about history or in literary texts. It is actually a simple tense and is formed by one word.

It is used for events that happened in the distant past.

Passato Remoto is used exclusively in written Italian, except for certain areas in Southern Italy where it is used in spoken language.

That’s why you should first learn the other two Italian past tenses: passato prossimo and imperfetto. But also how to use passato prossimo and imperfetto together.

Passato remoto: conjugations

Just like other verb conjugations in Italian, the regular verbs have specific endings. Follow this format to form the passato remoto (remote past) of regular verbs:

  • For -are verbs, drop the infinitive ending and add one of these personal endings to the root: -ai, -asti, -ò, -ammo, -aste, -arono.
  • For -ere verbs, drop the infinitive ending and add these personal endings to the root: -ei, -esti, -é, -emmo, -este, -erono. Note that many regular -ere verbs have an alternative form in
    the first-person singular, third-person singular, and third-person plural forms.
  • For -ire verbs, drop the infinitive ending and add these personal endings to the root: -ii, -isti, -í, -immo, -iste, -irono.

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.

Michelangelo nacque nel 1475.

Michelangelo was born in 1475.

The table below provides examples of three regular Italian verbs (one of each class) conjugated in the remote past tense.

PARLARE RICEVERE CAPIRE
io parlai ricevei (ricevetti) capii
tu parlasti ricevesti capisti
lui, lei, Lei parlò ricevé (ricevette) capí
noi parlammo ricevemmo capimmo
voi parlaste riceveste capiste
loro, Loro parlarono riceverono (ricevettero) capirono

Learn more about Italian verb conjugation.

Examples of irregular verbs

Many verbs in Italian have an irregular conjugation with the “passato remoto”.

Below are five common examples:

Essere – To be

Essere – To be

fui
fosti
fu
fummo
foste
furono

Albert Einstein fu un uomo di grande saggezza.

Albert Einstein was a man of great wisdom.

Avere – To have

Avere – To have

ebbi
avesti
ebbe
avemmo
aveste
ebbero

Ebbero così tanta fortuna da vincere persino il primo premio della lotteria nazionale!

They had such luck that they also won the first prize of the National Lottery!

Giulia ebbe il coraggio di donare un rene a sua sorella.

Giulia had the courage to donate a kidney to her sister.

Fare – To do/make

Fare – To do/make

  • feci
  • facesti
  • fece
  • facemmo
  • faceste
  • fecero

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.

Stare – To stay/to be

Stare – To stay/to be

  • stetti
  • stesti
  • stette
  • stemmo
  • steste
  • stettero

Mi ricordo che stetti in silenzio tutta la festa. Ero troppo timida!

I remember I spent the whole party without saying a word. I was too shy!

I feriti, dopo la scoperta della penicillina nel 1937, stettero subito meglio.

The wounded felt immediately better after the discovery of penicillin in 1937.

Dire – To say

Dire – To say

  • dissi
  • dicesti
  • disse
  • dicemmo
  • diceste
  • dissero

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!

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.

How to use the passato remoto

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.

The Italian passato remoto

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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Where do Italians use 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.

When do Italians use passato remoto

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:

parlare
(to speak)
credere
(to sell)
finire
(to finish)
io parlai credetti/credei finii
tu parlasti credesti finisti
lui, lei parlò credette/credè finì
noi parlammo credemmo finimmo
voi parlaste credeste finiste
loro parlarono credettero/
crederono
finirono

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.

Italian passato remoto

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:

essere
(to be)
dire
(to say)
fare
(to do)
io fui dissi feci
tu fosti dicesti facesti
lui, lei fu disse fece
noi fummo dicemmo facemmo
voi foste diceste faceste
loro furono dissero fecero

passato remoto conjugation

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:

infinitive meaning passato remoto
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

passato remoto irregular verbs

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FAQs on Passato remoto: Italian grammar lesson

What is the Italian Passato Remoto?

The Passato Remoto is the equivalent of the English past simple.

When to use Passato Remoto in Italian?

The Italian Passato Remoto is usually used to refer to actions that happened in the distant past (like historical events). However, it is considered a bit old-style, especially in Northern and Central Italy, and it is used in spoken Italian only in Southern regions.

How to form the Italian Passato remoto?

For regular Italian verbs, you can drop the infinitive endings and add personal endings to the roots. Some verbs (like "essere", "avere", "fare", "dire", and "stare") are completely irregular, which means they don't follow the patterns of regular verbs.

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