The Past Infinitive I: Italian Grammar Lesson 192

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Key Takeaways

Unlock the secrets of Italian’s past with the infinito passato! This guide will show you how to master the past infinitive form, adding depth to your Italian conversations and writings with ease.

  • Infinito Passato Basics: Discover how to form the past infinitive in Italian, a tense that’s perfect for expressing actions that have been completed, like aver mangiato (to have eaten).
  • Transitive Verb Twist: Learn the trick with transitive verbs: just pair avere with the past participle. Say goodbye to confusion and hello to phrases like avere cantato (to have sung)!
  • Intransitive Verb Agreement: Intransitive verbs need a bit more attention. Make sure the past participle agrees with the subject in gender and number, like essere andato/a (to have gone).
  • Reflexive Verb Rules: Tackle reflexive verbs by adding the reflexive pronoun to essere. Nail this, and you’ll be saying essermi perso/a (to have been lost) like a pro!
  • Real-Life Examples: Get the hang of it with practical examples. They’ll show you how to weave the past infinitive into everyday situations, making your Italian sound more natural.

Quick facts

What are the two tenses in the Italian infinitive mood?

The Italian infinitive mood has present infinitive (e.g., amare) and past infinitive (e.g., avere amato).

How do transitive verbs form the past infinitive in Italian?

Transitive verbs use the infinitive of "avere" plus the past participle of the main verb, like "avere cantato."

Can you give examples of transitive verbs in Italian?

Examples include "cantare" (to sing), "ridere" (to laugh), and "sentire" (to feel).

What’s unique about intransitive verbs in forming their past infinitive?

Intransitive verbs use the infinitive of "essere," requiring gender and number agreement with the subject.

Why do reflexive verbs behave like intransitive verbs in Italian?

Reflexive verbs use "essere" as the auxiliary verb and require reflexive pronouns, behaving like intransitive verbs.

How do reflexive pronouns integrate with the auxiliary verb "essere"?

They combine to form phrases like "essermi," "esserti," and "essersi," which then agree in gender and number.

Give examples of reflexive verbs in Italian.

Examples include "truccarsi" (to wear makeup), "chiedersi" (to wonder), and "vestirsi" (to dress up).

How does the present infinitive affect sentence perception?

It makes the action seem ongoing and not completed.

How does the past infinitive affect sentence perception?

It signals that the action is finished, influencing the sentence’s timeframe perception.

How does Italian handle gender and number agreement in the past infinitive of intransitive and reflexive verbs?

The past participle must agree with the subject in gender and number, reflecting the action’s completed state.

My Thoughts

What is “Infinito Passato” in Italian?

The infinitive mood in Italian has two tenses: present infinitive and past infinitive.

Examples of the first one are amare (to love), correre(to run), ordormire(to sleep), and examples of the second one are avere amato(to have loved), avere corso (to have run), or avere dormito(to have slept).

Both infinitive tenses have no conjugation, which means that they have no subject to be conjugated to. With the following tips, you’ll be using it correctly with no problems.

How to Form the Past Infinitive in Italian

Transitive Verbs

First of all, you need to know the syntactic difference between transitive and intransitive verbs.

Transitive verbs are verbs that take a direct object. Transitive verbs and their objects are directly liked without the use of any preposition. Transitive verbs that you might know already are cantare (to sing), ridere (to laugh), and sentire (to feel).

When you  want to form the past infinitive of transitive verbs, you must use the present infinitive of the auxiliary verb avere (to have) followed by the past participle of the main verb.

Infinito Infinito passato
cantare (to sing) avere cantato (to have sung)
ridere (to laugh) avere riso (to have laughed)
sentire(to feel) avere sentito(to have felt)

Dopo aver riso così tanto mi faceva male la pancia.

After having laughed that much my belly hurt.

Come ti senti dopo avere letto la poesia che ti ha dedicato?

How do you feel after having read the poem she dedicated to you?

Intransitive Verbs

Intransitive verbs are verbs that take an indirect object. Intransitive verbs and their objects are indirectly linked by means of a preposition. Intransitive verbs you might know already are andare (to go), rimanere (to stay), venire (to come).

When you want to form the past infinitive of intransitive verbs, you must use the present infinitive of the auxiliary verb essere (to be) followed by the past participle of the main verb.

In this case, however, there is one more thing to pay attention to: the past participle must agree in gender and number with the subject described.

Mi dispiace essere andata a casa presto.

I am sorry to have gone home early. / I am sorry I went home early.

Ci siamo resi conto di essere stati maleducati.

We realized to not have been polite. / We realized we weren’t polite.

Infinito Infinito passato
andare (to go)
  • essere andato
  • essere andata
  • essere andate
  • essere andati

(to have gone)

rimanere (to stay)
  • essere rimasto
  • essere rimasta
  • essere rimaste
  • essere rimasti

(to have stayed)

venire (to come)
  • essere venuto
  • essere venuta
  • essere venute
  • essere venuti

(to have come)

Reflexive Verbs

What I always tell my students, is that reflexive verbs are special transitive verbs, where the object and the subject coincide.  But this coincidence requires reflexive verbs to select the auxiliary verb essere, and, therefore, to behave as intransitive verbs.

However, reflexive verbs need reflexive pronouns, which are added to the verb essere that is, then, conjugated as essermi, esserti, essersi, esserciesservi, or essersi.

Just like you saw before, with the auxiliary verb “essere”, the past participle must agree with the gender and number of the subject.

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Examples of reflexive verbs are truccarsi (to wear make up), chiedersi (to wonder), vestirsi (to dress up).

Subject Infinito Infinito passato
io vestirmi essermi vestito/a
tu vestirti esserti vestito/a
lui/lei vestirsi essersi vestito/a
noi vestirci esserci vestiti/e
voi vestirvi esservi vestiti/e
loro vestirsi essersi vestiti/e

Sarebbe meglio farci una foto dopo esserci vestiti.

It would be better that we take a picture after we have dressed up.

Sei sicuro di esserti chiesto cosa vuoi da lei?

Are you sure you have asked yourself what you want from her?

Present Infinitive vs Past Infinitive: the use

Of course, the tense we use for a verb plays a huge role in the perception of the sentence.

If we use present infinitive, the action expressed by the main verb is perceived as ongoing, and not completed. Instead, if we use past infinitive, the action expressed by the main verb is perceived as finished.

Look at these two examples:

  • Mi dispiace averti disturbato (I am sorry for having disturbed you)

In this sentence, I am saying that I have disturbed you in the past, and now, in the present, I  am apologizing.

  • Mi dispiace disturbarti (I am sorry for disturbing you)

Test your knowledge in 10 quick questions

What is "infinito passato" in Italian?

The correspondent to the past infinitive in English.

How to form the past infinitive with transitive verbs?

Using the infinitive form of the auxiliary verb "avere" followed by the past participle of the main verb.

How to form the past infinitive with intransitive verbs?

Using the auxiliary verb "essere" followed by the past participle.

How to form the past infinitive with reflexive verbs?

Using the auxiliary verb "essere" with the reflexive particles and followed by the past participle.

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. I think an enhanced explanation in the notes would be helpful.
    Would you please include the two Italian translations. We already have the one for ” I am sorry for having disturbed you.” , which to me means the disturbance is over now. Please add the other, I am sorry for disturbing you, which to me means the disturbance is ongoing as of now, i.e. not yet completed.

    I think it is an important distinction. Thank you Stefano.

  2. Hello,

    I think some more explanation needs adding to Lesson 192. I know that the objective of this lesson is to teach the use of the past infinitive. And so one could assume all these sentences are using the past infinitive. But do they all? I would translate sentence 20 (cut and pasted below) as I am sorry for having disturbed you, just as the Bot did in the deeper explanation. If I wanted to say “I’m sorry for disturbing you.” i.e. disturbing you NOW in the present as called for by the English sentence 20, wouldn’t that be “Mi dispiace di disturbarti.”?.

    20.
    I’m sorry for disturbing you.
    20.
    Mi dispiace di averti disturbata.

    Here is the sentence explanation if one clicks on the bot face
    You:
    Explain the Italian sentence ‘Mi dispiace di averti disturbata.’ with examples.
    Stefano:

    Mi dispiace di averti disturbata.
    I’m sorry for having disturbed you.

    1. Yes, there’s no 1:1 match in usage between English and Italian usage. I was told by native speaker that “for disturbing” was more natural. Should I change the sentence? Or add an explanation in the notes?

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