The past subjunctive: Italian grammar lesson 208


Unlock the secrets of the Italian past subjunctive with our guide! Learn the easy way to talk about past hopes, dreams, and doubts in Italian, and get the hang of those tricky irregular past participles. 🇮🇹✨

  • Master the Basics: The past subjunctive (congiuntivo passato) mirrors the present subjunctive but with a twist—it’s all about the past. Just like a time-traveling grammarian! 🕒
  • Conjugation Is Key: Combine essere or avere in the present subjunctive with a past participle. It’s like a grammatical handshake between the present and the past. 🤝
  • Choosing the Helper: Use avere with most verbs, but switch to essere for verbs of movement or changes in state. It’s like picking the right dance partner for the perfect tango. 💃🕺
  • Agreement Matters: With essere, make sure your past participle agrees in gender and number with the subject. It’s like matching your socks—important for looking put together! 🧦
  • Irregulars Alert: Watch out for irregular past participles like aperto or venuto. They’re the rebels of the Italian grammar world. 😎
  • Use It Right: Deploy the past subjunctive after phrases like penso che or spero che to express uncertainty or emotion about the past. It’s like adding spice to your language dish! 🌶️

My thoughts

How to form the past of the subjunctive?

The congiuntivo passato or the past of the subjunctive behaves like the present of the subjunctive, with the obvious difference that it’s used to talk about the past.

Its structure is quite straightforward since it’s similar to the passato prossimo, which combines the verb essere or the verb avere and the past participle.

The only difference is that this time the verbs essere and avere are in the present of the subjunctive.

  • avere in the present of the subjunctive + past participle
  • essere in the present of the subjunctive + past participle

How to conjugate avere and essere in the present subjunctive?

In case you don’t remember, here are the verbs essere and avere are in the present of the subjunctive:

  • Avere: io abbia, tu abbia, lui/lei abbia, noi abbiamo, voi abbiate, loro abbiano.
  • Essere: io sia, tu sia, lui/lei sia, noi siamo, voi siate, loro siano.

If you don’t know when to use avere and when to use essere, the following tip will help you:

  • Avere is followed by most verbs, such as comprare (to buy), mangiare (to eat), leggere (to read), etc.
  • Essere is followed by the verbs essere and stare, and by all verbs that deal with movement like rimanere (to stay/to remain), scappare (to escape), salire (to go up), scendere (to go down),  partire (to depart or leave), andare (to go), venire (to come), etc.

Remember the past participles are those words that end in –ato, –uto, and –ito, like mangiato, saputo, and dormito.

There are many past participles that are irregular. Here’s a list of some of them: aperto, bevuto, chiesto, detto, fatto, letto, perso, rotto, scritto, stato, venuto, visto.

Keep in mind that the past participle of the verbs that go with essere agree in number and gender with the subject.

Practice with Quizlet

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

The past of the subjunctive: examples

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Remember we use the subjunctive to talk about hopes, hypotheses, desires, fears, possibilities, and doubts.

It’s usually preceded by penso che (I think that), credo che (I believe that), spero che (I hope that), è possibile che (it’s possible that), and sembra che (it seems that or it seems like), among others.

Let’s have a look at some examples:

Credo che tu abbia comprato una bellissima macchina.

I believe that you bought a very beautiful car.

Spero che lei abbia mangiato tutto.

I hope she ate everything.

È possible che voi abbiate dimenticato tutto.

It’s possible that you forgot everything.

Credo che Maria sia andata a dormire.

I believe Maria went to sleep.

Non ti sembra che loro siano partiti troppo presto?

Don’t you think they left too early?

Spero che voi siate arrivate in tempo.

I hope you arrived on time.

What is the past of the subjunctive in Italian grammar?

To form the past subjunctive in Italian, one must use either avere or essere in the present subjunctive and add the past participle of the main verb at the end.

What is a subjunctive verb in Italian?

The subjunctive verb form in Italian, is frequently utilized to express desires, opinions, and convictions.

Italian word of the day
Hai voglia di fare una passeggiata?
Do you feel like going for a walk?
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