The past perfect subjunctive: Italian grammar lesson

Lesson 210

Key Takeaways

In this lesson, you’ll master the congiuntivo trapassato to express events that happened before another past event in Italian.

  • The congiuntivo trapassato is used to describe an event that occurred before another past event.
  • It’s often preceded by phrases like pensavo che (I thought that) and credevo che (I believed that).
  • Conjugate avere and essere in the imperfect subjunctive to form this tense.
  • Use avere with most verbs and essere with verbs of movement and essere itself.
  • Remember that past participles ending in –ato, –uto, and –ito must agree in number and gender with the subject.

Quick facts

When is the congiuntivo trapassato used in Italian?

It is used to describe an event that occurred before another past event, often preceded by phrases like "pensavo che" or "credevo che."

What forms do essere and avere take in the congiuntivo trapassato?

In the congiuntivo trapassato, essere and avere are conjugated in the imperfect subjunctive.

How is "avere" conjugated in the imperfect subjunctive?

The conjugations for "avere" are: avessi, avessi, avesse, avessimo, aveste, avessero.

How is "essere" conjugated in the imperfect subjunctive?

The conjugations for "essere" are: fossi, fossi, fosse, fossimo, foste, fossero.

Which verbs typically follow "avere" in the congiuntivo trapassato?

Verbs like comprare, mangiare, and leggere usually follow "avere."

Which verbs typically follow "essere" in the congiuntivo trapassato?

"Essere" and "stare," as well as movement-related verbs, follow "essere."

What endings do regular past participles have?

Regular past participles end in -ato, -uto, and -ito, such as mangiato, saputo, and dormito.

What are some examples of irregular past participles?

Examples include aperto, bevuto, chiesto, detto, fatto, letto, perso, rotto, scritto, stato, venuto, visto.

How do past participles agree with subjects when using "essere"?

Past participles must agree in number and gender with the subject when using "essere."

Can you provide an example sentence using "pensavo che" in the congiuntivo trapassato?

Sure! "Pensavo che loro fossero partite la scorsa settimana" means "I thought they had left last week."

Audio images

🔊
Speravo che Luca avesse portato il vino.
🔊
Pensavo che avessero scritto il libro insieme.
🔊
Credevo che avessi già mangiato.

Vocab

avessi
fosse
stato
detto
fatto
letto
scritto
venuto
mangiato
bevuto
preso
aperto
chiuso
capito
creduto
veduto
detto
offerto
scelto
partito

Sentences

Se avessi studiato di più, avrei passato l'esame.

If I had studied more, I would have passed the exam.

Se fossero venuti alla festa, si sarebbero divertiti.

If they had come to the party, they would have had fun.

Se avessi saputo del tuo arrivo, ti avrei aspettato.

If I had known about your arrival, I would have waited for you.

Se avessimo prenotato prima, avremmo trovato posto.

If we had booked earlier, we would have found a spot.

Se avesse finito il lavoro, sarebbe andato in vacanza.

If he had finished the work, he would have gone on vacation.

My Thoughts

What is congiuntivo trapassato in Italian?

In today’s lesson, we’re going to focus on the congiuntivo trapassato. We use this structure to talk about an event that happened before another event in the past.

In this case, il congiuntivo trapassato is usually preceded by constructions like the following:

  • pensavo che (I thought that)
  • credevo che (I believed that)
  • speravo che(I hoped that)
  • sapevo che (I knew that)
  • sembrava che(it seemed that/it seemed like)
  • and all their variants, among others.

Its structure is similar to the indicativo trapassato, 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 imperfect subjunctive.

🔊
Speravo che Luca avesse portato il vino.

How to conjugate avere and essere in the imperfect subjunctive?

Let’s review the verbs essere and avere in the imperfect subjunctive:

Avere

io avessi
tu avessi
lui / lei avesse
noi avessimo
voi aveste
loro avessero

Essere

io fossi
tu fossi
lui / lei fosse
noi fossimo
voi foste
loro fossero

Here’s a tip for you, in case you don’t remember this:

  • Avere is followed by most verbs like comprare (to buy), mangiare (to eat), leggere (to read), etc.
  • Essere is followed by the verb essere and stare, and by all verbs that deal with movement.
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Don’t forget the past participles are those words that end in –ato, –uto, and –ito like mangiato,saputo, and dormito.

As we mentioned in other lessons, there are many past participles that are irregular. Let’s review some of them:

  • aperto
  • bevuto
  • chiesto
  • detto
  • fatto
  • letto
  • perso
  • rotto
  • scritto
  • stato
  • venuto
  • visto

Another important thing to remember is that the past participle of the verbs that go with essere agree in number and gender with the subject.

🔊
Pensavo che avessero scritto il libro insieme.

Il congiuntivo trapassato: examples

Pensavo che loro fossero partite la scorsa settimana.

I thought they had left last week.

Credevo che voi aveste già finito i compiti.

I thought you had already finished your homework.

Non sapevamo che voi aveste comprato casa.

We didn’t know you had bought a house.

Avevo paura che tu avessi perso l’aereo.

I was scared you might have missed your flight.

Mi sembrava che non vi foste divertiti alla festa.

It seemed to me that you didn’t have fun at the party.

Pensavamo che tu fossi già stata in Francia.

We thought you had already been to France.

Test your knowledge in 10 quick questions

FAQs

When do we use the "congiuntivo trapassato"?

We use this structure to talk about an event that happened before another event in the past.

What is the structure with "avere"?

imperfect subjunctive avere + past participle

What is the structure with "essere"?

imperfect subjunctive essere + past participle

Italian word of the day
aziende
Example
Dalla crisi, molte aziende hanno chiuso.
Because of the financial crisis, many companies shut down.
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