The past perfect subjunctive: Italian grammar lesson 210


Dive into the depths of Italian grammar with our lesson on the congiuntivo trapassato, the tense for expressing actions that occurred before other past events. Master its usage, conjugation, and the quirks of its accompanying past participles. 🇮🇹✨

  • When to use it: The congiuntivo trapassato is your go-to for discussing past events that preceded other past happenings. Think of it as the time-traveler’s tense in Italian! 🕰️
  • Trigger phrases: Look out for phrases like pensavo che or credevo che. They’re your cue that the congiuntivo trapassato may be just around the corner. 🚦
  • Conjugation is key: Remember, it’s all about the imperfect subjunctive of essere or avere plus the past participle. Get these conjugations down, and you’re golden. 📚
  • Choosing the auxiliary verb: Most verbs cozy up with avere, but essere is the BFF of movement verbs and itself. Choose wisely to avoid a grammar faux pas! 🤝
  • Memorize those participles: Past participles typically end in –ato, –uto, and –ito. But watch out for the sneaky irregulars like aperto or fatto. They’re the rebels of the bunch. 😎
  • Agreement matters: When essere is your helper, past participles must agree in gender and number with the subject. It’s like matching your outfit—everything needs to coordinate! 👗👔
  • Practice with examples: Use sentences like Pensavo che loro fossero partite to see the congiuntivo trapassato in action. It’s like flexing your grammar muscles! 💪

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.

How to conjugate avere and essere in the imperfect subjunctive?

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


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


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.

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.

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
Hai voglia di fare una passeggiata?
Do you feel like going for a walk?
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