The imperfect subjunctive: Italian grammar lesson 209


Key Takeaways

Unlock the secrets of the Italian imperfect subjunctive, il congiuntivo imperfetto, and master expressing doubts, wishes, and possibilities like a native! This guide breaks down the rules and gives you the tools to weave this mood into your Italian eloquence.

  • Subjunctive Mood: Get cozy with the congiuntivo, the mood for all your hypotheticals and ‘what-ifs’. It’s not just grammar; it’s the gateway to Italian drama! 🎭
  • Trigger Verbs: Spot verbs like credere and sperare that often cue the subjunctive. They’re like the secret handshake to show you’re in the subjunctive club. 🤝
  • Conjugation Patterns: Conjugation got you confused? Just ditch the -are, -ere, or -ire and add the special subjunctive endings. It’s like a grammar makeover! 💅
  • Time Travel: Mix and match tenses like a pro. Whether it’s present, past, or conditional, the imperfect subjunctive has got your back for all your time-bending sentences. ⏳
  • Irregular Verbs: Tackle those pesky irregulars like essere and fare. They might be rebels, but with a little practice, you’ll have them falling in line. ✊
  • Real-World Examples: Dive into examples that bring the imperfect subjunctive to life. It’s like seeing the grammar in its natural habitat! 🌍

Quick facts

What is the purpose of the imperfect subjunctive in Italian?

The imperfect subjunctive expresses wishes, thoughts, dreams, hopes, possibilities, and doubts, often linked to past events.

Which verbs typically precede the imperfect subjunctive?

Verbs like credere (to believe), pensare (to think), volere (to want), immaginare (to imagine), and sperare (to hope) commonly precede it.

How does the present tense affect the use of the imperfect subjunctive?

When the main verb is in the present tense, it creates a present-past relationship, indicating an ongoing relevance to the past action.

How are regular verbs conjugated in the imperfect subjunctive?

Regular verbs are conjugated by removing -are, -ere, and -ire from their infinitive forms and adding specific endings like -assi, -essi, or -issi.

Are there any irregular verbs that become regular in the imperfect subjunctive?

Yes, usually irregular verbs like avere, dovere, venire, volere, potere, sapere, and andare are regular in the imperfect subjunctive.

How do conditional phrases incorporate the imperfect subjunctive?

Phrases like "vorrei che" or "mi piacerebbe che" use the imperfect subjunctive to express wishes or hypothetical scenarios.

What are the conjugations of the irregular verb "bere" in the imperfect subjunctive?

"Bere" conjugates as bevessi, bevessi, bevesse, bevessimo, beveste, bevessero, showcasing the double "s".

How does the imperfect subjunctive handle the verb "essere"?

"Essere" conjugates as fossi, fossi, fosse, fossimo, foste, fossero, showing significant irregularity compared to other verbs.

Can you provide an example sentence using the imperfect subjunctive with "pensare"?

"Sofia pensa che loro capissero tutto" means "Sofia thinks that they understood everything," highlighting a present-past relationship.

How does the imperfect subjunctive express contemporaneity with past tense main verbs?

When the main verb is in the past tense, it indicates contemporaneity, such as in "Pensavo che loro andassero a casa più presto" (I thought they would go home earlier).

My Thoughts

What is the imperfect subjunctive?

As discussed in previous lessons, the congiuntivo (subjunctive) is the mode of wish, thought, dream, hope, possibility, and doubt.

It’s usually preceded by the verbs credere (to believe), pensare (to think), volere (to want or wish), immaginare (to imagine), and sperare (to hope).

When it comes to the imperfect subjunctive, the main verbs that precede it might be in the present or the past.

We might also find the main verb in the present conditional (like vorrei che, mi piacerebbe che, sarebbe bello che, etc.) if we want to express a wish.

Have a look at the summary below:

  • present + che + imperfect subjunctive: to express a present-past relationship.
  • past + che + imperfect subjunctive: to express contemporaneity.
  • present conditional + che + imperfect subjunctive: to express a wish.

How to conjugate regular verbs?

To form the imperfect subjunctive in Italian, you have to remove –are, –ere, and –ire from the infinitive (the base form of the verb) and add the correct endings, which are in bold in the table below.

You’ll notice the recurrence of the double “s”. This will help you learn their conjugation.

  Parlare Vedere Partire
io parlassi vedessi partissi
tu parlassi vedessi partissi
lui/lei parlasse vedesse partisse
noi parlassimo vedessimo partissimo
voi parlaste vedeste partiste
loro parlassero vedessero partissero

The following verbs that are usually irregular are regular in the imperfect subjunctive: avere, dovere, venire, volere, potere, sapere, and andare.

Now, make sure you pay attention to whether the main verbs in the following examples are in the present, the past, or the conditional.

Vorrei che tu venissi stasera.

I’d like you to come tonight.

Sofia pensa che loro capissero tutto.

Sofia thinks that they understood everything.

Mi sembra che lei avesse il rafreddore.

I think she had a cold.

Mi piacerebbe che tu parlassi sul serio.

I’d like you to talk more seriously.

Pensavo che loro andassero a casa più presto.

I thought they would go home earlier.

Practice with Quizlet

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

How to conjugate irregular verbs?

The following verbs are irregular in the imperfect subjunctive: bere, dare, dire,  and fare.

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You’ll notice the recurrence of the double “s” again and that some verbs are more irregular than others (like the verb essere).

Here are their conjugations:

Bere Dare Dire Fare
io bevessi io dessi io dicessi io facessi
tu bevessi tu dessi tu dicessi tu facessi
lui/lei bevesse lui/lei desse lui/lei dicesse lui/lei facesse
noi bevessimo noi dessimo noi dicessimo noi facessimo
voi beveste voi deste voi diceste voi faceste
loro bevessero loro dessero loro dicessero loro facessero
And here are the conjugations of essere and stare:
io fossi io stessi
tu fossi tu stessi
lui/lei fosse lui/lei stesse
noi fossimo noi stessimo
voi foste voi steste
loro fossero loro stessero

Let’s have a look at some examples:

Non pensavo che lei bevesse così tanto caffè.

I didn’t think she drank so much coffee.

Non credo che loro dessero tanta importanza a quello.

I don’t think they gave much weight to that.

Sinceramente pensavo che dicessi la verità.

Honestly, I thought you were telling the truth.

Lei vorrebbe che Mario fosse più aperto.

She’d like him to be more open-minded.

Mia mamma sperava che noi facessimo i compiti.

My mum hoped we would do our homework.

Credo che mio zio non stesse molto bene.

I think my uncle wasn’t feeling very well.

Test your knowledge in 10 quick questions

What is the Italian imperfect subjunctive, or "congiuntivo imperfetto"?

The Italian imperfect subjunctive is a verb mood used to express hypothetical, unreal, or uncertain actions or situations in the past. It often appears in subordinate clauses and is frequently used with expressions of doubt, desire, or opinion.

How do I form the imperfect subjunctive in Italian?

To form the Italian imperfect subjunctive, remove the infinitive verb ending (-are, -ere, or -ire) and add the appropriate endings: -assi, -essi, or -issi for -are, -ere, and -ire verbs, respectively. For example: parlare (to talk) becomes parlassi, credere (to believe) becomes credessi, and partire (to leave) becomes partissi.

What is the difference between the Italian imperfect subjunctive and the present subjunctive?

The main difference between the Italian imperfect subjunctive (congiuntivo imperfetto) and the present subjunctive (congiuntivo presente) is the time frame. The imperfect subjunctive refers to past actions or situations, while the present subjunctive is used for present or future actions or situations. Both express uncertainty, doubt, or hypothetical scenarios.

Italian word of the day
Hai la febbre! Sì, mi è venuta l’influenza.
You have a fever! Yes, I got influenza.
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