The past perfect: Italian grammar lesson 149


Unlock the secrets of the Italian past perfect, or trapassato prossimo, and master the art of expressing actions completed in the depths of the past. This guide will transform your Italian storytelling!

  • Grasp the Basics: The trapassato prossimo is your go-to for that “past in the past” vibe. It’s like setting a time machine within another time machine! 🕰️
  • Conjugation Is Key: Combine the imperfetto form of avere or essere with a past participle. It’s like a grammatical handshake between two tenses. 🤝
  • Gender and Number Agreement: When essere is your auxiliary buddy, make sure your past participle matches the subject’s gender and number. It’s like matching your socks – satisfaction guaranteed! 👫🧦
  • Regular Past Participles: They’re a breeze! Just swap the infinitive ending with -ato, -uto, or -ito. It’s like giving verbs a quick makeover for the past! 💅
  • Choosing Your Helper: Transitive verbs grab avere, while intransitive ones cozy up with essere. It’s all about the verb’s social circle. 🤷‍♂️
  • Context Matters: Some verbs swing both ways, transitive or intransitive. They’ll pick avere or essere based on the context, like choosing the right outfit for the occasion. 👗👖

My thoughts

The Past Perfect in Italian: Explained

Much as its equivalent in English, this tense is used to describe a completed action that happened before another completed action.

Which is, in short, talking about the past in the past!

Prima di venire in Italia avevi già studiato l’italiano?

Before coming to Italy, had you already studied Italian?

Quando sono arrivata, erano già partiti.

When I arrived, they had already left.

Trapassato prossimo: Rules

To form the trapassato prossimo, we simply use the imperfetto (imperfect) of avere / essere + the past participle of the conjugated verb.

Have a look at the tables below to see some examples:

Mangiare (with avere)

to eat

Partire (with essere)

to leave

Io avevo mangiato Io ero partito/a*
Tu avevi mangiato Tu eri partito/a
Lui aveva mangiato Lui/Lei era partito/a
Noi avevamo mangiato Noi eravamo partiti/e
Voi avevate mangiato Voi eravate partiti/e
Loro avevano mangiato Loro erano partiti/e

*Have you noticed? When we use the verb essere as an auxiliary, the past participle of the conjugated verb agrees in number and gender with the subject performing the action.

Remember, regular past participles are super easy to form! Just get rid of the ending of the infinitive form and add the past participle ending:

  • Verbs ending in ARE use ATO: mangi + are à mangi + ato = mangiato (to eat – eaten)
  • Verbs ending in ERE use UTO: cred + ere à cred + uto = creduto (to believe – believed)
  • Verbs ending in IRE use ITO: fin + ire à fin + ito = finito (to finish – finished)

Trapassato prossimo: Essere or avere?

To choose when to use essere or avere, the same rules used in passato prossimo apply.

As you probably already know, the auxiliary we use is determined by the type of verb we want to conjugate.

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Usually, the rule to follow is that transitive verbs take avereand intransitive verbs take essere.

  • Transitive (verbs that take a direct object)

Avevi mai praticato yoga prima della lezione di oggi?

Have you ever practiced yoga before today’s lesson?

  • Intransitive (verbs that do not take a direct object)

Quando siamo partiti loro erano già arrivati.

When we left, they had already arrived.

Practice with Quizlet

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

Some verbs can be used both as transitive or intransitive. This means that they can take both essere and avere as auxiliaries, depending on the context.

Let’s take finire (to end/finish) as an example:

  • Transitive (finire + object)

Avevi già finito il discorso quando sono arrivata.

You had already finished your speech when I arrived.

  • Intransitive (finire with no object)

Il film era già finito quando sono arrivata.

The film had already ended when I arrived.

Do Italians use trapassato prossimo?

Yes! In Italian, this tense is used to talk about something that happened in the past before something else happened. It's like talking about the past in the past.

Is pluperfect the same as trapassato prossimo?

Yes, that's right! The Trapassato Prossimo (also known as the "Past Perfect" or "Pluperfect") is created by taking either essere or avere in the imperfect tense and adding the past participle of the desired verb.

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