Volere, potere, dovere – the past: Italian grammar lesson 52

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In Italian, we have different tenses to talk about the past. The most widely used is the passato prossimo, which can be used both as an equivalent of the English simple past or the present perfect.

This tense is very easy to form, you just need to use the present tense of the verb essere (to be) or avere (to have) and the past participle of the verbs you are conjugating.

In this lesson, we will learn how to form the past participle of the verbs volere, potere and dovere in Italian, so that you can use them to form the passato prossimo and other past tenses.

The past participle

past of volere italian

The participio passato in Italian is very important, and knowing how to form it will be essential for using compound tenses, which are verb tenses made up of the verb essere (to be) or avere (to have) followed by a past participle.

Regular past participles can be formed by dropping the endings -are-ere, -ire from the infinitive form of the verb (infinito) and adding, respectively, the suffixes -ato-uto, or -ito.

Here are some examples:

  • imparare (to learn): imparato (learned)

Ho imparato l’italiano da piccola.

I learned Italian when I was a child.

  • credere (to believe): creduto (believed)

Non gli ho creduto.

I did not believe them.

Hai finito di cucinare?

Have you finished cooking?

Volere, potere, dovere

past of sapere

Many, many Italian verbs have an irregular past participle. However, you’re in luck, as volere (to want), potere (to be able to / can) and dovere (to have to), even if they have irregular conjugations in the present, have a regular past participle!

Thus, we will have:

  • Volere – voluto

Ho voluto dirtelo personalmente.

I wanted to tell you in person.

  • Potere – potuto

Non ho potuto finire tutto.

I was not able to finish all of it.

  • Dovere – dovuto 

Avresti dovuto dirmelo prima.

You should have told me earlier.

Voluto, potuto, dovuto in compound tenses

past of dovere

As we already mentioned, the past participle form of verbs is used in Italian in all compound tenses.

This is quite handy, as to form them you will only need to know the conjugations of essere (to be) and avere (to have) and just add the same past participle to all of them.

Note that these verbs are auxiliary verbs, so they are followed by another verb in the infinitive. Depending on the verb that follows, they can either take essere (to be) or avere (to have) in the compound tense.

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So, if you say sono andato (I went) you will use esseresono voluto/potuto/dovuto andare (I wanted to/could/had to go), while if you say ho mangiato (I ate), you will use avere: ho voluto/potuto/dovuto mangiare. 

If you use the verb essere, make sure you remember to change the ending of the past participle to match the gender and number of the subject. With the verb avere, on the other hand, the past participle always stays the same.

Let’s see some examples:

Passato prossimo of  VOLERE(simple past or present perfect)

presente avere/essere  participio passato
Io ho/sono voluto/a
Tu hai/sei voluto/a
Lui, lei, Lei ha/è voluto/a
Noi abbiamo/siamo voluto/i/e
Voi avete/siete voluto/i/e
Loro, Loro hanno/sono voluto/i/e

Trapassato prossimo of POTERE(past perfect)

imperfetto avere/essere  participio passato
Io avevo/ero potuto/a
Tu avevi/eri potuto/a
Lui, lei, Lei aveva/era potuto/a
Noi avevamo/eravamo potuto/i/e
Voi avevate/eravate potuto/i/e
Loro, Loro avevano/erano potuto/i/e

Condizionale passato of DOVERE (past conditional)

condizionale avere/essere participio passato
Io avrei/sarei potuto/a
Tu avresti/saresti potuto/a
Lui, lei, Lei avrebbe/sarebbe potuto/a
Noi avremmo/saremmo potuto/i/e
Voi avreste/sareste potuto/i/e
Loro, Loro avrebbero/sarebbero potuto/i/e

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