Tenses in Italian - Italian for Foreigners Part 3

The reason why I am fitting these posts about Italian into my blog is because:

  • There are Filipinos who ask me to teach them my language and because I don't have that time, it is easier for me to write the information down in a series of posts than to help them individually. So whoever is interested go read these posts
  • I learned English and Tagalog but I never rivisited the Italian grammar since high school so I am taking advantage of the fact that I am stuck at home with a 5th metatarsal fracture to go deeper into the 3 languages I currently speak

One of the most challenging things about Italian is the fact that there are a lot of conjugations and that many verbs are irregular and their conjugations are very unpredictable.

For example a verb common verb like essere (to be) changes completely when you start conjugating it.

The base form essere becomes:

Io sono

Tu sei

Lui/lei รจ

Noi siamo

Voi siete

Loro sono

As you can see, when you start conjugating it, everything changes: not just the suffix but also the root.

That's why irregular verbs, and particularly the auxiliary ones "avere" (to have) and "essere" (to be) have to be memorized

And this is just the present indicative. In Italian there are a lot of tenses and, because so many verbs have irregular patterns, it is not possible to learn a rule that is valid for all verbs.

So the best thing to do is to memorize the conjugations of all the most important irregular verbs, focusing on the ones that people use all the time like essere, avere (to have), fare (to do) and so on, the very basic ones. Unfortunately there is no way around it.

Regular verbs at least keep their root.

An example is the verb fare (to do)

Io faccio

Tu fai

Lui/lei fa

Noi facciamo

Voi fate

Loro fanno

And this is just the present tense in the indicative mood

Indicative is one of the 4 moods that there are in Italian: we've got both tenses (past-present-future) and moods

In Italian there are moods (an expression that indicates whether you are stating a fact, like in the indicative mood, or something that is contrary to facts) like in English:

Indicative: to talk about facts ("I am going home")

Subjunctive (congiuntivo in Italian): to talk about a wish, a hope and so on (like "I wish you were here")

Conditional (condizionale), like "if I had....I would...."

Imperative (imperativo) to talk about commands, like "shut up!"

To make things easy I am going to just focus on the present indicative and give a quick overview of other tenses,  and just in the indicative mood for now, otherwise this stuff gets too overwhelming and difficult to grasp


Within the indicative mood we've got 8 tenses, yes, you heard it right: 8 tenses!

But let's just take a look at the present

Let's take a couple of verbs: a regular one, like the one in the example above, the verb fare, and an irregular one like andare (to go): while in the regular verb only the second part of the word inflects, in an irregular verb both the root and the suffix change and andare becomes vado, vai, va.....

Tempo presente (present tense, basically the "present simple" in English)

In Italian the pronouns that go with the verbs are: io (I), tu (you), lui/lei (he/she), noi (we), voi (You), loro (they)

Regular verb Fare

Io faccio
Tu fai
Lui/lei fa
Noi facciamo
Voi fate
Loro fanno

Irregular verb Andare

Io vado
Tu vai
Lui/lei va
Noi andiamo
Voi andate
Loro vanno

Now, both in the regular and in the irregular verb, apart from the root, there is some common pattern for the final part of the word, for the indicativo presente
Io ....o
Lui/lei.....a (....e with verbs that end in  -ire)
Voi.....ate (....ete or ... ite

with verbs that end in -ere or -ire)


Now, while in English there are past, present and future (which in English is not exactly considered to be a tense) that can be:
Perfect continuous

In Italian, apart from the indicativo presente we've got the following past and future tenses:


PASSATO PROSSIMO (more or less like the present perfect in English):
Auxiliary verb essere (to be) in or avere (to have) in the indicativo presente + past participle of the main verb

IMPERFETTO, something like "used to+verb" in English

TRAPASSATO PROSSIMO: past action that took place before another one

PASSATO REMOTO: distant past

TRAPASSATO REMOTO: past action that happened before an action introduced by the passato remoto


There are two types:

FUTURO SEMPLICE: action that will happen in the future

action that will happen in the future before another action introduced by the futuro semplice

Italian is a very difficult language to learn and it can only be learned by taking one step at a time.

And there is no such thing as apps or shortcuts that get you to master the language in few months: all you can accomplish, if you take a shortcut, is ending up like my Filipino friends who sound fluent when they talk but they can't even write a short email or a text message in Italian.


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