A Simple Introduction to Italian Verb Conjugation

Verbs are necessary to describe any action in the Italian language. Like many languages, Italian verbs change to include information about the action itself, who is doing the action, and when. This is called verb conjugation. In this article, you will learn everything about Italian verb conjugation in an easy way. With a little help from LingoDeer, you can master the basics of Italian verb conjugation in no time!

Let’s start!

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The three types of conjugation in Italian

Conjugation refers to all the verb forms that we can use to describe the different combinations of these factors. There are three “verb families” in Italian, which have different conjugations and get their names from the three different endings in the infinitive.

The first conjugation is called the “-are” conjugation, since the infinitive form of the verbs in this family ends in -are. This is the most common of the three conjugations, as well as the one used for loan words (e.g., to format → formattare). Some of the most common verbs in this family are amare – to love, cantare – to sing, and mangiare – to eat.

The second-largest conjugation is the “-ere” conjugation. Like the first conjugation, we know the ending of its infinitive form by its name, -ere. Some of the most common verbs in this conjugation are vedere- to see, scrivere – to write, ridere – to laugh. 

The third conjugation contains all of the verbs whose infinitive ends in -ire. Some of the most common verbs in this conjugation are finire – to finish, dormire – to sleep, sentire – to hear. 

Why do Italian verbs conjugate

Unlike English, where the verbs don’t contain all the information necessary to identify the subject, the verbs in Italian contain the information about the person and the number of the subject. For example, the form “talk” is used in “I talk”, “you talk”, “we talk” and “they talk”. On the other hand, in the Italian language, every person in the singular and plural has a different verb ending: 

singular plural
parlo I speak parliamo we speak
parli you speak parlate you speak
parla he/she speaks /

(polite) You speak

parlano they speak

Notice how the verbs convey the full information without need for personal pronouns (I, you, he/she…), since that information is already present in the verb forms themselves. We use, personal pronouns with verbs mostly for emphasis (e.g., io parlo instead of parlo). 

Since the information about the subject (person and number), the tense and the mood is conveyed by the verb, the conjugation has clear rules for changing the verb ending according to this information, which we will see in the following section. 

Conjugate Italian verbs according to person and number 

As we have seen, there is a verb ending for every person and number in the Italian language. Even though personal pronouns in Italian aren’t part of the verb forms, it is very useful to learn them for reference:

singular io I
tu you
lui

lei 

Lei

he

she

You (polite form)

plural noi we
voi you
loro they

 If we want to address someone politely, we will use Lei (for both men and women), which is the same form as “she” in Italian, but with a capital L.

To conjugate a verb in Italian, we need to know its stem, to which we add the appropriate ending. We get the stem of the verb by removing -are, -ere, or -ire from the infinitive (for example, parlare →  parl-; scrivere → scriv-; dormire → dorm-). Let’s see how the endings of verbs in the three conjugations change according to the person and number in the present tense. 

  1st conjugation:

parlare (to speak)

2nd conjugation:

scrivere (to write)

3rd conjugation:

dormire (to sleep)

io parlo 

(I speak)

scrivo

(I write)

dormo

(I sleep)

tu parli

(you speak)

scrivi

(you write)

dormi

(you sleep)

lui/lei (Lei) parla

(he/she speaks / you speak (formal))

scrive

(he/she writes / you write (formal)

dorme

he/she sleeps/ you sleep (formal))

noi parliamo

(we speak)

scriviamo

(we write)

dormiamo

(we sleep)

voi parlate

(you speak)

scrivete

(you write)

dormite

(you sleep)

loro parlano

(they speak)

scrivono

(they write)

dormono

(they sleep)

As we can see, all three conjugations have the same verb endings in the first two persons in the singular, and in the first person in the plural. 

Irregular verbs

All regular verbs in Italian follow these rules, so if we know the three conjugations, we can use new verbs without having to memorize their conjugation. However, there are several important verbs whose conjugation we do need to memorize – the following is a table of the most common ones:

  essere

(to be)

avere

(to have)

fare

(to do)

andare

(to go)

venire

(to come)

volere

(to want)

potere

(to be able)

dovere

(to have to)

io sono ho faccio vado vengo voglio posso devo
tu sei hai fai vai vieni vuoi puoi devi
lui/lei/Lei è ha fa va viene vuole può deve
noi siamo abbiamo facciamo andiamo veniamo vogliamo possiamo dobbiamo
voi siete avete fate andate venite volete potete dovete
loro sono hanno fanno vanno vengono vogliono possono devono

 

 

The most important irregular verbs are essere (to be) and avere (to have), since they are the main auxiliary verbs in Italian and are used in building complex tenses (in the next section, we will learn one of them, passato prossimo).

Conjugate Italian verbs according to tenses

The fact that Italian has 21 tenses (compared to 12 tenses in English) can be intimidating. However, to communicate in Italian, we only need the present (presente), the near past (passato prossimo) and the imperfect (imperfetto). The good news is that we have already seen how the present tense is built in the first part of the article, and we can even use the present tense to talk about future plans, which allows us to learn the future tense and other advanced tenses when we are at a higher level.  

It is important to note that apart from the infinitive, the tenses we talk about are all in the indicative mood (indicativo), which is by far the most common mood, used when we make statements or ask questions. The other moods, like the subjunctive, are less common in daily use, which is why they are usually taught after the indicative mood.   

The near past (passato prossimo) 

The near past tense has two parts: essere or avere in the present tense as an auxiliary verb, and the past participle of the main verb. The past participle is built by removing -are, -ere or -ire from the infinitive and adding -ato (1st conjugation), -uto (2nd conjugation), and -ito (3rd conjugation): parlare parlato, avere avuto, dormire dormito.

An important trait of this tense is the fact that some verbs use essere (“to be”) as an auxiliary verb, and some use avere (“to have”). A useful rule regarding the choice between essere or avere is that intransitive verbs (the verbs that don’t have an object) use essere. The transitive verbs (those that have an object) mostly use avere, but here the rule isn’t so universal, and we need to remember the auxiliary verb for each new verb. After some time, this decision becomes much more intuitive, and you don’t need to check the rule for each new verb.

Below you can find two tables with examples for all three conjugations in passato prossimo. We can see that in the first table, where avere is used as an auxiliary verb, the past participle never changes (the ending remains -ato, -uto, and -ito).  

  studiare

(to study, to learn)

sapere

(to know)

dormire

(to sleep)

io ho studiato ho saputo ho dormito
tu hai studiato hai saputo hai dormito
lui/lei/Lei ha studiato ha saputo ha dormito
noi abbiamo studiato abbiamo saputo abbiamo dormito
voi avete studiato avete saputo avete dormito
loro hanno studiato hanno saputo hanno dormito

With verbs that use essere as an auxiliary verb, however, the past participle changes depending on the gender and the number. Compare the following examples:

Marco è andato a casa. – Marco went home.

Paola è andata a casa. – Paola went home.

Marco e Luca sono andati al bar. –  Marco e Luca went to the bar.

Paola e Maria sono andate al bar. – Paola and Maria went to the bar.

In the first example, the past participle (andato) is in the singular masculine form to agree with the subject, Marco. In the second example, however, we need the feminine form (andata), in order to agree with the subject, Paola.

The same process happens in the plural. When we have multiple masculine subjects (e.g., Marco and Luca), the past participle is in the plural masculine form. When the subjects are feminine (Paola e Maria), the past participle changes accordingly. 

The second table contains examples of verbs using essere as the auxiliary:

  andare

(to go)

cadere

(to fall)

partire

(to leave)

io sono andato/-ata sono caduto/-uta sono partito/-a
tu sei andato/-ata sei caduto/-uta sei partito/-a
lui/lei/Lei è andato/-ata è caduto/-uta è partito/-a
noi siamo andati/-ate siamo caduti/-ute siamo partiti/-e
voi siete andati/-ate  siete caduti/-ute siete partiti/-e
loro sono andati/-ate sono caduti/-ute sono partiti/-e

The imperfect (imperfetto) 

The imperfect is another past tense that is very present in everyday use. It is mostly used to describe a continued action in the past, or a habit in the past. Unlike passato prossimo, the imperfetto can’t be used to describe actions which happened in one precise moment.

The following table contains verb forms in all three conjugations in the imperfect tense:

  parlare

(to talk)

scrivere

(to write)

dormire

(to sleep)

io parlavo scrivevo dormivo
tu parlavi scrivevi dormivi
lui/lei/Lei parlava scriveva dormiva
noi parlavamo scrivevamo dormivamo
voi parlavate scrivevate dormivate
loro parlavano scrivevano dormivano

4 tips to master Italian verb conjugations fast

1.  Apply your knowledge in real-life situations

Knowing the verb conjugations is one part of the learning process. To master this area of Italian (and many others), it is necessary to balance theory with practice. One way is to find a conversation partner with whom you can talk in Italian and solidify your knowledge by putting it into practice and getting your mind used to connecting the theoretical rules to the real-life context. If you don’t have a friend who is learning Italian, you can use a language exchange platform like Italki to find a conversation partner.

2.  Listen to native speakers of Italian

Another easy way of helping your brain create connections between the theory and the context in which it is used is listening to native speakers of Italian. A few accessible and motivating options are listening to Italian music and watching Italian movies with subtitles. With time, this will make your knowledge of Italian conjugations much more intuitive and allow you to talk and write without mentally going through tables of verb forms.

3.  Learn the regular verbs first

Learning the conjugations of Italian verbs is like building a foundation; learning the regular verbs first will provide a logical framework that you gradually fill with irregular verbs and exceptions to different rules. This is also the best return on investment when it comes to learning time in the beginning and is a great motivation, since it allows you to use the majority of Italian verbs right off the bat, adding irregular verbs as you go along.

4.  Don’t be afraid of errors 

When you are learning the Italian conjugations for the first time, all the different verb forms can be challenging and you will inevitably make errors and mix up verb endings. But this is a necessary step in the whole process because by making errors, we become aware of the areas we need to focus our attention and improve faster. Keep at it and you will master the conjugation of Italian verbs in no time!

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