Passato Prossimo: Past Tense in Italian

Passato prossimo is one of the two most important past tenses in Italian, let's see how to use it and how it's formed!




Passato prossimo is a past tense used to describe an action that took place in the past (duh!). However, not any action in the past. More specifically, we are talking about an action that started and finished in the past, that took place at a specific time, or in a specific amount of time.


That moment could be a very specific one in the past or even a long continuous one and as long as it's defined, we are going to use passato prossimo, most of the time!


1. How is PASSATO PROSSIMO formed?


Passato prossimo is formed this way:


Subject + auxiliary verb (essere/avere) in the present + past participle


One of the most common questions I get from my students is: how do I choose between essere and avere. We're not going to talk about this in today's blog article as I already wrote another article on this topic that you can check out here.



2. Past participle


The past participle is formed by adding a specific ending to the stem of the verb.

Let me show you how:

  • Amare (to love) forms the past participle by dropping the ending of the infinitive (-are) and adds -ato: amato (loved).

  • Cadere (to fall) adds -uto: caduto (fallen).

  • Sentire (to hear) adds -ito: sentito (heard)


Just to recap:


-ARE → -ATO

-ERE → -UTO

-IRE→ -ITO


Remember that the past participle is a sort of adjective and therefore you need to change it according to the gender and number of the subject only when you are using ESSERE as an auxiliary verb. Let me show you some examples:

  • Io ho mangiato and lei ha mangiato and noi abbiamo mangiato

  • Io sono andato (io, Stefano) but io sono andata (io, Chiara) but noi siamo andati


So, when you're using avere, you won't have to worry about changing the past participle. When you're using essere, you will have to change the past participle according to the subject:


Masculine singular → -O

Feminine singular → -A

Masculine plural → -I

Feminine plural → -E


Some verbs, especially the most common ones, have an irregular past participle that you will have to memorize. Here are just a few of the very common ones:

  • Fare (to do/to make)fatto (done/made)

  • Vedere (to see)visto (seen)

  • Dire (to say/to tell)detto (said/told)


3. Conjugation


Let me conjugate two verbs for you, to make sure you understand how to conjugate verbs in passato prossimo.


Let's conjugate GUARDARE (to watch). This verb takes avere:


Io ho guardato

Tu hai guardato

Lui/Lei ha guardato

Noi abbiamo guardato

Voi avete guardato

Loro hanno guardato


Here, we're saying I watched, you watched, he/she watched...


Now, let's conjugate the verb PARTIRE (to leave). This verb takes essere so we will need to change the past participle according to the gender and number of the subject.


Io sono partito/a

Tu sei partito/a

Lui è partito

Lei è partita

Noi siamo partiti/e

Voi siete partiti/e

Loro sono partiti/e


Here, we're saying I left, you left, he/she left...


All right! I hope you now have a better understanding of passato prossimo in Italian. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to reach me in the contact section of the website.


Un abbraccio,


Stefano

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