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  • Writer's pictureTeacher Stefano ENG

Passato Prossimo: How to Choose Essere or Avere Correctly in Italian

Are you struggling in choosing the right helping verb to use with passato prossimo? In today's article, we will cover the rules to choose the right helping verb and I will be giving you some tips to avoid common mistakes!

Before we dive into today's topic let's do a quick recap of PASSATO PROSSIMO.

This tense is used to describe an action that took place in the past. More specifically, it is used when the action is well defined in a specific moment in the past and eventually started and finished.

Passato prossimo is formed this way:

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

The past participle doesn't change when you use the verb avere, but you need to change it according to the gender and number of the subject when using essere.

The big question is: when do I use essere and when avere?

Most of the verbs in Italian actually require avere, so we will talk about the verbs that take essere. Then, if you have a verb that doesn't fall in these categories, you will use avere.

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1. Verbs suggesting motion

This does not work all the time, but generally, verbs suggesting some kind of movement take essere. This is the list of verbs of motion taking essere that I suggest you memorize:

  • Andare → sono andato (I went)

  • Venire → sono venuto (I came)

  • Salire → sono salito (I went up)

  • Scendere → sono sceso (I went down)

  • Cadere → sono caduto (I fell)

  • Partire → sono partito (I left)

  • Entrare → sono entrato (I went in, I entered)

  • Uscire → sono uscito (I went out, I exited)

  • (Ri)Tornare → sono (ri)tornato (I came back, I returned)

  • Arrivare → sono arrivato (I arrived)

Let me give you a couple of examples using these verbs:

  • Sono andato a fare shopping con mia sorella (I went shopping with my sister)

  • Sono ritornati a casa alle 2 (They came back home at 2)

  • Sono arrivata in ritardo a lavoro (I arrived late at work)

2. Verbs suggesting NO motion

I know this is weird because it's the opposite of the previous one. However, verbs suggesting you (or the subject) staying still in one place, usually takes essere.

  • Stare → sono stato (I stayed)

  • Rimanere → sono rimasto (I remained, I stayed)

  • Restare → sono restato (I remained, I stayed)

Let me give you some more examples:

  • Sono rimasta a casa ieri sera perché ero stanca (I stayed at home last night because I was tired)

  • Siete mai stati in Italia? (Have you guys ever been to Italy?)

P.S: Restare does NOT mean "to rest" but it's actually a synonym of "rimanere". "To rest" is riposarsi.

3. Verbs suggesting a change of state

All those verbs that suggest a transformation or development in the subject require essere.

  • Crescere → sono cresciuto (I grew up)

  • Diventare → sono diventato (I became)

  • Nascere → sono nato (I was born)

  • Morire → sono morto (I died)

For example, I could say: sono nato e cresciuto in Italia (I was born and raised in Italy).

4. ALL reflexive verbs

There's not much explanation needed here. All reflexive verbs take essere. All of them! No exception!

  • Lavarsi → mi sono lavato (I washed myself)

  • Vestirsi → mi sono vestito (I got dressed)

  • Divertirsi → ci siamo divertite (we had fun (f.))

5. The verb ESSERE itself

Don't forget that the verb essere takes essere itself to form passato prossimo. The past participle of essere is stato, so that means that the passato prossimo of "essere" and "stare" are going to be the same.

Sono stato might be I was, I stayed or I've been. You can easily figure it out from the context.

If your verb doesn't fall in any of these categories, then it probably takes avere. Of course, there are many exceptions, but if you follow these rules, you'll be able to form 90% of Italian passato prossimo with no troubles.

A presto!


Do you want to take your Italian to the next level? Check out my Online Italian course for beginners "Be Italiano" and start learning today to become a real Italiano, like me!

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