Italian Past Tense: Passato Prossimo VS Imperfetto // Beginner's Guide

Are you struggling to choose between Passato Prossimo and Imperfetto in Italian? Well, you're in the right place then!



In today’s article, we’ll talk about how to choose the correct past tense: passato prossimo or imperfetto?


It all comes down to the type of action you have. I am going to give you some examples and explain the actual rules along the way.



1. Repeated vs one-time


  • Mia mamma faceva sempre una torta buonissima.

  • Mia mamma ieri ha fatto una torta buonissima.


In the first case, we’re saying that "my mom always used to make a delicious cake". In the second we’re saying that "my mom made a delicious cake yesterday". And here’s the first difference!


If we’re talking about a repeated action then we’ll go for imperfetto, instead, if we have a one-time action, very specific, very defined, then we go for passato prossimo!


Don’t forget that the idea of repeated action has to be very general. This is because imperfetto is a tense used to describe actions that are not well-defined on a timeline. Let me give you another example:

  • Andavo sempre in palestra da ragazzo.

  • Sono andato tre volte in palestra la scorsa settimana.


The first one makes sense: I used to go to the gym when I was a boy. The second one... don’t let it fool you. It might look repeated because you went three times, but three times that week and that’s it. It’s not something you used to do every week! I hope that makes sense!


2. Habit vs non-regular actions


Let me tell you that this is one is very similar to the previous one! Let's look at a few examples:

  • Da bambino andavo al mare tutte le domeniche.

  • Da bambino sono andato al mare una volta.


In the first sentence, we clearly have a regular action, a habit in the past, because "da bambino", when I was little, I would go to the beach every Sunday.


That’s the idea: a regular action, a habit, something you used to do regularly, you would do regularly in the past. That's why we use imperfetto.


In the second example, da bambino sono andato al mare una volta, I went just once and that’s it! That's why I use passato prossimo.



3. Imperfetto and Passato Prossimo in the same sentence


Sometimes though you might have multiple past tenses, multiple actions in one sentence. Let me give you one example:

  • Mentre studiavo, è arrivata Chiara.


Here we have two actions: "me studying" and "Chiara arriving". The action of "me studying" is long, continuous and it has been interrupted by "Chiara arriving". So I could translate that sentence:

  • While I was studying, Chiara arrived.


You would use imperfetto for the long action and passato prossimo for the short sudden one!


I hope this article helped and if you have any questions, send me an email in the contact section of my website.


Un abbraccio,


Stefano

18 views

Recent Posts

See All