Verbs are doing words, and with Italian verbs, just like in English, they're used to denote an action performed by someone or something.
Anything you or anyone else does needs a verb so that you can do it. You can't run without verbs, you can't sing without verbs. Let's face it, without verbs you just can't do anything at all.
Love, breathe, live... All verbs.
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So let's hear it for the mighty verb, and let's find out more about exactly how verbs work in Italian...
Italian verbs are divided into three patterns of conjugation, according to the ending of the infinitive form:
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Regular verbs have always the same stem, but most of the Italian verbs are irregular, which means that they use more stems, according to their Latin origin. For ex. the verb andare (to go) has the following stems: and-, v-, vad- .
The verbs are divided into 2 forms, for a total of 7 moods
The Italian verbs have 21 tenses, divided in two classes: simple tenses (one word in the active form, two words in the passive form) or compound tenses (two words in the active form, three words in the passive form).
The compound tenses express an action that has happened before the corresponding simple tense form.
Dopo che ho fatto i compiti, posso mangiare
After I have done my homework, I can eat
The imperative has just a simple tense form.
The compound tenses are built with the auxiliary verb of the corresponding simple tense + the past participle. In the active form, the transitive verbs use the auxiliary avere, while the intransitive ones the auxiliary essere.
The following verbs also require the auxiliary essere:
Please note: camminare (to walk), nuotare (to swim) and sciare (to ski) require avere.
io sono andato
io mi sono alzato
I stood up
mi è piaciuto
I liked it
The past participle with essere follows the usual adjective agreement rules concerning genre and number.
Active compound tense:
Luigi ha mangiato il pollo
Luigi has eaten the chicken
Passive compound tense:
Il pollo è stato mangiato da Luigi
The chicken has been eaten by Luigi
Intransitive compound tense:
Luigi è andat-o
Luigi e Paolo sono andat-i
Lucia è andat-a
Lucia e Catia sono andat-e
Io ho cantato
I sing (Presente)
I have sung (Passato Prossimo)
Io avevo cantato
I used to sing (Imperfetto)
I had sung/I had used to sing (Trapassato Prossimo)
Io ebbi cantato
I sang (Passato Remoto)
I had sung (Trapassato Remoto)
Io avrò cantato
I will sing (Futuro Semplice)
I will have sung (Futuro Anteriore)
Io avrei cantato
I would sing (Presente)
I would have sung (Passato)
che io canti
che io abbia cantato
that I sing (Presente)
that I have sung (Passato)
che io cantassi
che io avessi cantato
that I sang (Imperfetto)
that I had sung (Trapassato)
to sing (Presente)
to have sung (Passato)
having sung (Passato)
Esco, dopo che ho mangiato
I go out, after I have eaten
Ero famoso, perché avevo ucciso il re
I was famous, because I had killed the king
Imparai l’italiano, dopo che ebbi sposato Luisa
I learned Italian, after I married Luisa
Io mangerò, dopo che avrò fatto i compiti
I will eat, after I will have done my homework
The verbs are the core of the Italian language. Any tense has its own meaning and function inside the sentences.
This is particularly relevant in the past tense.
For example, while the passato prossimo (io ho mangiato - I have eaten) is commonly used instead of the passato remoto (io mangiai - I ate) in the daily language, the two tenses have different meanings:
Although a compound tense, the passato prossimo, which is the present perfect in English, is also commonly used as a simple tense. Otherwise this form cannot be used when the verb is related to an action repeated more than once.
In that case, it is used the imperfetto.
Quando ero bambino, avevo sempre la febbre
When I was a kid, I always had a fever
Quando ero bambino, ho avuto la varicella
When I was a kid, I had the chickenpox (it can happen only once)
For more on Italian grammar check out these lessons!
Maria Di Lorenzi: Rocket Italian
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