Italian Past Tense - Passato Prossimo

Italian Past Tense - Passato Prossimo

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Welcome to our Italian grammar course for beginners! Today we're going to talk about the Past Tense - Passato Prossimo.

Passato Prossimo is a Past Tense in Italian. It allows to talk about events, actions, and experiences that began and finished in the past. So if you want to tell about completed actions in the past, yon need to use Passato Prossimo. Let's take a look how to use and how to form it.

Passato Prossimo is a compound past tense. This is the most commonly used past tense in Italian. Usually, Passato Prossimo appears together with time expressions such as:
l’anno scorso (last year);
ieri (yesterday);
ultimamente (lately);
recentemente (recently).
and others.
It is an equivalent of the English Present Perfect and Past Simple. We can translate that in two ways, as in the examples below:
Hanno studiato - They studied / They have studied;
Siamo stati - We were / We have been;
Sono andato - I went / I have gone.

It is formed by using one of the auxiliary verbs avere or essere in the Present Tense and the Past Participle.

Verb conjugation of avere in the Present Tense:
Subject + Avere (It.) To have (Eng.)
Io ho I have
Tu hai You have
Lui / Lei ha He / She / It has
Noi abbiamo We have
Voi avete You have
Loro hanno They have

Verb conjugation of essere in the Present Tense:
Subject + Essere (It.) To be (Eng.)
Io sono I am
Tu sei You are
Lui / Lei è He / She /It is
Noi siamo We are
Voi siete You are
Loro sono They are

So let's repeat it again.
Passato Prossimo is formed using two elements: the Present Tense of the auxiliary verbs avere (to have) or essere (to be) plus the Past Participle of the main verb.

Regular Past Participles

We mentioned above the conjugation of these two verbs in the Present Tense. Here's a guide on how to form the Past Participle in Italian.
The past participle is formed by replacing the infinitive endings with -ato, -uto and -ito. Let's look at the grammar rules.

- ARE Verbs.
To form the Past Participle of regular -are verbs (verbs ending in -are), replace the -are ending of the infinitive with -ato.
Example:
The infinitive parlare (to speak) - parlato (spoken).

- ERE Verbs.
To form the past participle of regular -ere verbs (verbs ending in -ere), replace the -ere ending of the infinitive with -uto.
Example:
The infinitivesapere (to know) - saputo (read).

- IRE Verbs.
To form the past participle of regular -ire verbs (verbs ending in -ire), replace the -ire ending of the infinitive with -ito.
Example:
The infinitive capire (to understand) - capito (understood).

Irregular Past Participles

Some Italian verbs have irregular past participles that do not follow the regular pattern. These irregular past participles must be memorized.
Examples:
Essere (to be) - Stato / Stata (been);
Avere (to have) - Avuto (had);
Fare (to do/make) - Fatto (done/made);
Dire (to say) - Detto (said);
Vedere (to see) - Visto (seen);
Bere (to drink) - Bevuto (drunk);
Prendere (to take) - Preso (taken);
Scrivere (to write) -Scritto (written).

Passato Prossimo with 'avere'

Let's look how to form Passato Prossimo with the verb "avere" for regular verbs. For example, let's use the verb mangiare (to eat):
Io ho mangiato (I have eaten);
Tu hai mangiato (You have eaten);
Lui / Lei ha mangiato (He/She has eaten);
Noi abbiamo mangiato (We have eaten);
Voi avete mangiato (You all have eaten);
Loro hanno mangiato (They have eaten).

Passato Prossimo with 'essere'

Speaking about "avere" we should notice that it is used with the majority of verbs. On the other hand, some verbs use "essere" as the auxiliary verb, especially when indicating changes of state or motion. Also we should use "essere" for verbs that don't take an object and actions refers back to the subject. It's very important to know which verbs take "essere." Here are some common ones:
Andare (to go) - Andato (gone);
Arrivare (to arrive) - Arrivato (arrived);
Fare (to do/make) - Fatto (done/made);
Essere (to be) - Stato / Stata (been);
Morire (to die) - Morto (died);
Nascere (to be born) - Nato (was/were born);
Partire (to leave) - Partito (left);
Stare (to stay) - Stato (Stayed);
Succedere (to happen) - Successo (happened);
Uscire (to go out) - Uscito (gone out);
Venire (to come) - Venuto (come).
Before to explain how to use the verb "essere" in the Passato Prossimo, we need to mention a detail.

When "essere" is used as the auxiliary verb, the past participle must agree in number and gender with the subject. This agreement applies to reflexive verbs and certain intransitive verbs indicating motion/change of state. Here's how the agreement works:
a) If the subject is masculine singular, the past participle remains in its regular form;
b) If the subject is feminine singular, add -a to the regular past participle;
c) If the subject is plural (either masculine or feminine), add -i to the regular past participle;
d) If the subject is feminine plural, add -e to the regular past participle.

Examples:
Lui è andato. (He went - masculine.)
Lei è andata. (She went - feminine.)
Loro sono andati. (They went - masculine.)
Loro sono andate. (They went - feminine.)

Now let's look at the all forms of the verb andare (to go) in the Passato Prossimo:
Io sono andato / andata (I have gone);
Tu sei andato / andata (You have gone);
Lui/Lei è andato / andata (He/She has gone);
Noi siamo andati / andate (We have gone);
Voi siete andati / andate (You all have gone);
Loro sono andati / andate (They have gone)
Don't forget that not all verbs use "essere". The past participle agreement applies only when "essere" is used.

Passato Prossimo with both: 'avere' and 'essere'

Some verbs can use both "avere" and "essere" as the auxiliary verb, depending on their context and meaning. Sometimes using the verbs "avere" and "essere" together with these verbs can change the meaning of the sentence.
Examples of verbs that can use both "avere" and "essere" as the auxiliary verb:
Cominciare (to begin) - cominciato (began)
Il maestro ha cominciato la lezione. (The teacher has began the lesson, used with "avere");
La lezione è cominciata. (The lesson has began, used with "essere")
Passare (to pass, to spend) - passato (past, spent)
Ho passato la giornata dai miei genitori. (I spent the day with my parents, used with "avere".);
È passato un anno. (A year passed, used with "essere".)

Summary

So you learned how to describe completed actions in the past using Passato Prossimo in this lesson. Remember that Passato Prossimo is a basic tense in Italian because it is used in everyday communication or in telling stories that happened in the past.
Pay attention to the new words and verbs you came across in the lesson:
Scorso (last)
Ultimamente (lately)
Recentemente (recently)
Parlare (to speak)
Sapere (to know)
Capire (to understand)
Dire (to say)
Vedere (to see)
Bere (to drink)
Prendere (to take)
Scrivere (to write)
Mangiare (to eat)
Arrivare (to arrive)
Morire (to die)
Nascere (to be born)
Partire (to leave)
Stare (to stay)
Succedere (to happen)
Uscire (to go out)
Venire (to come)
Maestro (master, teacher)
Lezione (lesson)
Giornata (day)
Genitori (parents)
Cominciare (to start)
Passare (to pass)

We are waiting for you in the next lesson, where we will talk about italian nouns. Good luck!