Italian verbs are conjugated into moods and tenses. As in most other romance languages such as French and Spanish, this means that there are different moods, and for each mood there are different tenses – which adds up to a whole lot of tenses in the end.
Luckily, there is a quite rigid structure for how this works, which means that you can follow a few rules to understand how it all works. Also, many of the tenses that exist are actually not used that much in real life, and so the number of tenses and rules you need to learn is actually not that high.
In this article, we will go through the moods and tenses of Italian verbs to give you the overview you need to study Italian effectively.
Before you read any further, you might want to take a look at our list of the top 100 Italian verbs. with explanations, conjugations, and example sentences for each verb. many of the top 100 verbs are used thorughou this article to show how Italian verbs are conjugated.
Present, past and futures tenses
The Italian language has three main groups of verb tenses in the indicative mood, namely: present tense, past tense and future tense. The latter two can be divided into more tenses.
The present tense, or the presente indicativo, describe actions that take place in the present.
- Io leggo un libro (I read a book)
When to use Presente Indicativo
Past tense are actions that took place in the past. They may refer to a very distant past or a recent one. And they can also still have some consequences in the present.
We often use marker words such as:
- ieri (yesterday)
- lo scorso anno (the last year)
- in passato (in the past)
- alcune settimane fa (a few weeks ago) and so on.
Future tenses refer to actions that will take place in the future. We often use marker words such as domani (tomorrow), la prossima settimana (next week), in futuro (in the future) and so on.
When speaking with Italian friends, you may describe a specific condition, a wish or a temporal relationship between the main clause and the dependent clause. In Italian, we describe this situation by using two different tenses: Congiuntivo (Subjuntive) and Condizionale (Conditional).
They may look very difficult to use, but you shouldn’t be discouraged by that. Even just by learning a few very common uses of the subjunctive and conditional mood will set you apart from most other Italian language learners and make you sound significantly more Italian within an instant.
The subjunctive mood is used in both independent and dependent clauses.
Subjunctive Mood and Consecution Temporum
The Consecution Temporum plays a crucial role in preserving the grammaticality of Italian sentences. Additionally, we are using Subjunctive tenses to express the sense of contemporaneity or anteriority between the main clause and the dependent clause.
The conditional mood is the equivalent of the English expressions would, could, should. It is generally used when expressing hypothetical facts or situations, often together with se (if). It is also very common when ordering food or asking for a coffee in an Italian bar, because it makes you sound a bit less direct and rude when saying “I would like..” than merely “I want..”.
In this chapter, we are going to study the last three Moods of Italian Verbs, used to express orders and the infinitive form of every verb: Infinitive (Infinito), Imperative (Imperativo) and Gerund (Gerundio). These moods are often known as “non-finite” or impersonal since they are not used for every person (io, tu, lui/lei, noi, voi, loro).
The Italian Infinitive mood, or modo infinito, is the basic grammatical form of a verb.
- L’obiettivo è cucinare una buona pizza (The aim is to cook a tasty pizza)
- Non so cosa pensare (I do not know what to think)
- Credo di capire (I believe I can understand)
The peculiarity of this mood is the absence of persons, both singular and plural. It describes the action conveyed by the verb in general terms and to specify the conjugation the verb belongs to.
As we have already studied before, Italian verbs have three main conjugations namely:
- First conjugation (amare, lodare, sognare)
- Second conjugation (temere, bere, volere)
- Third conjugation (servire, partire, sentire)
The Past Infinitive and its auxiliary verbs
The Past Infinitive requires one auxiliary verbs, which can be avere (to have) or essere (to be). Usually, the auxiliary avere is used for the active sentences and for transitive verbs, while essere is preferred for the passive sentences and for impersonal verbs.
In expressing commands, indication or order, we are using the Imperative with verbs. Thus, In its negative form, it also refers to prohibition and describes actions that are forbidden.
- Dammi quella penna! (Give me that pen!)
- Non mangiare quella pizza! (Do not eat that pizza!)
The imperative can only be found in the 2nd person singular (tu, you) and 2nd person plural (voi, you). However, If you want to express an order, a suggestion or a command referred to all the other persons, you need to use the Present Subjunctive.
- Tu vai via! (You go away!) – Imperativo
- Voglio che andiate via! (I want you to go away) – Gerundio
Polite forms of the Imperative
In Italian, formal requests and commands is using imperative as well. Thus, it is possible to use certain expressions in order to sound politer while communicating with others.
- Per favore, dammi quella penna (Please, give me that pen)
- Apri la porta, per piacere (Open the door, please)
- Ti dispiace aprire la porta? (Do you mind opening the door?)
- Ti prego di chiudere la porta (I ask you to close the door)
Italian Gerund has the same meaning as the -ing form in English. It uses subordinate clauses when the subject is already stated in the main clause. It is also often used to form hypothetical sentences, temporal subordinate clauses, and causal clauses.
Italian Present Progressive
The Italian Present Progressive is formed by using the Italian Gerund, together with the auxiliary verbs stare and andare. It indicates an action that is taking place in that exact moment or an action that is gradually changing.
- Marco sta studiando (Marco is studying) – stare (essere) + gerundio
- Sto preparando una pizza adesso (Now I am making pizza) – stare (essere) + gerundio
- La mia situazione va ormai migliorando (My situation is now improving) – andare + gerundio
- Il riscaldamento globale va aumentando ogni giorno di più (Global warming is increasing more and more every day) – andare + gerundio
Study Tip! In English, the Present Progressive indicates future action. However, this does not apply in Italian.
- Cosa stai facendo ora? (What are you doing now?) – contemporary action
- Stasera torno a casa (I’m coming home tonight) – future action