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Italian Verbs For Beginners

Mood and Tenses of Italian Verbs


When learning Italian, students naturally tend to look for grammatical patterns. Studying Italian verbs in a programmatic fashion is a wise idea, because it's an efficient use of time, and Italian verbs are classified in a variety of ways.

When studying Italian verbs, though, avoid the temptation to make absolute comparisons to English. Although there are many similarities between the two languages, there are also many fundamental differences. In addition, there are always exceptions to the rule. So while taking an organized approach to Italian verbs is a terrific way to improve your Italian, think of it like ordering in an Italian restaurant: be prepared to order a different primo if your favorite dish isn't available.

The Santa Trinità of Verbs
Verbs are fundamental to any language, and Italian is no exception. There are three primary groups of Italian verbs, classified according to the ending of their infinitives: first conjugation (-are verbs), second conjugation (-ere verbs), and third conjugation (-ire verbs).

Most Italian verbs belong to the first-conjugation group and follow a highly uniform pattern. Once you learn how to conjugate one -are verb, you've essentially learned hundreds of them. And what about those Italian verbs that don't end in -are? Second-conjugation (-ere) verbs account for approximately one quarter of all Italian verbs. Although many have some sort of irregular structure, there are also many regular -ere verbs. The final group of Italian verbs are those that end in -ire.

Feeling Tense? A Little Moody?
Feeling tense studying Italian verbs? Or maybe you're a bit moody. There is a difference. Mood (a variation of the word "mode") refers to the attitude of the speaker toward what he or she is saying. There are four finite moods (modi finiti) in Italian: indicative (indicativo), which is used to indicate facts; subjunctive (congiuntivo), which is used to express an attitude or feeling toward an event; conditional (condizionale), which is used to express what would happen in a hypothetical situation; and imperative (imperativo), which is used to give commands. (Note that modern English only has three finite moods: indicative, subjunctive, and imperative.)

There are also three indefinite moods (modi indefiniti) in Italian, so-called because the forms do not indicate the person (i.e., first, second, or third): infinitive (infinito), participle (participio), and gerund (gerundio).

Moods are divided into one or more tenses, which indicates the time when the action of the verb takes place (present, past, or future). For reference, the chart below lists the mood and tenses of Italian verbs in English and Italian.

Indicative / Indicativo
present / presente
present perfect / passato prossimo
imperfect / imperfetto
past perfect / trapassato prossimo
absolute past / passato remoto
preterite perfect / trapassato remoto
future / futuro semplice
future perfect / futuro anteriore

Subjunctive / Congiuntivo
present / presente
past / passato
imperfect / imperfetto
past perfect / trapassato

Conditional / Condizionale
present / presente
past / passato

Imperative / Imperativo
present / presente

Infinitive / Infinitivo
present / presente
past / passato

Participle / Participio
present / presente
past / passato

Gerund / Gerundio
present / presente
past / passato

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