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Irregular imperfect tense (imperfetto irregolare): Italian grammar lesson 84

Imperfetto Irregolare: Conjugation

The imperfetto is one of the most commonly used past tenses in Italian, together with the passato prossimo. It is often used to express a continued and prolonged action that happened in the past, or a habit in the past.

Luckily, most Italian verbs present a regular conjugation for the imperfetto tense, but there are still some exceptions. Some commonly used verbs have slightly different endings for this tense. And as usual, this means that it is very useful to memorize them! Here follows the conjugation for a few frequently used irregular verb: essere (= to be), fare (= to do/make), dire (= to say), and bere (= to drink).

Infinitive form: essere

(= to be)

fare

(= to do/make)

dire

(= to say)

bere

(= to drink)

io ero facevo dicevo bevevo
tu eri facevi dicevi bevevi
lui era faceva diceva beveva
noi eravamo facevamo dicevamo bevevamo
voi eravate facevate dicevate bevevate
loro erano facevano dicevano bevevano

Learn more about Italian verb conjugation.

Imperfetto Irregolare: When to use it?

The imperfetto tense of irregular verbs is used in the same situations for which the regular imperfetto is used in Italian:

  1. To describe a habit in the past (something that used to happen routinely in the past):
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Da bambino ero molto magro.

When I was a kid, I used to be very skinny.

In passato bevevo almeno 5 caffè al giorno. Ora non ne bevo più.

In the past I used to drink at least 5 coffees a day. Now I don’t drink coffee anymore.

Mia mamma mi diceva sempre: “Guida piano!”

My mom used to tell me: “Drive slowly!”

  1. To describe an ongoing situation or state in the past, which happened over a continuous or unspecified period of time. In this sense, it is often used in storytelling to set or describe a scene.

Ieri faceva freddo.

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Yesterday the weather was cold.

C’era una volta una strega cattiva….

Once upon a time there was an evil witch…

Il nonno era bellissimo da giovane!

Granpa was very handsome when he was younger!

  1. When describing two past actions happening at the same time, we use the imperfetto for the ongoing “background” action, and we use the passato prossimo for the “interrupting” action which happened for a shorter period of time. In this situation, the imperfetto is often introduced by mentre (=while).

Mentre facevo la doccia, qualcuno ha bussato alla porta.

While I was taking a shower, someone knocked.

Luisa beveva il caffè quando improvvisamente si è sentita male.

Luisa was drinking her coffee when suddenly she started feeling sick.

Si sono addormentati mentre facevano i compiti.

They fell asleep while they were doing their homework.

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