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Irregular past tense (passato prossimo): Italian grammar lesson 32

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What is the passato prossimo?

The passato prossimo is the most commonly used past tense in Italian.

It is a compound tense consisting of two words:

  1. The auxiliary verb (either avereor essere conjugate in presente indicativo)
  2. The verb’s past participle (participio passato).

Here are some examples:

Ieri sono andata al cinema.

Yesterday I went to the cinema.

Hai finito i compiti?

Have you finished your homework?

In today’s post, we’re mainly going to focus on the passato prossimo of irregular verbs.

Passato prossimo: regular forms

The participio passato of regular verbs is conjugated as follows:

  • verbs ending in -are take -ato to form their past participle (example: the past participle of mangiare is mangiato)
  • verbs ending in -ere take -uto to form their past participle (example: the past participle of cadere is caduto)
  • verbs ending in -ire take -ito to form their past participle (example: the past participle of capire is capito)
First conjugation (-are verbs) Second conjugation (-ere verbs) Third conjugation (-ire verbs)
Infinitive form: (-are)

mangiare

(= to eat)

(-ere)

cadere

(= to fall)

(-ire)

capire

(= to understand)

Past participle: (-ato)

mangiato

(-uto)

caduto

(-ito)

capito

io ho mangiato sono caduto ho capito
tu hai mangiato sei caduto hai capito
lui ha mangiato è caduto ha capito
noi abbiamo mangiato siamo caduti abbiamo capito
voi avete mangiato siete caduti avete capito
loro hanno mangiato sono caduti hanno capito

Passato prossimo of irregular verbs

Passato prossimo: irregular forms

The basic rules to form the past participle of regular verbs are fairly simple.

However, many frequently used verbs in Italian, especially those ending in -ere, have an irregular past participle. This means they do not follow the patterns of the table we saw above.

The same happens in English: regular verbs take -ed to form the past participle.

For example, the past participle of the regular verb to walk is walked, but many verbs do not follow this rule and have irregular forms, such as eaten, thought, gone, done, etc.

The only way for learners to use irregular forms correctly it’s to memorize them through constant use.

The more you encounter an irregular form, the more natural it will sound to you.

Learn more about Italian verb conjugation.

irregular passato prossimo

Passato prossimo of the verb avere

Let’s have look at a sentence containing the passato prossimo of the verb avere.

Hai avuto una bella idea!

You had a good idea!

Here’s the structure of the passato prossimo of the verb avere:

  • conjugated form of the present of the verb avere+ past participle avuto

Have a look at the conjugation:

  • Io ho avuto
  • Tu hai avuto
  • Lui/lei ha avuto
  • Noi abbiamo avuto
  • Voi avete avuto
  • Loro hanno avuto

italian irregular past participles

Passato prossimo of the verb essere

Let’s now have a look at a sentence with the passato prossimo of the verb essere.

Stamattina sono stato dal dentista.

This morning I was at the dentist’s.

And here’s the structure of the passato prossimo of the verb essere:

  • conjugated form of the present of the verb essere + past participle stato/stato/state/stati

Have a look at the conjugation:

  • Io sono stato/a
  • Tu sei stato/a
  • Lui/lei è stato/a
  • Noi siamo stati/e
  • Voi siete stati/e
  • Loro sono stati/e

As you can see, the past participle changes depending on the person/s it’s referring to.

The passato prossimo of  essere is totally different from what you would expect.

It’s quicker to just learn it by using it, instead of speculating about obscure rules.

irregular italian verbs passato prossimo

Passato prossimo of other common verbs

How many verbs with irregular passato prossimo are there in Italian? A lot!

What are the conjugations of irregular passato prossimo? That’s not obvious!

Here is a list of the most common Italian verbs with an irregular participio passato (past participle):

Infinitive Irregular Part Participle
essere (= to be) stato
fare (= to do/make) fatto
dire (= to say) detto
chiedere (= to ask) chiesto
accendere (= to turn on) acceso
spegnere (= to turn off) spento
leggere (= to read) letto
rispondere (= to answer) risposto
rompere (= to break) rotto
scrivere (= to write) scritto
vincere (= to win) vinto
perdere (= to lose) perso
scegliere (= to choose) scelto
mettere (= to put) messo
morire (= to die) morto
vivere (= to live) vissuto
ridere (= to laugh) riso
scendere (= to go gown) sceso

Just so you know, the auxiliary part of passato prossimo (essere or avere) is conjugated in the same way for regular and irregular past participle verbs.

The only thing that changes is the past participle.

essere passato prossimo

Passato prossimo: which auxiliary verb, essere or avere?

Most verbs require avere as the auxiliary verb to form passato prossimo.

When we use avere, the past participle does not change. We only use the form ending in -o, regardless of the grammatical gender and number of the subject, as in the sentences below:

Laura ha mangiato tutto. (Laura ate everything.)

Loro hanno finito l’esame. (They finished the exam.)

However, we use essere as the auxiliary verb of passato prossimo mainly with the following verbs:

  • verbs of movement (i.e.: andare, venire, salire)
  • reflexive verbs (i.e.: lavarsi, mettersi, farsi)
  • some verbs indicating a change of state (i.e.: diventare, stare)

When we use essere, the past participle changes form according to the grammatical number and gender of the subject, as you can see below:

  • -o (masculine, singular): Marco è uscito. (Marco went out.)
  • -a (feminine, singular): Giulia è andata a casa. (Giulia went home).
  • -i (masculine, plural): Pietro e Luigi sono venuti a trovarmi. (Pietro and Luigi came to visit me.)
  • -e (feminine, plural): Marta e Francesca sono scese in paese. (Marta and Francesca went down to the town.)

Past participle of irregular verbs in Italian

Passato prossimo: Examples with irregular past participle verbs

Let’s look at some examples of conjugations passato prossimo of verbs with Italian irregular past participles:

Ho chiamato tre volte, ma non ha risposto nessuno.

I called three times, but no one answered the phone.

Quando ci hanno chiesto se volevamo mangiare, abbiamo detto di sì.

When they asked us if we wanted to eat, we said yes.

Le ragazze sono scese da quelle scale.

The girls came down those steps.

L’esame è stato facile.

The test was easy.

Chi ha vintola partita?

Who won the game?

Past participle of Italian irregular verbs 1

To practice Irregular past tense (passato prossimo): Italian grammar lesson 32, take lesson
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of the audio course “Ripeti con me!”

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