Passato prossimo: Regular and irregular forms

The passato prossimo is the most commonly used past tense in Italian. It is a compound tense consisting of two words: the auxiliary verb (either avere or essere conjugate in presente indicativo) and the verb’s past participle (participio passato). 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 Second conjugation Third conjugation
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

 

The basic rules to form the past participle of regular verbs are fairly simple, but unfortunately many frequently used verbs in Italian, especially those ending in -ere, have an irregular past participle, which therefore does not follow the patterns of the table 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 though constant use. The more you encounter an irregular form, the more natural it will sound to you.

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

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

 

Passato prossimo: which auxiliary verb, essere or avere?

The auxiliary part of passato prossimo (essere or avere) is conjugated in the same way for regular and irregular past participle verbs. The only difference is the past participle (see table above for the most common verbs with irregular past participle).

Remember that most verbs require avere as the auxiliary verb to form passato prossimo. When avere is used, the past participle is does not change (only the form ending in -o is used, regardless of the grammatical gender and number of the subject). But when essere is used, the past participle changes form according to the grammatical number and gender of the subject: -o (masculine, singular), -a (feminine, singular), -i (masculine, plural), -e (feminine, plural).

Essere is used as passato prossimo auxiliary verb for reflexive verbs, verbs of motion, and some verbs indicating a change of state.

Passato prossimo: Examples with irregular past participle verbs

Let’s look at some examples of passato prossimo use for verbs with 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 vinto la partita?

Who won the came?

Audio lessons to practice the past tense of irregular verbs

To practice the past tense of irregular verbs, take Lesson 32 of the Italian audio course “Ripeti con me!“.

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