Italian verb conjugation is the nightmare of every student.
I’ll show you how it works and how to learn it the smart way.
What is verb conjugation?
What is verb conjugation, anyway? And why do you need to learn it to speak Italian?
In a nutshell, verb conjugation is the process of changing a verb in some way to indicate different meanings such as the person or number of people performing an action.
In simplest terms, conjugation is when you turn a verb like “run” into “ran” or “running” or “will run”—depending on what it is exactly you mean.
In Italian, this is done by changing the ending of the verb.
In practice, this means that verbs like ‘cook’ or ‘talk’ will have different endings depending on who is performing the action.
Verb conjugations are relatively limited in English.
However, in Italian, they’re pretty obvious and it’s impossible to overlook them.
In Italian, just as in English, verbs are an important part of everyday speaking that comes naturally to native speakers. When a verb is conjugated incorrectly, though, it is jarring.
There are several different Italian verb tenses (and even moods) that can change the way a verb is formed in Italian.
In this post, you’ll learn the basic conjugations to get you started in Italian, as well as the best ways to practice conjugations.
Yes! Italian verb tenses, explained!
Italian verb conjugation: a nightmare?
Even the most passionate and dedicated language-learners tend to groan when the time comes to work on Italian verb conjugation.
It’s a dreaded part of learning the language that conjures images of frustrating conjugation tables and long nights spent attempting to memorize endless lists of words.
Conjugating Italian verbs is not fun. And when you’re starting out it can take a ton of concentration.
But if you’re feeling intimidated, well… don’t be!
With a bit of practice, you’ll realize that Italian verb conjugation is actually much less difficult than it seems at first.
In fact, once you begin to understand the patterns in each tense, it’s actually pretty easy.
If you ask former language students where they gave up on learning Italian, or where they thought the end of the road was, it’s here: Italian verb conjugations.
Sure, they can memorize vocabulary, learn numbers and sing the days of the week, but when it comes to conjugating verbs, there are just too many, they’re too complicated and too.
Don’t worry! This post will get you back on track and help you have a healthier attitude on the subject.
Italian verb tenses and conjugations are hard, but not impossibile.
The problem with teaching verb conjugations
It haunts the nightmares of Italian language learners. Many would rather ride a roller-coaster with cobwebs for seat belts than face a wall of Italian verb conjugation that reads like a foreign language unto itself.
Granted, the subject of conjugations isn’t easy, and admittedly, Italian is a bit harder than English.
But that said, conjugation is still not as hard as it’s made out to be.
I think there are three major problems in the approach to the subject that we need to correct here.
These problems make learning Italian verb conjugations and tenses a nightmare.
Too much theory, too little practice
Many textbooks give a chapter or two to Italian verb conjugation as if that’s enough. And the lessons, when they’re actually taught, are delivered too fast.
It’s one of those things that’s easy for the teacher to teach, but very hard for the students to master.
As a second language speaker, you get better at it over time, and it takes years of language usage to master.
Conjugation is a big, fat topic. It’s like a catch-all subject that combines everything you’ve ever learned about Italian grammar—pronouns, tenses, nouns, genders, subject-verb agreement, sentence structure, and so on.
Too many rules, too few examples
Another mistake that language learners make is that they think they can “hack” the subject by memorizing a table of rules written on a Italian verb conjugation “cheat sheet.”
Yes, Italian verbs conjugation is made up of tenses, and bla bla bla.
Personally, I never study with tables of rules and conjugations.
Conjugation isn’t like math, where you memorize a bunch of formulas and plug in the numbers.
Italian verb conjugation tables and matrices lack the real-world context which gives nuance to your understanding. That’s why most people forget what they read in those tables pretty quickly.
Context makes things vivid. It’s like seeing things in action.
So, study verbs in sentences instead of conjugation tables.
Instead, I recommend learning by speaking with an Italian audio course like Ripeti Con Me.
You can also repurpose the language content you’re already using—like songs, rhymes, audiobooks, and short stories—for learning conjugation. Read or listen while paying attention to how the verbs are used.
Mistakes and expectations
We learn Italian verb conjugation by trial and error.
However, many students are afraid of making mistakes.
That’s a huge hindrance to progress.
On the other side, some expect to be able to speak correctly only because they know the rules.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen. You need practice. A lot!
So, don’t worry about making mistakes. We learn by making plenty of them early on and then weeding them out over time.
And take your time.
Mastery comes with practice. In the meantime, butcher as many verbs as you can. It’s okay.
Native speakers understand you even if you butcher their verbs, anyway!
Italian verb conjugation: basic concepts
In this section, we lay the groundwork and talk about the things that you’re going to use to conjugate verbs.
Italian verb conjugation is a procedure in which Italian verbs are changed to match with various other features of the phrase and its context.
You can conjugate Italian verbs by these major factors:
- The verb changes depending on the person it is referring to, e.g. ‘io faccio’ – ‘I do’, or ‘fa’ – ‘he/she does’)
- Are we talking about a single person like in ‘fa’ – ‘he/she does’, or many: ‘fanno’ – ‘they do’)
- Tense – Italian has a huge tense system, having present, past, imperfect, etc.
- Mood (or attitude, and is distinguished as indicative, conditional or imperative, e.g. ‘fai’ – ‘you do’, ‘faresti’ – ‘you would do’ and fa’ – ‘do!’).
- Voice – Active and passive: the difference between ‘something is reading’ and ‘something is being read’
Verbs are action words. So we’re going to be needing some “agent” who is the do-er of these actions.
This “somebody” usually comes in the form of pronouns. So if you ask, “Who runs?” The answer might be “You run” or “They run” or “She runs.”
To correctly conjugate a verb, you need to know who is doing the action. Here are the seven Italian pronouns you need to know about:
- “Io” — I
- “Tu” — You
- “Lui” — He
- “Lei” — She
- “Noi” — We
- “Voi” — You-all
- “Loro” — They
The English “it” is a special case. You can either use “lui,” “lei” or “loro” depending on what “it” is being replaced. Use “lui” if the noun being replaced is masculine in gender and “lei” if it’s feminine.
The 3 persons
Italian verb conjugation features 3 persons.
If the pronouns are the do-ers of the action, you need to know if they’re in the first person, second person or third person point of view, and whether they’re singular or plural.
Why? Because each takes on a different verb form.
A quick review of points of view:
A “first” person point of view is used when you’re talking about yourself, your opinions and the things that happened to you.
The Italian pronoun “io” (I) is in the first person singular, while “noi” (we) is the first person plural.
The “second” person point of view is used to refer to the person you’re addressing.
The pronouns “tu” (you) and “voi” (you-plural) are used for the second person point of view.
Italian also distinguishes between the informal “you,” used for friends and family, and the formal “you,” used for people you’ve just met or people considered higher than you in the ladder of life.
The informal you, as previously mentioned, is “tu” and the formal one is “Lei.”
This is different from the “lei” (she) which has an uncapitalized letter “l.”
But no worries, “Lei” (you-formal) and “lei” (she) follow the same verb conjugation rules.
The “third” person refers to the people talked about and includes he, him, she, her, it and they.
The Italian pronouns “lui” and “lei” are third person singular, while “loro” is third person plural.
Verb groups and classes
In the Italian language, verbs can be grouped into three distinct classes based on their endings.
The three classes of Italian verbs are those that end in: “-are,” “-ere” and “-ire”
Italian verb conjugation depends on this ending.
- -are: parlare (talk), entrare (enter) and nuotare (swim)
- -ere: scrivere (write), leggere (read) and vedere (see)
- -ire: costruire (build), sentire (follow) and colpire (hit)
We’re talking here about verbs that are in the infinitive form or in their simplest form. In English, “swim” is in the infinitive form. “Swimming” or “swam” are not.
Verbs with the same endings follow the same verb conjugation rules. Watch for the last three letters of the verbs (“-are,” “-ere” and “-ire”) because they’ll usually be dropped and replaced with something else.
Verb conjugation in Italian and Spanish
An interesting comparison exists between Italian and Spanish, Portuguese, or other Romance languages.
Since they are geographically and linguistically closest, perhaps a most interesting immediate comparison is with Italian and Spanish very conjugation:
- Vowel ending in Italian – all Italian finite forms end in a vowel, but in Spanish this is not true (hablan, cf. parlano)
- Spelled ‘v’ instead of ‘b’ – Italian uses a ‘b’ in the imperfective (‘parlava’), cf. with the Spanish ‘b’ (‘hablaba’) – but this difference is not strong in pronunciation;
- Differences in form endings – both the imperfective, conditional work in similar ways in both Spanish and Italian, but Italian uses somewhat different endings in all of them: e.g. ‘parlerei’ – ‘I would speak’, cf. ‘hablaría’ in Spanish; ‘partirò’ in Italian, cf. ‘partiré’ in Spanish
How many verb tenses do you need?
Italian verb conjugation tables look intimidating.
They show off tenths or tense and you feel like you’ll never master them.
However, the good news is that you only need a fraction of those tense.
Namely, you should learn these 4 common tenses:
- Presente (present tense)
- Passato prossimo (past tense)
- Imperfetto (past tense for repeated actions or situations)
- Futuro (future tense)
With them, you can already say 80% of what you want to say.
Conjugation rules for 4 common tenses
Here are there Italian verb conjugation rules for the 4 most common tenses.
The present tense: presente indicativo
Much like it is in English, the Italian present tense is used to talk about habitual actions, basic truths, descriptions and actions happening at the moment of speaking.
The present perfect tense: passato prossimo
Passato prossimo refers to actions that were done and completed in the past, but that have an effect in the present.
In English, the present perfect shows up in phrases like “I have eaten” or “I have tried.”
The formula for forming the passato prossimo is: conjugated avere/essere + past participle of the main verb
The imperfect tense: imperfetto
Use this tense for actions that happened over and over again in the past.
If you used to diet and if you used to exercise, but have since stopped, that’s imperfetto.
Here’s a thorough explanation of imperfetto in Italian, the difference between passato prossimo vs imperfetto, and how to use passato prossimo and imperfetto together.
The future tense: futuro semplice
The future tense refers to actions that will be done in the future
Conjugating irregular verbs
Those irregular verbs! They make Italian verb conjugation a nightmare.
Irregular Italian verbs still feature changes at the end of the verb, but the root may change as well.
Do the Italian verb endings change? Yes, and they’re even somewhat recognizable, but that doesn’t change the fact that a bunch of other crazy stuff is going on.
So how can you get around it? Is there a secret loophole that lets us escape the clutches of the dreaded Italian verb?
Unfortunately, no there isn’t. You have to memorize your verbs, but if you’re going to take the plunge, you might as well learn the verbs that are going to take you the furthest.
Getting the rules for the common tenses is challenging enough, but what makes conjugation spicier for language learners is that Italian has many irregular verbs that don’t follow the conjugation patterns and have rules of their own.
There are different “irregulars” for different tenses, and one way of taming them is by familiarizing yourself with these verbs and committing them to memory.
For example, the verbs capire (understand), fare (make), andare (go) and potere (can) are irregulars in the present tense.
You don’t really have to memorize all of them. Irregular verbs aren’t made equal. You can just pick the most common ones, like the ones mentioned above, and hammer at them hard.
This is a much better use of your time than memorizing every single irregular verb that exists.
Don’t be afraid of irregular verbs. They’re fairly common, and if you immerse yourself in Italian, you’ll meet them soon enough.
How to learn Italian verb conjugations
You have all the info at your fingertips. Now, how do you remember all this Italian verb conjugation?
And, beyond that—how do you use the correct verb in an actual Italian conversation?
Put conjugated verbs in context
The best way to study verb conjugations is in context. Italian verb conjugation charts and multiple-choice quizzes will only get you so far.
If you want these verbs to stick in your head, you have to see them within real-life sentences.
Having an exciting context for the verbs—like a climactic scene in a movie or an important line in a song—is infinitely more effective than dryly memorizing entries of conjugation tables.
Any study material that contains verbs can be re-purposed for learning conjugations. This includes Italian songs, Italian short stories, and Italian news.
Don’t just study conjugations tables or word lists or anything without context.
The Italian audio course “Ripeti con me!” gives you the context you need. Try it out!
Listen and repeat
You need to hear yourself speak Italian in order to learn.
Try reading what you’ve written in the previous tip. Read these sentences aloud multiple times. You need to hear them over and over.
You’ll start to notice that Italian grammar is tightly coordinated. And by repeating these verbs again and again, you’ll begin to see and hear the patterns in the language.
You’ll even notice that they sometimes rhyme. You’ll begin to intuitively know what pronoun goes with what conjugation.
Not because you remember it as a rule, but because you’ve heard it so many times.
Over time, your work on verb conjugations will become semi-automatic.
That is, instead of being backed by rules, you’ll operate on intuitions. Y
ou’ll have heard something a thousand times, so you’ll feel sure that such and such is the correct form of a verb.
Do you think native speakers refer to tables and matrices when they speak Italian?
Nope, they’re not even really consciously aware of these things. It’s just that they’ve said a verb that way over and over, so saying it any other way sticks out like a sore thumb.
The Italian audio course “Ripeti con me!” prompts you to speak, which is the best way to master a language. Have you tried it yet?
4 Tips for mastering Italian verb conjugation
Now that you have a basic understanding of how Italian verb conjugation works, I have some handy tips and tricks to help your learning process go more smoothly and progress more quickly.
These are some great ways to help the conjugations stick in your memory.
The ideas I’m about to share will be helpful not only for the present tense, but also for the more advanced tenses you need to learn.
Start applying these habits early in your language-learning and you’ll lay the foundations for success in Italian.
By the way, if you need an extra boost to help you learn and master Italian grammar, then check out my collection of Italian grammar lessons.
Practice the ‘I’ and ‘you’ forms first
In day-to-day conversation, we usually talk about ourselves or our conversation partner.
“io” and “tu” are the forms that you will probably be using the most.
If you want to jumpstart your ability to communicate in Italian, this is the best place to start.
Of course, you’ll eventually need the other forms too, but it’s best to prioritize the most commonly used forms first.
If you are comfortable with the forms you need most, you’ll feel more comfortable practicing, and practicing is key!
Practice in real life
Spaced repetition is key to master grammar patterns.
You can do that by yourself with Italian audio lessons like Ripeti Con Me or with people.
Both options are also excellent sources of comprehensible input.
On the other side, don’t just repeat flashcards!
Flashcards are no good if you still freeze up when you are asked a question.
Likewise, if you practice Italian verb conjugation without studying, you run the risk of practicing incorrectly, which can lead to lots of confusion and bad habits.
You need to find a good balance of study through exercise/repetition and real-world practice.
Focus on important irregular verbs
There aren’t that many irregular verbs in Italian, but I recommend seeking them out and committing them to memory before you begin seriously studying regular conjugations.
This way you won’t be tempted to conjugate irregular verbs the regular way.
You’ll also notice that there are a handful of irregular verbs that are among the most commonly used in the entire Italian language.
Mastering these early on is key to building a strong foundation in the language.
Don’t overthink it
Since Italian verb conjugations follow such consistent patterns, sometimes your mouth knows what to say before your brain does.
Follow those impulses because, usually, they’re right.
On the rare occasion that you realize afterward you used the wrong conjugation, you’ll usually still have communicated your point and you can correct it next time.
Ripeti Con Me is excellent because it compels you to think directly in Italian.
Review of 6 online conjugators
There’s an ample choice of Italian verb conjugators online:
As if I hadn’t repeated that enough, let me tell you that you don’t need conjugation tables.
You need to put words in context, including verbs.
For this reason, I don’t recommend using any Italian verb conjugator. No matter how well designed they are. Even if they’re available for free.
Those conjugation tables might look reassuring because they give a sense of order, but they’re actually a hindrance to fluency.
10 basic Italian verbs conjugated
Here’s a collection of 10 basic Italian verbs conjugated in the present tense.
Verbs 1-4 are regular, while verbs 5-10 are irregular.
Click each verb to see more tenses.
10 basic Italian verbs: present tense
The irregular parts of the verbs are shown in bold text.
First 5 basic Italian verbs:
lui / lei / Lei
loro / Loro
Another 5 Italian verbs in the present tense:
lui / lei / Lei
loro / Loro
PDF List of common Italian verbs
With so many Italian verb conjugations, you want to focus on the most frequently used Italian verbs.
That’s why I collected the most common Italian verbs in a PDF to download and print.
This list also includes the most common Italian nouns, adjectives, etc.
It’s a huge time saver!
Just tell me where I should send it and you’ll receive it immediately.
Italian verb conjugation: not so hard, after all!
Overall, I think you’ll find that Italian verb conjugation is much easier than it seems at first.
Yes, there are lots of different endings to learn but, in reality, the patterns are quite consistent and clear.
Italian follows consistent rules that are easy to get the hang of.
With daily practice and study, you’ll be well on your way.
Just remember to keep exposing yourself to the language as much as possible and noticing the forms of the verbs you read and hear.
Keep an eye and an ear out for the verb conjugation patterns and pretty soon you’ll be able to use them pretty well yourself!
Stop studying conjugations, start speaking
My experience in language learning convinced me that the deliberate study of Italian verb conjugation tables doesn’t work.
No amount of studying, reviewing, or memorizing enabled me to learn these endings.
On the contrary, learning can be severely retarded by an effort to try to ace these tables.
The best way to get good at it, in my opinion, is not to get hung up on trying to memorize them.
The Italian audio lessons “Ripeti con me!” are designed based on my experience and aim at practicing speaking and thinking directly in Italian.
You’ll learn Italian verb conjugation rules naturally, almost unconsciously.