Passato prossimo: what is it?

Do you want to learn Italian? One of the most important things to learn is how to use verbs. Let’s talk about Italian present perfect (passato prossimo).

First of all, in the Italian language, we do not have only one past tense, but two: “passato prossimo” and “imperfetto”.

The present perfect (passato prossimo) is used when you are referring to actions completed in the past. Basically, is one of the tenses of the past that we use when we talk about actions, events and facts which happened in the past but not long ago.

Let’s do first a couple of examples:

  • Ho mangiato una mela. (I’ve eaten an apple.) With this sentence, you are describing recent past events that are now completed.
  • All’improvviso è arrivato Marco. (Suddenly, Marco came in.) This verb is used to describe sudden actions.

Passato prossimo: conjugation rules and examples

Let’s talk about the grammar rule behind this verb. How it has to be formed?

It is a compound tense (as it to say formed with 2 words). The first one is the present tense (presente) of an auxiliary verb, the second word is the past participle (= participio passato) of the verb that I have to conjugate.

To create a sentence with a present perfect in it, you should follow this scheme:

SUBJECT + AUXILIARY VERB + PAST PARTICIPLE

Please note that:

In Italian, there are two different auxiliary verbs: “essere” (to be) and “avere” (to have).

“Essere” is mostly used with verbs of motion, verbs that express a change, and for the most common intransitive verbs.

Here some examples:

  • (Io – I) Sono andato in palestra (verb of motion: “andare”, to go)
  • (Loro – They) Sono partiti ieri sera (verb of motion: “partire”, to leave)
  • (Io, femminile – I, feminine) Sono arrivata a casa (verb of motion: “arrivare”, to arrive)
  • (Tu – You) Sei diventato grande! (verb that expresses a change: “diventare”, to become)
  • (Lui – He) È nato in settembre. (verb that expresses a change: “nascere”, to born)
  • (Noi – We) Siamo cresciuti in campagna (verb that expresses a change: “crescere”, to grow up)
  • (Io – I) Sono uscito dalla porta (intransitive verb: “uscire”, to go out)

Please notice: when the auxiliary is “essere”, the past participle (participio passato) does change according to number and gender. You need to conjugate it!

“Avere” is used whenever the verbs can be followed by an object and with. These verbs are mostly transitive verbs (they are marked in every Italian dictionary with the letters “tr.”). But there are some exceptions, and the auxiliary verb “avere” has to be used also for a few of intransitive verbs. Here some examples:

  • (Io – I) Ho mangiato una pizza. (verb followed by an object: “mangiare”, to eat)
  • (Lei/Lui – She/He) Ha saputo la verità. (verb followed by an object: “sapere”, to know)
  • (Noi – We) Abbiamo sentito un rumore. (verb followed by an object: “sentire”, to hear)
  • (Io – I) Ho capito (verb followed by an object: “capire”, to understand)
  • (Loro – Them) Hanno camminato nel parco. (intransitive verb: “camminare”, to walk)
  • (Lei/Lui – She/He) Ha viaggiato molto nella vita. (intransitive verb: “viaggiare”, to travel)
  • (Tu – You) Hai sciato sulla montagna innevata. (intransitive verb: “sciare”, to ski)
  • (Loro – Them) Hanno nuotato nel fiume. (intransitive verb: “nuotare”, to swim)

Please notice: when the auxiliary is “avere”, the past participle (participio passato) does not change according to number and gender, but is invariable!

Hint!

Usually, this is how the Italian past participle is formed:

ending -ATO for verbs ending in -ARE (infinitive tense), sognare (to dream) becomes sognato (dreamt)

ending -UTO for verbs ending in -ERE (infinitive tense),  sapere (to know) becomes saputo (known)

ending -ITO for verbs ending in -IRE (infinitive tense), sentire (to hear) becomes sentito (heard)

Please notice: there are a lot of irregular past participles, the best way to recognize them is to use a dictionary and to memorize them.

Audio lessons to practice passato prossimo

To practice passato prossimo, take Lesson 31 of the Italian audio course “Ripeti con me!“.

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