What is passato prossimo in Italian?
What is passato prossimo in italian?
In Italian, the passato prossimo is a tense used to express past finished events and actions. It is composed by the auxiliary verb to have or to be and the Past Participle of the main verb.
You can cover virtually any past situation or event with these two tenses, while you can get by without passato remoto, which is only found in novels and history books.
This post is about passato prossimo of regular Italian verbs. There’s also a post about the passato prossimo of irregular Italian verbs.
Trivia: there’s a movie called “Passato prossimo“.
Passato prossimo: what is it for?
One of the most important things to learn is how to use Italian verbs. Let’s talk about the passato prossimo of Italian verbs (present perfect).
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.
What is passato prossimo? Let’s do first a couple of examples of common Italian verbs:
- Io 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.
By the way, spell “passato prossimo” correctly: it’s not “pasato prosimo” (double consonants!).
Passato prossimo: conjugation rules and examples
Let’s talk about the grammar rule behind the Italian passato prossimo (past tense). 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.
Learn more about Italian verb tenses.
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).
Let me tell you now, most students of Italian don’t get this right, even after years of studying Italian! Even students who consider themselves advanced – and they may well be in many areas of the language – still struggle with this concept.
Let’s look into:
- Passato prossimo: examples with the verb essere
- Passato prossimo: examples with the verb avere
Passato prossimo with essere
The verb “Essere” is mostly used with verbs of motion, verbs that express a change, and for the most common intransitive verbs.
Here some examples of the Italian passato prossimo including the verb andare.
Passato prossimo: sentences with essere
- (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)
Did you notice the particpio passato (past participle)? When the auxiliary is “essere”, the past participle (participio passato) does change according to number and gender. You need to conjugate it!
Now, this is actually not very hard to do and remember, since you already know how Italian Adjectives behave: they match the subject in gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural).
Since every past participle (including the irregular ones) ends with an -O in its heir base form, it’s a walk in the park to make them match the subject of the verb.
For the conjugation of the passato prossimo of essere (not as an auxiliary verb), check out the page about irregular passato prossimo.
Italian passato prossimo with avere
The verb “Avere” is used whenever the verbs can be followed by an object. 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 are some examples of passato prossimo with the verb avere.
Passato prossimo: examples with avere
- Io 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)
Again, did you notice the particpio passato (past participle)? when the auxiliary is “avere”, the past participle (participio passato) does not change according to number and gender, but is invariable!
As you can see, no matter who the subject is (voi, tu, Luisa, Marco) and what the object is (questa macchina, questi libri, queste scarpe, questo libro) the past participle of the verb does not change.
For the conjugation of the passato prossimo of avere (not as an auxiliary verb), check out the page about irregular passato prossimo.
How to form passato prossimo
A hint for passato prossimo rules.
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)
However, there are a lot of irregular past participles and irregular passato prossimo. The best way to recognize them is to use a dictionary and to memorize them.
Sadly, the most frequent and useful have irregular past participles. There’s no way of guessing that these are, so over time you will develop your own list.
That’s why passato prossimo in italian is a pain in the neck for non-native speakers.
For the conjugation of the passato prossimo of fare, check out the page about irregular passato prossimo.
Passato prossimo: test
Test your knowledge of passato prossimo with this online Italian quiz.
It covers Lessons 31-45 of the Italian audio course “Ripeti con me!”.
At the end of the test, you’ll see the result together with a short explanation of each question.
This online grammar quiz a chance to quickly practice passato prossimo and other grammar patterns.
If you’re looking for exercises about the Italian past tense, you’ll also get recommendations for further practice.