What is passato prossimo in Italian?
In Italian, the passato prossimo is a verb 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 the 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 when studying Italian is learning how to use Italian verbs correctly. Let’s talk about the passato prossimo of Italian verbs, which is the equivalent of the English present perfect.
First of all, in the Italian language, we do not have only one past tense, but various. Two of the most important ones are the passato prossimo and the imperfetto.
The present perfect (passato prossimo) is used when you are referring to actions completed in the past. Basically, it is one of the tenses we use when we talk about actions, events and facts that happened in the past, but not long ago.
What is passato prossimo? Let’s see 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 tense can also be used to describe sudden actions.
By the way, remember to spell “passato prossimo” correctly: it’s not “pasato prosimo” (double consonants!).
Passato prossimo: conjugation rules and examples
Let’s talk about the rules of the Italian passato prossimo (present perfect tense). How do we form it?
The passato prossimo is a compound tense (which means it is formed by 2 words). The first one is the present tense (presente) of an auxiliary or helping verb, while the second is the past participle (participio passato) of the verb that we are conjugating.
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.
To be sure you get it right, let’s now look into how to use the Italian Axiliary verbs essere and 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.
Verb of motion: “andare”, to go:
(Io) sono andato in palestra.
I went to the gym.
Verb of motion: “partire”, to leave:
(Loro) sono partiti ieri sera.
They left last night.
Verb of motion: “arrivare”, to arrive:
(Io) Sono arrivata a casa.
I arrived home.
Verb that expresses a change: “diventare”, to become:
(Tu – You) Sei diventato grande!
You’ve got big!
Verb that expresses a change: “nascere”, to be born:
(Lui ) È nato in settembre.
He was born in September.
Verb that expresses a change: “crescere”, to grow up:
(Noi) Siamo cresciuti in campagna.
We grew up in the countryside.
Intransitive verb: “uscire”, to go out:
(Io) Sono uscito.
I went out.
Did you notice the particpio passato (past participle)? When the auxiliary is essere, the past participle (participio passato) changes according to the number and gender of the subject. It behaves like an adjective.
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 our page about the irregular passato prossimo.
Italian passato prossimo with avere
The verb Avere (to have) 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.”).
Hhowever, there are some exceptions, and the auxiliary verb “avere” has to be used also for a few intransitive verbs.
Here are some examples of the passato prossimo with the verb avere.
Verb followed by an object: “mangiare”, to eat:
Io ho mangiato una pizza.
I ate a pizza.
Verb followed by an object: “sapere”, to know:
(Lei/Lui ) Ha saputo la verità.
He/she found out the truth.
Verb followed by an object: “sentire”, to hear:
(Noi) Abbiamo sentito un rumore.
We heard a noise.
Intransitive verb: “camminare”, to walk:
(Loro) Hanno camminato nel parco.
They walked in the park.
Intransitive verb: “viaggiare”, to travel:
(Lei/Lui) Ha viaggiato molto nella vita.
He / she travelled a lot in his / her life.
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: it 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 the participio passato
Let’s see some rules to form the participio passato.
Usually, this is how the Italian past participle is formed:
- verbs ending in -ARE in the infinitive tense will end in -ATO: sognare (to dream) becomes sognato (dreamt);
- verbs ending in -ERE in the infinitive tense will end in -UTO: sapere (to dream) becomes saputo (dreamt)
- verbs ending in -IRE in the infinitive tense will end in -ITO: sentire (to dream) becomes sentito (dreamt)
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 what these are, so over time you will develop your own list.
That’s why, often the 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.