Passato remoto: what is it?

The remote past tense aka Passato Remoto in Italian is typically used to talk about history or in literary texts. It is actually a simple tense and is formed by one word.

It is used for events that happened in the distant past.

Passato Remoto is used exclusively in written Italian, except for certain areas in Southern Italy where it is used in spoken language.

Passato remoto: conjugations

Just like other verb conjugations in Italian the regular verbs have specific endings. Follow this format to form the passato remoto (remote past) of regular verbs:

  • For -are verbs, drop the infinitive ending and add one of these personal endings to the root: -ai, -asti, -ò, -ammo, -aste, -arono.
  • For -ere verbs, drop the infinitive ending and add these personal endings to the root: -ei, -esti, -é, -emmo, -este, -erono. Note that many regular -ere verbs have an alternative form in
    the first person singular, third person singular, and third person plural forms.
  • For -ire verbs, drop the infinitive ending and add these personal endings to the root: -ii, -isti, -í, -immo, -iste, -irono.

Here are some examples of the remote past being used in Italian:

  • Dante si rifugiò a Ravenna. – Dante took refuge in Ravenna.
  • Petrarca morì nel 1374. – Petrarca died in 1374.
  • Michelangelo nacque nel 1475. -Michelangelo was born in 1475

The table below provides examples of three regular Italian verbs (one of each class) conjugated in the remote past tense.

PARLARE RICEVERE CAPIRE
io parlai ricevei (ricevetti) capii
tu parlasti ricevesti capisti
lui, lei, Lei parlò ricevé (ricevette) capí
noi parlammo ricevemmo capimmo
voi parlaste riceveste capiste
loro, Loro parlarono riceverono (ricevettero) capirono

Examples of irregular verbs

Many verbs in Italian have an irregular conjugation with the “passato remoto”.

Below are five common examples:

Essere – To be

fui
fosti
fu
fummo
foste
furono

— Albert Einstein fu un uomo di grande saggezza. – Albert Einstein was a man of great wisdom.

Avere – To have

ebbi
avesti
ebbe
avemmo
aveste
ebbero

— Ebbero così tanta fortuna da vincere persino il primo premio della lotteria nazionale! – They had
such luck that they also won the first prize of the National Lottery!

— Giulia ebbe il coraggio di donare un rene a sua sorella. – Giulia had the courage to donate a
kidney to her sister.

Fare – To do/make

  • feci
  • facesti
  • fece
  • facemmo
  • faceste
  • fecero

— Con pochi soldi fecero un matrimonio bellissimo. – They set up a beautiful wedding with little
money.

— Facemmo tutto il possibile per riportare alla luce l’affresco di Raffaello. – We did everything
possible to bring to light Raffaello’s fresco.

Stare – To stay/to be

  • stetti
  • stesti
  • stette
  • stemmo
  • steste
  • stettero

— Mi ricordo che stetti in silenzio tutta la festa. Ero troppo timida! – I remember I spent the whole
party without saying a word. I was too shy!

— I feriti, dopo la scoperta della penicillina nel 1937, stettero subito meglio. – The wounded felt
immediately better after the discovery of penicillin in 1937.

Dire – To say

  • dissi
  • dicesti
  • disse
  • dicemmo
  • diceste
  • dissero

— Cimabue disse: “L’allievo ha superato il maestro.” – Cimabue said: “The pupil has surpassed
the teacher.”

— Romeo e Giulietta si dissero parole d’amore che sono arrivate fino ai nostri tempi! – Romeo and
Juliet said words of love to each other that have persisted until the present!


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