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The past of the subjunctive: Italian grammar

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The past of the subjunctive

The “congiuntivo passato” or the past of the subjunctive behaves like the present of the subjunctive, with the obvious difference that it’s used to talk about the past. Its structure is quite straightforward since it’s similar to the “passato prossimo“, which combines the verb “essere” or the verb “avere” and the past participle. The only difference is that this time the verbs “essere” and “avere” are in the present of the subjunctive.

  • avere in the present of the subjunctive + past participle
  • essere in the present of the subjunctive + past participle

il congiuntivo passato

Avere and essere

In case you don’t remember, here are the verbs “essere” and “avere” are in the present of the subjunctive:

  • Avere: io abbia, tu abbia, lui/lei abbia, noi abbiamo, voi abbiate, loro abbiano.
  • Essere: io sia, tu sia, lui/lei sia, noi siamo, voi siate, loro siano.

If you don’t know when to use “avere” and when to use “essere“, the following tip will help you:

  • Avere is followed by most verbs, like “comprare” (to buy), “mangiare” (to eat), “leggere” (to read), etc.
  • Essere is followed by the verb “essere” and “stare“, and by all verbs that deal with movement like “rimanere” (to stay/to remain), “scappare” (to escape), “salire” (to go up), “scendere” (to go down),  “partire” (to depart/leave), “andare” (to go), “venire” (to come), etc.”

Remember the past participles are those words that end in -ATO, -UTO, and -ITO, like mangiato, saputo, and dormito. There are many past participles that are irregular. Here’s a list of some of them: aperto, bevuto, chiesto, detto, fatto, letto, perso, rotto, scritto, stato, venuto, visto. Keep in mind that the past participle of the verbs that go with “essere” agree in number and gender with the subject.

Il congiuntivo passato italiano

The past of the subjunctive: examples

Remember we use the subjunctive to talk about hopes, hypotheses, desires, fears, possibilities, and doubts. It’s usually preceded by “penso che” (I think that), “credo che” (I believe that), “spero che” (I hope that), “è possibile che” (it’s possible that), and “sembra che” (it seems that/it seems like), among others. Let’s have a look at some examples:

  • Credo che tu abbia comprato una bellissima macchina. 
    I believe that you bought a very beautiful car.
  • Spero che lei abbia mangiato tutto.
    I hope she ate everything.
  • È possible che voi abbiate dimenticato tutto.
  • It’s possible that you forgot everything.
  • Credo che Maria sia andata a dormire.
    I believe Maria went to sleep.
  • Non ti sembra che loro siano partiti troppo presto?
    Don’t you think they left too early?
  • Spero che voi siate arrivate in tempo.
    I hope you arrived on time.

il congiuntivo passato in italiano

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