Italian Perfect Tense

The Italian perfect tense is the most commonly used past tense in Italian.

In English it is equivalent to the situation where in English we say have –ed‘ or simply ‘–ed‘ for example, ‘I have talked‘ as well as ‘I talked‘, etc. This one past tense in Italian is often therefore used to cover what is two past tenses in English. (There is however also the imperfect tense, which we will be covering shortly).

How to form the perfect tense

The first stage:

During the first stage you form the perfect tense is by using the appropriate form of ‘avere’ (to have) or ‘essere’ (to be) as follows:

Avere = To have

(io) HoI have
(tu) HaiYou have (speaking to one friend, etc.)
(lui/lei/Lei) HaHe/She has
+ You have (Speaking to one stranger, etc.)
(noi) AbbiamoWe have
(voi) AveteYou have (speaking to more than one person)
(loro) HannoThey have

OR

Essere = To be

(io) SonoI am
(tu) SeiYou are (speaking to one friend, etc.)
(lui/lei/Lei) ÈHe/She is
+ You are (speaking to one stranger)
(noi) SiamoWe are
(voi) SieteYou are (speaking to more than one person)
(loro) SonoThey are

Generally (but not always!) follow this rule of thumb:

  • Movement verbs, verbs showing a change in condition as well as reflexive verbs require ‘essere’.*
  • All other verbs require you to use ‘avere’ in this tense.*

Note: Camminare (to walk) uses ‘avere’ despite there being movement and Rimanere (to remain/to stay) uses ‘essere’ despite there being no movement.

* In reality verbs really take ‘avere’ or ‘essere’ depending on whether they are transitive or not i.e. whether they can take a direct object or not. However, the rule of thumb above works most of the time.

Stage two: Work out the Past Participle

The second stage: During the second stage you work out what the ‘Past Participle’ is. You do this in the following way:

  • with ‘are’ ending verbs replace the ‘are’ with ‘ato’ (giocare becomes giocato)
  • with ‘ire’ ending verbs replace the ‘ire’ with ‘ito’ (partire becomes partito)
  • with ‘ere’ ending verbs replace the ‘ere’ with ‘uto’ (vendere becomes venduto)

Stage three: Put the two parts together

The third stage: During the third stage you put the appropriate part of ‘avere’ or ‘essere’ with the appropriate past participle.

Examples:

  • Ho giocato = I have played/I played
  • Hai giocato = You have played/You played (speaking to one friend)
  • Note: Giocare – to play is a non-movement verb, so uses ‘avere’

  • Sono andato = I have gone/I went [Literally: I am gone]
  • Sei andato* = You have gone/You went (speaking to one friend) [Literally: You are gone]
  • Note: Andare – to go is a movement verb, so uses ‘essere’

* Sei andata is also possible (see below)

Be careful with ‘essere’ verbs!

Why? Because the ‘past participle’ must agree with the gender and number of the people being referred to.

  • Sono andato = I have gone/I went (one male talking)
  • Sono andata = I have gone/I went (one female talking)
  • Siamo andati = We have gone/We went (two (or more) males or a mix of males & females talking)
  • Siamo andate = We have gone/We went (all females talking)

Common verbs which take ‘essere’

To help you, here is a list of some common verbs which take ‘essere’ together with the Past Participle with the possible endings:

andare (to go)
andato/a/i/e = gone
arrivare (to arrive)
arrivato/a/i/e = arrived
divenire (to become)
divenuto/a/i/e = became*
diventare (to beomce)
diventato/a/i/e = became*
entrare (to enter)
entrato/a/i/e = entered
essere (to be)
stato/a/i/e = been
morire (to die)
morto/a/i/e = died
nascere (to be born)
nato/a/i/e = born
partire (to leave)
partito/a/i/e = left
rimanere (to remain/to stay)
rimasto/a/i/e = remained/stayed
stare (to stay, to be)
stato/a/i/e = stayed
tornare (to come back/return)
tornato/a/i/e = came back/returned
uscire (to go out)
uscito/a/i/e = went out
venire (to come)
venuto/a/i/e = came

* The verb ‘divenire’ is less common than ‘diventare’ in usage, especially in spoken form. ‘Divenire’ theoretically is used when saying that something or someone becomes something over a longer period, whereas ‘diventare’ is a quicker ‘becoming’.

Irregular past participles

These are some of the main irregular ‘avere’ past participles:-

accendere (to turn on)
acceso (turned on)
ammettere (to admit)
ammesso (admitted)
aprire (to open)
aperto (opened)
apprendere (to learn)
appreso (learned)
bere (to drink)
bevuto (drunk)
chiedere (to ask)
chiesto (asked)
chiudere (to close)
chiuso (closed)
comprendere (to understand)
compreso (understood)
conoscere (to know)
conosciuto (known)
coprire (to cover)
coperto (covered)
cuocere (to cook)
cotto (cooked)
decidere (to decide)
deciso (decided)
dire (to say)
detto (said)
discutere (to discuss/to argue)
discusso (discussed/argued)
dividere (to divide)
diviso (divided)
fare (to do/to make)
fatto (done/made)
leggere (to read)
letto (read)
mettere (to put)
messo (put)
offrire (to offer)
offerto (offered)
perdere (to lose)
perso/perduto (lost)
predire (to predict)
predetto (predicted)
prendere (to take)
preso (taken)
ridere (to laugh)
riso (laughed)
rispondere (to answer)
risposto (answered)
rompere (to break)
rotto (broken)
scegliere (to choose)
scelto (chosen)
scrivere (to write)
scritto (written)
spendere (to spend)
speso (spent)
trasmettere (to transmit)
trasmesso (transmitted)
uccidere (to kill)
ucciso (killed)
vedere (to see)
visto (seen)
vincere (to win)
vinto (won)

These are some the main irregular ‘essere’ past participles:-

divenire (to become)
divenuto/a/i/e (became)
essere (to be)
stato/a/i/e (been)
morire (to die)
morto/a/i/e (died)
muovere (to move)
mosso/a/i/e (moved)
nascere (to be born)
nato/a/i/e (born)
rimanere (to remain)
rimasto/a/i/e (remained)
venire (to come)
venuto/a/i/e (came)
Using Reflexive verbs in the Perfect Tense

As mentioned earlier, relexive verbs always take ‘essere’ in the perfect tense.

An example of a reflexive verb, lavarsi (to wash oneself), is set out below for your information:

  • Mi sono lavato/a = I (have) washed myself
  • Ti sei lavato/a = You (have) washed yourself (informal – singular)
  • Si è lavato/a = He (has) washed himself/She washed herself + You (have) washed yourself (formal – singular)
  • Ci siamo lavati/e = We (have) washed ourselves
  • Vi siete lavati/e = You (have) washed yourselves (plural)
  • Si sono lavati/e = They (have) washed themselves

Note: Remember that reflexive ‘ire’ verbs would have an ‘ito/ita/iti/ite’ ending and ‘ere’ reflexive verbs would have an ‘uto/uta/uti/ute’ ending (rather than ‘ato/ata/ati/ate’).

Compare this to the non-reflexive verb ‘lavare’ (to wash) which you use when washing something else (e.g. the car):

  • Ho lavato = I (have) washed
  • Hai lavato = You (have) washed (informal – singular)
  • Ha lavato = He/She (has) washed + You (have) washed (informal – singular)
  • Abbiamo lavato = We (have) washed
  • Avete lavato = You (have) washed (plural)
  • Hanno lavato = They (have) washed

The non-reflexive verb ‘lavare’ by default uses ‘avere’.


I hope the above post has given you a good understanding of how to form the Italian Perfect Tense. Please share this post using the Social Media links towards the bottom of this page.

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