Let’s take a look at the Italian Present Tense. By the end of this post you will:
- understand what regular verbs are
- how to form the Present Tense for regular verbs in Italian
- know the main differences between Italian and English in terms of how the tense is used
What do I mean by a ‘regular’ verb?
Regular verbs are ones which have verb endings which follow a pattern. Most verbs in Italian are regular and follow a pattern.
Irregular verbs are ones which do not follow a pattern and will be discussed in a future post.
Differences between the English and Italian Present Tense
I feel that before we start, we need to consider some differences between English and Italian.
The main differences for the Present Tense are:
In English we use several alternative present tenses, such as:
- I talk
- I am talking
I do talk
- By contrast in Italian we usually just use one:
- Parlo = I talk or I am talking or I do talk
There is technically also a present continuous in Italian (e.g. I am talking = Sto parlando), but this is used a lot less in Italian than in English. This will be discussed in a future post.
What about questions in the Present Tense?
The verb form for questions is identical in Italian to statements, for example:
- Parli inglese = You speak English (speaking to one person like a friend)
- Parli inglese? = Do you speak English? or Are you speaking English? (asking one person like a friend)
Words you should become familiar with
The following words are used with verbs:
- io = I
- tu = You (speaking to one person like a friend)
- lui = He
- Lei = You (speaking to one person more formally)
- noi = We
- voi = You (speaking to two or more people)
- loro = They
Although you need to know these words, most of the time you do not say them. The reason why is the verb ending already tells us who is doing the action, for example:
- Parlo = I talk (the ‘o’ ending tells us it is ‘I’)
- Parliamo = We talk (the ‘iamo’ ending tells us it is ‘We’)
‘Lei’ and ‘lei’
When you say ‘lei’ (i.e. uncapitalised) it means ‘she’ whereas when you say ‘Lei’ (i.e. capitalised), it is the formal ‘you’.
There remains some potential problems
- The verb ending for both ‘Lei’ and ‘lei’ are the same (see below)
- The uncapitalised ‘lei’ becomes ‘Lei’ at the start of a sentence
- In spoken form you will not hear any difference
In reality however, most of the time you will know from the context which meaning is being used.
You may have noticed that there are several words for ‘you’ in Italian, namely tu, Lei and voi. These are
- tu is used when you say ‘you’ to one person informally, for example to one friend
- Lei is ‘you’ when you talk to one person formally, for example to one stranger
- voi is ‘you’ when you talk to more than one person
Forming the Present Tense
Now let’s look at how you form the Present Tense.
The dictionary form of verbs in Italian usually have three possible endings, namely are, ire or ere. Some example are:
- ‘Parlare’ means ‘to talk’
- ‘Partire’ means ‘to leave’
- ‘Leggere’ means ‘to read’
To form the present tense form of the verb you remove the are, ire or ere and replace it with an ending to show who is doing the action.
Example –are verb: Parlare – To talk
- (io) Parlo = I talk
- (tu) Parli = You talk (informal singular ‘you’)
- (lui/lei/Lei) Parla = He/She talks + You talk (formal singular ‘you’)
- (noi) Parliamo = We talk
- (voi) Parlate = You talk (plural ‘you’)
- (loro) Parlano = They talk
Example – ire verb: Partire – To leave
- (io) Parto = I leave
- (tu) Parti = You leave (informal singular ‘you’)
- (lui/lei/Lei) Parte = He/She leaves + You leave (formal singular ‘you’)
- (noi) Partiamo = We leave
- (voi) Partite = You leave (plural ‘you’)
- (loro) Partono = They leave
Example –ere verb: Leggere – To read
- (io) Leggo = I read
- (tu) Leggi = You read (informal singular ‘you’)
- (lui/lei/Lei) Legge = He/She reads + You read (formal singular ‘you’)
- (noi) Leggiamo = We read
- (voi) Leggete = You read (plural ‘you’)
- (loro) Leggono = They read
Hopefully this article helps you to understand the Italian Present Tense.
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