Italian Past Tense - Passato Prossimo

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Welcome to our Italian grammar course for beginners! Today we`re going to talk about the Past tense - Passato Prossimo.

The Passato Prossimo is one of the essential past tenses in Italian. Passato Prossimo allows speakers to talk about past events, actions, and experiences. It`s the most common way to express completed actions in the past, making it essential for storytelling, sharing personal experiences, and discussing historical events. Here`s a comprehensive overview of Passato Prossimo.

Passato Prossimo is a compound past tense in Italian. This is the most commonly used past tense in Italian. This means we use it to talk about the past. Usually, Passato Prossimo appears together with time expressions such as:
l’anno scorso (last year);
ieri (yesterday);
ultimamente (lately);
recentemente (recently).
and others.
It is the equivalent of the English present perfect and past simple. We can translate that in two ways, as in the examples:
Hanno studiato - They studied / They have studied;
Siamo stati - We were / We have been;
Sono andato - I went / I have gone.

It is formed by using a auxiliary verb (e.g., "have" or "has") and a past participle.

Verb conjugation of "avere" in the Present Tense:

Subject Avere (It.) To have (Eng.)
Io ho I have
Tu hai You have
Lui / Lei ha He/She/It has
Noi abbiamo We have
Voi avete You have
Loro hanno They have

Verb conjugation of "essere" in the Present Tense:

Subject Essere (It.) To be (Eng.)
Io sono I am
Tu sei You are
Lui / Lei è He/She/It is
Noi siamo We are
Voi siete You are
Loro sono They are

Passato Prossimo is formed using two elements:
The present tense of the verbs "avere" (to have) or "essere" (to be) + the past participle of the main verb.

We gave the present tense conjugation of these two verbs above. Here`s a guide on how to form the past participle.

Regular Past Participles

- ARE Verbs.
To form the past participle of regular -ARE verbs (verbs ending in -ARE), replace the -ARE ending of the infinitive with -ATO.
The infinitive "parlare" (to speak) - "parlato" (spoken).

- ERE Verbs.
To form the past participle of regular -ERE verbs (verbs ending in -ERE), replace the -ERE ending of the infinitive with -UTO.
The infinitive "sapere" (to know) - "saputo" (read).

- IRE Verbs.
To form the past participle of regular -IRE verbs (verbs ending in -IRE), replace the -IRE ending of the infinitive with -ITO.
The infinitive "capire" (to understand) - "capito" (understood).

Irregular Past Participles

Some Italian verbs have irregular past participles that do not follow the regular pattern. These irregular past participles must be memorized.
"Essere" (to be) - "Stato/a" (been);
"Avere" (to have) - "Avuto" (had);
"Fare" (to do/make) - "Fatto" (done/made);
"Dire" (to say) - "Detto" (said);
"Vedere" (to see) - "Visto" (seen);
"Bere" (to drink) - "Bevuto" (drunk);
"Prendere" (to take) - "Preso" (taken);
"Scrivere" (to write) - "Scritto" (written).

Passato Prossimo with avere

Let`s look how to form Passato Prossimo with the verb "avere" for regular verbs. For example, let`s use the verb "mangiare" (to eat):
Io ho mangiato (I have eaten);
Tu hai mangiato (You have eaten);
Lui / Lei ha mangiato (He/She has eaten);
Noi abbiamo mangiato (We have eaten);
Voi avete mangiato (You all have eaten);
Loro hanno mangiato (They have eaten).

Passato Prossimo with essere

Speaking about "avere" we should notice that it is used with the majority of verbs. On the other hand, some verbs use "essere" as the auxiliary verb, especially when indicating changes of state or motion. Also we should use "essere" for verbs that don`t take an object and actions refers back to the subject. It`s very important to know which verbs take "essere." Here are some common ones:
Andare (to go) - Andato (gone);
Arrivare (to arrive) - Arrivato (arrived);
Fare (to do/make) - Fatto (made);
Essere (to be) - Stato / Stata (been);
Morire (to die) - Morto / Morta (died);
Nascere (to be born) - Nato (was/were born);
Partire (to leave) - Partito (left);
Stare (to stay) - Stato (Stayed);
Succedere (to happen) - Successo (happened);
Uscire (to go out) - Uscito (gone out);
Venire (to come) - Venuto (come).

Before to explain how to use the verb "essere" in the Passato Prossimo, we need to mention a detail.

When "essere" is used as the auxiliary verb, the past participle must agree in number and gender with the subject. This agreement applies to reflexive verbs and certain intransitive verbs indicating motion/change of state. Here`s how the agreement works:
a) If the subject is masculine singular, the past participle remains in its regular form;
b) If the subject is feminine singular, add -a to the regular past participle;
c) If the subject is plural (either masculine or feminine), add -i to the regular past participle;
d) If the subject is feminine plural, add -e to the regular past participle.

"Lui è andato." (He masculine went.)
"Lei è andata." (She feminine went.)
"Loro sono andati." (They masculine went.)
"Loro sono andate." (They feminine went.)

Now let`s look at the all forms of the verb "andare" (to go) in the Passato Prossimo:
Io sono andato/andata (I have gone);
Tu sei andato/andata (You have gone);
Lui/Lei è andato/andata (He/She has gone);
Noi siamo andati/andate (We have gone);
Voi siete andati/andate (You all have gone);
Loro sono andati/andate (They have gone)
Don`t forget that not all verbs use "essere". The past participle agreement applies only when "essere" is used.

Passato Prossimo with both: avere and essere

Some verbs can use both "avere" and "essere" as the auxiliary verb, depending on their context and meaning. Sometimes using the verbs "avere" and "essere" together with these verbs can change the meaning of the sentence.
Examples of verbs that can use both "avere" and "essere" as the auxiliary verb:
Cominciare (to begin)
Il maestro ha cominciato la lezione. (The teacher has started the lesson, used with "avere"); La lezione è cominciata. (The lesson has started, used with "essere")
Passare (to pass, to spend)
Ho passato la giornata dai miei genitori. (I spent the day with my parents, used with "avere".) È passato un anno. (A year passed, used with "essere".)

Overall, Passato Prossimo is a fundamental tense that underpins effective communication and language proficiency in Italian, because it is used for completed actions in the past. Whether for daily interactions, storytelling, or more advanced language skills, mastering Passato Prossimo can be a key goal for Italian language learners. Good luck!