Italian Verb Conjugation: A Comprehensive Guide

If you’ve ever taken a formal Italian class, I’m sure your teachers required you to spend a significant amount on verb conjugation drills

parlo, parli, parla

ho parlato, hai parlato, ha parlato

parlerò, parlerai, parlerà

etc.

I understand that this is not a simple or easy task, and it may frustrate some students. However, believe me when I say that once you understand why we conjugate in Italian and why it is important, it will blow your mind.

Why is conjugation so important in Italian?

In English, conjugating a verb is less critical because we always have subject pronouns in front (e.g., I work, you work, we work, etc.). In Italian, however, the use of subject pronouns (io, tu, lei, noi, voi, loro) is often omitted. Consequently, the only way to know who is performing the action is by changing the ending of the verb, a process known as conjugation.

What’s a verb?

A verb is the most important part of a sentence in Italian: it describes an action, a state of being, or an occurrence.

“Is” or “are” are parts of the conjugated verb “to be.”

“I speak” is the verb “to speak.”

“She can” is the verb “can” or “to be able.”

These are just a few examples!

Conjugating verbs in Italian is fairly easy. It doesn’t require much memorization, and there are only 12 tenses.

The simplest way to conjugate Italian verbs is to identify the verb’s infinitive form (the base form of the verb) and then add the appropriate ending to it. It’s very straightforward.

Conjugating Verbs: English vs. Italian 

Italian verbs conjugate according to six main patterns (also known as subject-object pronouns). The subject object pronouns are:

iothe first person singular (I)
tuthe second person singular (you, when addressing one person)
lui / leithe third person singular (he, she or it)
noithe first person plural (we)
voithe second person plural (you all, when addressing two or more people)
lorothe third person plural (they)
subject object pronouns in Italian

Because of this consistent pattern, when conjugating a verb in Italian, you’ll have to change the verb’s ending six times.

If you’re wondering why this isn’t done in English, I’ll explain. In English, the use of subjects in front of the verbs is required. That’s why the verbs aren’t changed. The subject (I, you, we, etc.) is responsible for directing the sentence. To indicate who is performing the action described by the verb, you must say “I speak” or “we speak” instead of just “speak”.

On the other hand, in Italian, it’s the verbs (and their conjugations) that determine the direction of sentences. In simple terms, the ending of a verb allows you to determine who is performing the action (I, you, she, your friends, etc.) and whether it occurs in the present, past, or future.

As a result, the use of subject object pronouns in Italian (io, tu, lui, noi, voi, loro) is unnecessary.

The verb itself expresses who is carrying out the action.

For example, the “o” ending in the present tense indicates an action carried out by the “I” or “io” in the present tense.

parl-o → I speak

studi-o → I study

mangi-o → I eat

Or, the “-erò” or “-irò” ending in the future simple indicates an action carried out by the “I” in the future.

parl-erò → I’ll speak

fin-irò → I’ll finish

How To Conjugate Italian Verbs

How do you conjugate verbs in Italian?

To conjugate a verb in Italian, you always have to keep in mind the infinitive of the verb. We call the infinitive the base form of any verb. The base verb can be found in any dictionary. It corresponds to “to + any verb” in English.

For example:

Infinitive in ItalianInfinitive in English
cucinareto cook
mangiareto eat
aspettareto wait
lavorareto work

Conjugating Italian verbs in three steps

  1. To conjugate any verb in Italian, you need to add a different ending to the stem of the verb.
  2. To get the stem of the verb, you need to remove the last three letters of the infinitive of regular verbs. For example, the stem of “parlare” (to speak) is parl-. We get the stem by removing the last three letters of the infinitive of the verb (parlare).
  3. We can simply conjugate in various tenses by using the stem parl- and the corresponding endings for each conjugation/subject.

For example:

  • parl-o → I speak (present simple)
  • parl-avo → I was speaking or I used to speak (imperfect conjugation)
  • parl-erò → I’ll speak (future tense)

etc.

Regular verbs

The rules I just mentioned about conjugation apply only to regular verbs. What is a regular verb? It’s a verb whose conjugations follow standard patterns. Its conjugation is fairly simple. All you need to do is memorize the standard conjugations and use them. Typical regular verbs in Italian are: studiare, mangiare, lavorare, ballare, cominciare, terminare, etc.

Regular vs. Irregular Verbs

However, there are “irregular verbs,” and you should become familiar with this concept.

Irregular verbs are those that do not follow the same conjugation patterns as regular verbs (which, by the way, are the vast majority of verbs).

How to Conjugate Irregular Verbs in Italian

When you conjugate irregular verbs, the stem to which you must attach the conjugation patterns changes.

For example, the verb ‘dire’ (to say, to tell) is an irregular verb. The root of the verb is ‘dic-‘ and not just ‘d’. Another common irregular verb is ‘volere’ (to want). The stem of the verb is not ‘vol-‘, but ‘vogl’ or ‘vuo-‘ depending on the person. You’ll need to add the regular endings to these irregular stems.

Making a list of the most common irregular verbs and memorizing them is the best way to deal with them.

13 Most Common Irregular Verbs in Italian

How to Conjugate a Verb in a Question?

Tu, Lei, Voi

This depends on whether  you’re addressing a person formally or informally or if you’re addressing two or more people.

You should conjugate with “tu” if you’re asking a question to someone in an informal setting (second person singular). 

  • Scusa, parli inglese? – Excuse-me, do you speak English? (parli = do you speak?)

You should conjugate with “Lei” (third person singular) which is used in Italian to address a person  you don’t know or one to whom you want to show respect) and  if you’re asking a question to a person in a formal setting. 

  • Scusi, parla inglese? – Excuse-me Sir/Madam, do you speak English? (parla = do you speak, Sir/Madam)

You should conjugate with “voi” (second person plural) if you are asking a question to two or more people, regardless of the setting..

  • Scusate, parlate inglese? –  Excuse-me, do you (all) speak English?
SettingPronounExampleTranslation
Informal (addressing one person)tu (second person singular)Scusa, parli inglese?Excuse me, do you speak English? (parli = do you speak?)
Formal (addressing one person you don’t know well or to show respect)Lei (third person singular)Scusi, parla inglese?Excuse me, Sir/Madam, do you speak English? (parla = do you speak, Sir/Madam)
Addressing two or more people (regardless of setting)voi (second person plural)Scusate, parlate inglese?Excuse me, do you (all) speak English?
asking questions in Italian

Lui, Lei, Loro 

“Parla inglese?” translates to “Does he/she speak English?” This is used when referring to a person (he or she).

“Parlano inglese?” translates to “Do they speak English?” This is used when referring to two or more people (they).

Note that in Italian, unlike English, there are no auxiliary verbs like “do,” “does,” or “did” used to form questions. These auxiliaries cannot be directly translated into Italian.

Present, Past, Future 

Another aspect to consider when conjugating a verb in an Italian question is the tense. Is this question referring to the present, past, or future?

For example: 

Viaggi molto?Di you travel a lot? present
Hai viaggiato molto?Did you travel a lot?past
Viaggerai molto?Will you travel a lot?future

3 Useful Tools for Learning and Memorizing the Forms of Italian Verb Conjugations

Finally, if you’re looking for an Italian verb conjugation chart, you can use any of these tools to look up the conjugations of Italian verbs. Don’t get overwhelmed by trying to master all of them; you’ll never need to.

What Are The Most Common Conjugations To Use as A Beginner?  

While there are several tenses in Italian, you don’t need to use them all as a beginner. In everyday Italian, even most native speakers use only a few tenses/conjugations.

With the present simple (presente indicativo) and present perfect (il passato prossimo), you can be conversational, at least at a beginner level, if you master these two tenses.

Conjugation Example: Most Common Italian Tenses and Moods of the Regular Verb ‘Parlare’ (to speak).

TenseIoTuLui, LeiNoiVoiLoro
Presentparloparliparlaparliamoparlateparlano
Imperfectparlavoparlaviparlavaparlavamoparlavateparlavano
Futureparleròparleraiparleràparleremoparlereteparleranno
Past Perfectho parlatohai parlatoha parlatoabbiamo parlatoavete parlatohanno parlato
Conditionalparlereiparlerestiparlerebbeparleremmoparleresteparlerebbero
Subjunctiveparliparliparliparliamoparliateparlino
Imperativeparla (tu)parli (lui/lei)parliamo (noi)parlate (voi)parlino (loro)
Italian Verb Conjugation Chart

About the Author

Serena Capilli

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

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Ciao, I’m Serena!

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

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