Italian Subjunctive: A Guide to the Use of The Present Subjunctive

Mastering The Italian Present Subjunctive : A Step-by-Step Guide

When learning Italian, you’ll surely come across a few challenging topics. Among these, one of the most notorious is the Italian subjunctive mode. Rest assured. Although it might seem difficult to grasp, it’s easier than you think.

When to Use the Subjunctive (Congiuntivo) in Italian? 

The subjunctive (il congiuntivo) is an Italian verb form used to express opinions, feelings, uncertainty, possibility, wishes, or doubts. 

Most of the time, the subjunctive is used in a dependent clause, which comes after a main clause. Knowing what a dependent clause is will open the door for you to understand how to use the subjunctive.

Main vs. dependent clauses 

If you’re not familiar with the idea of the main clause and dependent clause, let’s have a look at it together. 

A main clause is a sentence like this

  • Penso che… (I think that)
  • Voglio che… (I want that)
  • Spero che.. (I hope that)
  • Sono felice che…(I’m happy that)

In other words, we can say that a main clause is a sentence that introduces another sentence to which it’s related. A ‘main’ clause always stands at the beginning of a sentence.  

A dependent clause is what’s following the ‘che’.

Let’s have a look at a couple of sentences where you can see a typical use of the subjunctive. 

Italian Sentence with ‘Congiuntivo’Main ClauseDependent Clause (with Subjunctive)English Translation
Penso che l’Italia sia un paese bellissimoPenso chel’Italia sia* un paese bellissimoI think Italy is a beautiful country
Spero che domani non piovaSpero chedomani non piova*I hope tomorrow it will not rain
Credo che abbia una casa in ItaliaCredo cheabbia* una casa in ItaliaI believe she has a house in Italian
* use of the present subjunctive

In 99, 9 % of Italian phrases, the subjunctive is used as a depended clause and for this reason is introduced by a main clause introduced by one of the verbs of phrases that I’ll talk go in this article. 

Italian vs. English

What make it a little complex is that in English there’s no subjective. And the translation of the Italian present subjunctive is made with the present simple. 

How to Determine if we Need to Use the Subjunctive or Not 

It’s easier than you think: the rule of thumb is that the use of the Italian subjunctive is determined by what comes before, in the main clause. 

Luckily, there’s a list of verbs and phrases that express opinions, wishes, doubts, feelings, and uncertainties that we can easily memorize. 

Once you learn that a certain verb, like ‘credo’ or ‘penso’ or ‘spero’, defaults to using the subjunctive (or congiuntivo, in Italian), it’ll become easier and automatic to use the subjunctive in the right place.

In the following lists, you’ll see the most common verbs or phrases that are naturally followed by a subjunctive in Italian.

Subjunctive Prompts 

Subjunctive prompts are all those verbs that, when used in a main clause, are followed by the subjunctive.

Verbs to express opinion, uncertainty, possibility, or doubt:

Subjunctive prompts*English Translation
Penso cheI think that
Credo cheI believe that
Immagino cheI imagine that
Ho l’impressione cheI have the impression that
Suppongo cheI suppose that
Dubito cheI doubt that
Non sono sicuro cheI’m not sure that
Non sono certo cheI’m not certain that
*Italian verbs that typically trigger the use of the ‘congiuntivo‘ in the dependent clauses

Verbs to express feelings, such as happiness or fear:

Subjunctive prompts*English Translation
Sono felice cheI’m happy that
Sono dispiaciuto/a cheI’m sorry that
Ho paura cheI’m afraid that
Temo cheI’m afraid that
*Italian verbs that typically trigger the use of the ‘congiuntivo‘ in the dependent clauses

Verbs to express wishes:

Subjunctive prompts*English Translation
Voglio cheI want that
Desidero cheI wish that
Preferisco cheI prefer that
Spero cheI hope that
*Italian verbs that typically trigger the use of the ‘congiuntivo‘ in the dependent clauses

The Subjunctive after Impersonal Forms and Expressions 

Another use of subjunctive occurs when it’s used after impersonal forms (e.g. verbs that are conjugated that in third personal singular), like the ones that don’t have an explicit subject. 

Subjunctive prompts*English Translation
Basta che…It is sufficient (that)
Bisogna che…It is necessary (that)
Vale la pena che…It is worth (that)
Si dice che…It’s said (that)
Dicono che…They say (that)
Sembra che…It seems (that)
*Italian verbs that typically trigger the use of the ‘congiuntivo‘ in the dependent clauses

Examples:

  • Si dice l’Italia sia il più bel Paese al mondo – they say Italian is the most beautiful country in the world 
  • Sembra che stia per piovere – it seems like it’s about to rain 

The subjunctive is also frequently used after impersonal expressions. An impersonal expression is a phrase made of the verb “to be” and any adjective.

Subjunctive prompts*English Translation
È bene che…It is good (that)
È difficile che…It is hard (that)
È facile che…It is easy (that)
È giusto che…It is right (that)
È importante che…It is important (that)
È male che…It is bad (that)
È meglio che…It is better (that)
È necessario che…It is necessary (that)
È peccato che…It is a pity (that)
È possibile che…It is possible (that)
È raro che…It is rare (that)
È urgente che…It is urgent (that)
*Italian verbs that typically trigger the use of the ‘congiuntivo‘ in the dependent clauses

Example:

  • è raro che un bambino studi il cinese – it’s rare for a kid to study Chinese 
  • è possibile che Anna sia in ritardo – it’s possible that Anna is late

When impersonal expressions point out certainty, the indicative is used instead of the subjunctive. The following expressions require the indicative, for example. 

  • è certo che… – it is certain (that)
  • è evidente che… – it is evident (that)
  • è ovvio che che…  – it is obvious (that)

Examples:

  • è ovvio che mente – it’s obvious that he lies  (and NOT è ovvio che menta)
  • è sicuro che viene – it’s sure that he comes (and NOT è sicuro che venga)

When NOT To Use The Subjunctive in Italian

All the above verbs and expressions require the subjunctive only when the subjects of the two phrases (main clause and dependent clause) are different, like in the following two phrases (where the subject of the main clause is “io” and the subject of the dependent clause is “lei”). 

  • Penso che lei sia molto intelligente – I think she’s very smart 
  • Sono felice che lei abbia superato l’esame – I am happy she’s passed the exam 

If the subject is the same in the main clause and in the dependent clause, we can’t use the subjunctive in the dependent clause. Instead, we would use an infinitive construction.

  • Lei pensa di essere molto intelligente  –  she thinks she’s very smart
  • Lei è felice di aver superato l’esame – she’s happy she has passed the exam

Present Subjunctive (regular verbs)

The regular conjugation of the present subjunctive is very easy because the first three persons (io, tu, lei) are the same and the ‘noi’ conjugation is identical to the one of the present tense indicative.

PARLARE (-ARE verbs)RIDERE (-ERE verbs)Domire (-IRE verbs)
che io parl-Iche io rid-Ache io dorm-A
che tu parl-Iche tu rid-Ache tu dorm-A
che lui/lei parl-Iche lui/lei rid-Ache lui/lei dorm-A
che noi parl-IAMOche noi rid-IAMOche noi dorm-IAMO
che voi parl-IATEche voi rid-IATEche voi dorm-IATE
che loro parl-INOche loro rid-ANOche loro dorm-ANO
Italian present subjunctive chart

The Irregular Forms of the Present Subjunctive 

I have been asked often in my classes, what is that SIA there? Or, what is that ABBIA there? What about VADA or FACCIA?

They are the irregular subjunctive conjugations of essere, avere, andare, and fare, in that order.

It’s crucial to learn the irregular Italian subjunctives as they are very common in the spoken language. Remember also that the verbs that are irregular in the indicative are also irregular in the subjunctive.

 This is a list of the most common irregular forms of the present subjunctive.  

Infinitive VerbIrregular Subjunctive Form
Esseresia
Avereabbia
Andarevada
Farefaccia
Diredica
Daredia
Volerevoglia
Doveredebba
Poterepossa
Teneretenga
Starestia
congiuntivo presente (irregular forms)

Of course, there are more than these. For a more thorough list, I suggest referring to your grammar books. If you don’t have it yet, I recommend using this excellent textbook: Italian verb tenses

The four subjunctive forms

Is the present subjunctive the only subjunctive? No, but it’s the most common one. 

The Italian subjunctive is a mode made of four tenses: the present subjunctive, the past subjunctive, the imperfect subjunctive, and the past-perfect subjunctive. Knowing all these tenses will help you master the Subjunctive Tense Consistency (or Consecutio Temporum), which I will tackle in a different article. 

In conclusion,

  1. Using the subjunctive is a sign of education. There are also native Italian speakers that misuse or don’t use the subjunctive correctly. You can tell they don’t have a high level of education. 
  2. Verbs that are irregular in the present indicative are also irregular in the present subjunctive.
  3. The use of subject pronouns (io, tu, lui, noi, voi, loro) is often required, as the first three persons of the conjugation are the same (io vada, tu vada, lui vada).

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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