How to Use Passato Prossimo in Italian
What’s The Passato Prossimo?
The passato prossimo tense is used in Italian to express action and events that occurred In the past. Time expressions such as ieri, venerdì scorso, l’anno scorso, un anno fa, un’ora fa, etc. are frequently used before or after the verb.
The Italian passato prossimo corresponds to the English simple past, present perfect and past emphatic.
- ho viaggiato – I travelled / I’ve travelled / I did travel
- abbiamo dormito – we slept / we’ve slept / we did sleep
- hanno studiato – they studied / they’ve studied / they did study
How To Form the Passato Prossimo
As you from the above sentences, the passato prossimo is made by two entities: an auxiliary or helping verb + past participle
A auxiliary is the present tense conjugation of avere or essere. The past participle is second part of the verb and it’s formed formed by dropping the infinitive ending (-are, -ere, -ire) and adding:
parlare becomes parl-ato
avere becomes av-uto
dormire becomes dorm-ito
The passato prossimo is a super easy tense, but there is something that confuses students: what auxiliary to choose, when to use essere or avere. When avere is used, the past participle doesn’t agree with the gender and number of the subject. When essere is used, the past participle must agree in gender and number of the subject. The vast majority of verbs use avere as a helping verb and are conjugated according to this model.
The Passato Prossimo with “Avere”
*I spoke / I’ve spoken / I did speak
** I had /I’ve had / I did have
*** I finished / I’ve finished / I did finish
The Passato Prossimo with “Essere”
There’s a short list of verbs using essere as a helping verb. This list is super important because it is made up of high-frequency verbs. They are used every day, like andare (to go), arrivare (to arrive), tornare (to return), etc.
Here’s a Basic List of Commonly Used “Essere Verbs”
- arrivare / partire – to arrive / to leave
- andare / venire – to go / to come
- entrare / uscire – to enter / to go out
- essere – to be
- tornare – to return, to come back
- stare – to stay
The past participle must agree in gender or number with the subject when essere is used as an auxiliary verb. It means that the past participle functions as an adjective and can have a number of endings, including -o, -a, -i, and -e.
If you’re having trouble with this, memorize the pattern of the verbs andare and essere (two of the most commonly used Italian verbs) and apply it to the other verbs on the list.
Irregular Passato Prossimo
Some verbs, just like in English, have an irregular past participle (the second entity). It means that the past participle has its own structure and is not conjugated in the regular forms. It may be helpful to remember that in Italian, the same verbs with an irregular past participle (past) in English also have an irregular conjugation.
Basic List of Commonly Irregular Participles
- fare > fatto
- dire > detto
- leggere > letto
- scrivere > scritto
- perdere > perso
- correre > corso
- spendere > speso
- chiudere > chiuso
- mettere > messo
- succedere > successo
- discutere > discusso
- accendere > accesso
- spegnere > spento
- vincere > vinto
- piangere > pianto
- scegliere > scelto
- rimanere > rimasto
- chiedere > chiesto
- rispondere > risposto
- vedere > visto
Difference between the Imperfetto and Passato Prossimo
If you are a beginner you should skip this topic for now. If you already know the imperfetto, you can look at the imperfetto vs passato prossimo in this post instead.