How to Conjugate the Imperfect Tense in Italian
I have some great news for you. The imperfect is the most regular Italian verb.
It just adds the imperfect endings –avo, -avi, -ava, -avamo, -avate, -avano to the stem of the verb. The conjugation is the same for all the verbs, no matter what group they belong to.
There are just four irregular imperfect verbs in Italian, which are super easy to remember.
- Fare → facevo, facevi, faceva, facevamo, facevate, facevano
- Bere → bevevo, bevevi, beveva, bevevamo, bevevate, bevevano
- Dire → dicevo, dicevi, diceva, dicevamo, dicevate, dicevano
- Essere → ero, eri, era, eravamo, eravate, erano
When Do You Use the Imperfect tense in Italian?
Since there is not a straightforward translation in English when it comes to the Italian imperfetto, using this verb in Italian is one of the most complex aspects of the language. However, there are some rules you can look at when deciding whether to use the imperfetto or not.
We use the imperfetto to describe your life as it used to be.
Common word prompts: prima, una volta, nel passato, negli anni “X”, quando + imperfect tense
- Negli anni 90, vivevo a Londra e facevo il barista nei weekend – In the 90s I was living in London and I would work as bartender over the weekends.
We use the imperfetto to make a comparison between “before and nowadays”.
Common word prompts: prima…adesso.
- Prima i bambini giocavano in strada, adesso giocano al cellulare – Before children used to play in the streets, today the play on their phones.
We use the imperfetto to talk about the weather in the past.
- Ieri faceva caldo – Yesterday it was hot.
- Ieri nevica – It snowed yesterday.
- Ieri c’era una bella giornata di sole – Yesterday, it was a sunny day.
We use the imperfetto to give a description of a situation, a place or a thing in the past.
- La mia città era diversa quando ero piccola: c’erano meno macchine e il traffico era più lieve – My city was very different was I was little: there were less cars and traffic.
- Il mio primo appartamento era molto luminoso e si trovava nel centro città – My first apertamente was very bright and was in the city center.
We use the imperfetto to talk about your childhood.
Common word prompts: da piccolo/a, quando avevo + your age / Quando ero piccolo/a
- Quando ero piccola, mi piaceva preparare le torte con mia madre – When I was little I liked to bake with my mum.
- Quando ero piccolo, passavo le estati a casa dei miei nonni – When I was a child, I used to spend my summers at my grandparent’s house.
We use the imperfetto to describe the context or background of a specific event.
Common prompt words: mentre
- Mentre passeggiavo al mare, ho ricevuto una chiamata importante – While I was walking on the beach, I got an important phonecall
We use the imperfetto to describe how people state of mind or health in the past.
- Ieri sera avevo mal di testa – Last night I had a headache.
- Ieri mattina stavo male – Yesterday morning I felt sick.
- Al liceo, ero innamorata di Marcello – In high school, I was in love with Marcello.
We use the imperfetto to describe the personality traits or other characteristics of people in the past.
- Mio nonno era molto saggio – My grandfather was very wise
- La mia insegnate d’inglese era molto preparata – My English teacher in middle school was knowledgeable
We use the imperfetto to say what people knew or meant in the past.
- Non sapevo cosa pensare – I didn’t know what to think.
- Non volevo dire quello – I didn’t want to say that
- Non sapevo che Marco e Maria stavano insieme – I didn’t know Marco and Maria were together
We use the imperfetto to translate the English pattern “I used to do…”
- Vivevo a Roma quando studiavo all’università – I used to live in Rome when I was in school.
- Viaggiavo molto prima di avere bambini – I used to travel a lot before having children.
More Uses of the Imperfect Tense in Italian
We use the imperfetto to express a polite request in place of the present conditional (vorrei)
- Volevo/Vorrei chiederti una cosa – I wanted to ask you something.
- Volevo/Vorrei chiederti un favore – I wanted to ask you for a favore
- Volevo/Vorrei farti una domanda – I wanted to ask you a question
We use the imperfetto if two actions happen at the exact same moment in the past, we use the imperfect.
- Mentre scrivevo il mio diario, mio figlio disegnava nella sua camera – While I was writing in my journal, my child was drawing in his room.
We use the imperfetto if one action interrupts an ongoing action, we use the imperfect tense for the ongoing action and the passato prossimo for the interruption.
- Mentre dormivo [ongoing action], mi hanno chiamato al telefono [interruption] e mi sono svegliata – While I was sleeping, someone called and I woke up.