The Complete Guide to Conjugating Verbs in Italian
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
I understand that this is not a simple or easy task, and that it may frustrate some students, but 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 the conjugation is so important in Italian?
In English, it’s irrelevant to conjugate a verb because you always have subject pronouns in front (e.g., I work, you work, we work, etc.). In Italian, the use of subject pronouns (io, tu, lei, noi, voi, loro) is omitted. As a consequence, the only way to know who is performing the action is by changing the ending of the verb, a process called conjugation.
What is a verb?
A verb is the most important part of a sentence in Italian: it describes an action or a state of being or an occurrent.
is or are arte parts of the conjugated verb “to be”
I speak, is the verb “to speak”
she can is the the verb “can” or “to be able”
just to name a few!
The conjugation of verbs in Italian is fairly easy. It doesn’t take much memorizing, and there are only 12 tenses.
The Logic Behind Italian Verb Conjugation
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 through the six main patterns (aka subject object pronouns)
Io: the first person singular (I)
Tu: second person singular (you, when you’re addressing one person)
Lui / Lei : the third person singular (he, she or it)
Noi: the first person plural (we)
Voi: the second person plural (you all, when you’re addressing two or more people)
Loro: the third person plural (they)
As a result, when conjugating a verb in Italian, you’ll have to change the verbs ending six times.
If you’re wondering why this isn’t done in English, I’ll explain. The use of the subjects in front of the verbs is required in English. That’s why the verbs aren’t changed. The subject (I, you, we, etc.) is in charge of giving the direction of the sentence. To get a sense of who is performing the action described by the verb, you must say I speak or we speak instead of just “speak”.
On the other end, in Italian, it’s the verbs (and their conjugations) that determine the direction of sentences. In simple terms, it’s 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 the subject object pronouns in Italian (io, tu, lui, noi, voi, loro) are unnecessary.
The verb itself expresses who is carrying out the action.
For example, the “o” ending in the present tense describes 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
For example, the “-erò” or “-irò”ending in the future simple describes an action carried out by the “I” in the future
parl-erò → I’ll speak
fin-irò → I’ll finish
The Rules to Conjugating Verbs in Italian
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 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 Italian||infinitive in English|
Conjugating Italian verbs in three steps
- To conjugate any verb in Italian, you need to add a different ending to the stem of the verb
- 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 got the stem by removing the last three letters of the infinitive of the verb (parlare).
- We can simply conjugate in various tenses by using the stem parl- and the corresponding endings to each conjugation/subject.
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)
Regular vs. Irregular Verbs
However, there are “irregular verbs” and you should get familiar with this notion.
Irregular verbs are those that don’t 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 verbs. 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 irregular stems. .
Making a list of the most common irregular verbs and memorizing them is the best way to deal with them.
In the following page, you’ll find the most common irregular verbs in Italian conjugated in the present tense.
How to Conjugate a Verb in a Question?
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?
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.