Smettere & Fermare: What’s The Difference?
Misusing or swapping the verbs smettere and fermare is one of the most frequent errors Italian learners make, and I understand why. The confusion is driven by the fact that both verbs, in English, have only one translation:to stop.
Instead, unlike English, Italian has two different verbs to indicate the action of stopping. One verb is “smettere,” and the other one is “fermare.”
What’s the difference between the two of them, then?
The difference lies in the way they’re used.
Let’s have a closer look…
Smettere: to stop doing something
Smettere means “to stop doing something”. So, you should use smettere just with verbs. In fact, smettere always triggers a second action.
- smettere di bere – to stop drinking
- smettere di correre – to stop running
- smettere di fumare – to stop smoking
In short, smettere has the meaning of ceasing or quitting and is always followed by the preposition di and an infinitive verb.
Smettere can never be followed by a noun (ho smesso di lavoro)
- Vorrei smettere di fumare – I’d like to quit smoking
- Ho smesso di lavorare per dedicarmi alla mia famiglia – I stopped working to spend more time with my family.
Attenzione! Smettere has an irregular past participle, which is “smesso.”
So the passato prossimo (the past tense) of smettere would be: “ho smesso, hai smesso, ha smesso, abbiamo smesso, avete smette, hanno smetto”.
- ho smesso di fumare a 40 anni – I quit smoking at 40
Fermare: to stop from moving
Fermare describes a movement physically stopped by an intervention from outside.
- Ho fermato la macchina – I stopped the car
- Il treno si è fermato – the train stopped
As you might have noticed, when the action described by the verb is transitive (meaning the verb is followed by an object like la macchina) the verb is non-reflexive. However, if the action is intransitive (meaning that the verb doesn’t have a direct object, and there’s no noun following the verb), the verb does take the reflexive form.
- L’autobus si è fermato – the bus stopped (intransitive verb)
- Mi sono fermato al bar – I stopped by the bar (intransitive verb)
- Ho fermato la macchina – I stopped the car (transitive verb)