Italian Passato Prossimo with ‘Essere’

Italian has many compound tenses (verbs which are made up of two entities: auxiliaries + past participles). One of the most common compound tenses is the passato prossimo (the Italian equivalent of the past simple).

The auxiliaries used in compound tenses are either the verb avere or essere. 

For example:

  • Ho mangiato (I have eaten or I ate)
  • Sono andato (I have gone or I went)

Textbooks (and teachers) say that transitive verbs (the verbs which trigger a direct object pronoun) use “avere” as an auxiliary, while intransitive verbs (the verbs which don’t trigger a direct object pronoun) use “essere”.

However, for language learners, determining whether a verb is transitive or not is not always straightforward and sometimes painful! 

The rule I teach in my classes is different. 

The list of essere verbs is actually very short and the best way to learn them is to memorize the so-called “casa di essere” (house of essere), which includes about a dozen high-frequency verbs.

Some grammar books (and teachers) will say that essere verbs are those that indicate motion or a change of state, which is partially true. Yet, some motion verbs like ‘camminare’ or ‘viaggiare’ won’t use “essere” as an auxiliary, even though they are intransitive. So, forget the whole motion/not motion verb logic and even the transitive/intransitive one. Instead, memorize la casa di essere.

la casa di essere

 My tip:

Memorize ‘casa di essere’ instead of worrying about whether a verb is a motion verb or not, transitive or not. There aren’t many essere verbs in Italian. Memorizing the ten most common ones is the key to conjugating commands correctly and easily. And, by the way, the vast majority of verbs use “avere” as an auxiliary, so if in doubt, default to avere; you’re very likely, statistically, to be right.

List of “essere” verbs in Italian with the passato prossimo

Infinitive VerbPast ParticipleEnglish Translation
AndareSono andato/aI went or I’ve gone
PartireSono partito/aI left or I’ve left
UscireSono uscito/aI went out or I’ve gone out
ArrivareSono arrivato/aI arrived or I’ve arrived
VenireSono venuto/aI came or I’ve come
EntrareSono entrato/aI entered or I’ve entered
RitornareSono ritornato/aI came back or I’ve come back
TornareSono tornato/aI came back or I’ve come back
StareSono stato/aI stayed or I’ve stayed
RimanereSono rimasto/aI remained or I’ve remained
RestareSono restato/aI remained or I’ve remained
ScendereSono sceso/aI went down or I’ve gone down
SalireSono salito/aI went up or I’ve gone up
DiventareSono diventato/aI became or I’ve become
NascereSono nato/aI was born
CadereSono caduto/aI fell or I’ve fallen
MorireÈ morto/aHe/she died
‘essere’ verbs with passato prossimo

How to Conjugate “Essere Verbs” in the Passato Prossimo

When using the passato prossimo with essere as a helping verb, the past participle of the main verb must agree in gender and number with the subject. This means that the endings of the past participle change to match the subject.

For example:

IoSono andato/aI have gone or I went
TuSei andato/aYou have gone or you went
Lui/LeiÈ andato/aHe/she has gone or he/she went
NoiSiamo andati/eWe have gone or we went
VoiSiete andati/eYou all have gone or you all went
LoroSono andati/eThey have gone or they went
conjugation of the verb ‘andare’ in the passato prossimo

The Auxiliary of Reflexive Verbs 

In Italian, reflexive verbs conjugated in the passato prossimo (present perfect) tense use the auxiliary verb “essere” (to be) instead of “avere” (to have) as the helping verb. This is a common rule in Italian grammar, and it means that the past participle of the reflexive verb agrees in gender and number with the subject of the sentence. For example:

IoMiSono alzato/aI got up
TuTiSei alzato/aYou got up
Lui/LeiSiÈ alzato/aHe/she got up
NoiCiSiamo alzati/eWe got up
VoiViVi siete alzati/eYou all got up
LoroSiSi sono alzati/eThey all got up

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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