Teacher’s Guide: Italian Verbs with Double Auxiliaries

What’s the difference between ho cambiato and è cambiato

  • Ho cambiato casa – I’ve changed home (I moved to a different home?
  • il clima è cambiato – The climate changed

If you have an eye for details, you have already noticed that the verb cambiare can be used with two different auxiliaries (or helping verbs). Just like in the example above. 

In fact, in the first phrase, the verb cambiare uses the auxiliary avere. In the second one, it uses the verb essere.

Now, you might want to know if there is any difference between “ho cambiato” and “è cambiato.” Or if there is any difference between “ha finito” and “è finito”. 

There is. Verbs like cambiare or finire can use both the auxiliaries essere and avere, depending on their function.

And they are not the only ones. In Italian, several verbs use both the auxiliaries essere and avere depending on whether they are used in a transitive or intransitive way.

Transitive and intransitive verbs: what does it mean? 

The use of an auxiliary or another in Italian is not random. So, how do you pick up the correct one? It’s easier than you think.

Transitive verbs always use the auxiliary “avere”. 

What’s a transitive verb?  A transitive verb is a verb followed by an object, which means that the verb has repercussions on the object (something or someone). To make it easier to understand, you know a verb is transtive when it can be naturally followed by the questions “What?” or “Who?”

  • Ho cambiato casa – (I changed home)  I moved to a different home 
  • Ho finito il libro – I finished my book 

“Cambiare” and “finire” are transitive verbs in this sentence, as they both have repercussions on the object of the sentences (casa and libro

So, when does the auxiliary “essere” have to be used?

The answer is when the verb of our sentence is intransitive.

What’s an intransitive verb? An intransitive verb performs an action that has no repercussions on the object. Namely, there is not an object in the sentence.

  • Il clima è cambiatothe climate has changed
  • Il film è finitothe movie is over

As you can see in these sentences, there is no object. 

All the Italian verbs with a double auxiliary are those verbs that can be transtive or intrasivite depending on how they are used.

Most Italian verbs are transitive or intransitive. However, there are a number of verbs that can be both: these are the verbs that can have a double auxiliary.

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Common verbs with a double auxiliary

  • Cambiare – to change
  • Finire – to finish
  • Iniziare – to start
  • Cominciare – to start
  • Terminare – to finish 
  • Aumentare – to increase
  • Diminuire – to diminish 
  • Salire – to climb, to go up, to get on
  • Scendere – to go down, to get off
  • Migliorare – to improve
  • Peggiorare – to deteriorate

Examples of Italian verbs with a double auxiliary used as transitive verbs

  • Ho finito il libro – I finished the book
  • Ho cominciato un corso – I started a course
  • Ho salito le scale – I climbed the stairs
  • Ho migliorato il mio italiano – I improved my Italian

Examples of Italian verbs with a double auxiliary used as intransitive verbs

  • Il film è finito – The film is over
  • Il corso di italiano è cominciato ieri – the Italian course started yesterday
  • Sono salito sull’aereo – I got on the plane
  • Il clima è migliorato – the climate improved  


Italian verbs to talk about the weather  

On a final note, there is a particular category of Italian verbs that can use both auxiliaries without distinction. Those are the verbs used to talk about the weather.

Nevicare – to snow

  • Ha nevicato – è nevicato

Piovere – to rain

  • Ha piovuto – è piovuto

Grandinare – to hail 

  • Ha grandinato – è grandinato

Tuonare – to thunder 

  • Ha tuonato – è tuonato 

Be aware that the verbs expressing weather conditions in Italian are only used in the third person singular. That’s why they are called “impersonal verbs.”

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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