Easy Learning Italian

The perfect tense - Easy Learning Grammar Italian

What is the perfect tense?
In English the perfect tense is used to talk about what has or hasn’t happened, for example We’ve won, I haven’t touched it.

1  Using the perfect tense

  • In English the perfect tense is made up of the verb to have followed by a past participle, such as done, broken, worked, arrived. It is used to talk about:
  • what you’ve done at some time in the past, for example, We’ve been to Australia.
  • what you’ve done so far, for example, I’ve eaten half of it.
  • In English the simple past, not the perfect is used to say when exactly something happened, for example, We met last summer; I ate it last night; It rained a lot yesterday.
  • In Italian there are two ways of making the perfect tense:
  • the present tense of avere (meaning to have) followed by a past participle
  • the present tense of essere (meaning to be), followed by a past participle.
  • For more information on the Present tense of avere and essere, see The perfect tense.
  • The Italian perfect tense is used to say:
  • what you’ve done at some time in the past.
Ho già visto quel film.I’ve already seen that film.
Sono uscita con lui un paio di volte.I’ve been out with him a couple of times.
  • what you’ve done so far.
Finora abbiamo fatto solo il presente dei verbi.So far we’ve only done the present tense.
  • Unlike in English, the Italian perfect tense is ALSO used to say what you did at some particular time, or when exactly something happened.
Ho visto quel film sabato scorso.I saw that film last Saturday.
Sono uscita con lui ieri sera.I went out with him last night.
È successo ieri.It happened yesterday.
TipDo not use the perfect tense to say since when, or how long you’ve been doing something – da and the present tense is used for this in Italian.

2  How to make the past participle

  • The past participle is always part of the perfect tense.
  • To make the past participle of a regular –are verb, take off the –are of the infinitive and add –ato.
parlare (meaning to speak)parlato (spoken)
  • To make the past participle of a regular –ere verb, take off the –ere of the infinitive and add –uto.
credere (meaning to believe)creduto (believed)
  • To make the past participle of a regular –ire verb, take off the –ire of the infinitive and add –ito.
finire (meaning to finish)finito (finished)

3  How to make the perfect tense with avere

  • To make the perfect tense with avere:
  • choose the present tense form of avere that matches the subject of the sentence.
  • add the past participle. Do not change the ending of the participle to make it agree with the subject.
  • The perfect tense of parlare (meaning to speak) is as follows:
Present tense of
avere
Past participle of
parlare

Meaning
(io)hoparlatoI spoke or have spoken
(tu)haiparlatoyou spoke or have spoken
(lui/lei)
(Lei)

ha

parlato
he/she spoke or has spoken
you spoke or have spoken
(noi) abbiamoparlatowe spoke or have spoken
(voi) aveteparlatoyou spoke or have spoken
(loro) hanno parlatothey spoke or have spoken
Non gli ho mai parlato.I’ve never spoken to him.
Roberta gli ha parlato ieri.Roberta spoke to him yesterday.

4  Verbs with irregular past participles

  • As in English, some very common verbs have irregular past participles. These are some of the most important ones:
aprire (to open)aperto (opened)
ALSO coprire (to cover)coperto (covered)
chiudere (to close)chiuso (closed)
decidere (to decide)deciso (decided)
dire (to say)detto (said)
fare (to do, to make)fatto (done, made)
friggere (to fry)fritto (fried)
leggere (to read)letto (read)
mettere (to put)messo (put)
ALSO promettere (to promise)promesso (promised)
morire (to die)morto (died)
offrire (to offer)offerto (offered)
prendere (to take)preso (taken)
ALSO sorprendere (to surprise)sorpreso (surprised)
rispondere (to reply)risposto (replied)
ALSO spendere (to spend)speso (spent)
rompere (to break)rotto (broken)
scegliere (to choose)scelto (chosen)
scrivere (to write)scritto (written)
vincere (to win)vinto (won)
ALSO convincere (to convince)convinto (convinced)
vedere (to see)visto (seen)
  • Note that, as in English, some Italian past participles are also used as adjectives. When they are adjectives they agree with the noun they go with.
patate frittefried potatoes
È aperta la banca?Is the bank open?
  • For more information on Adjectives, see Adjectives.

5  When to make the perfect tense with avere

  • You use avere to make the perfect tense of most verbs.
Ho preso il treno delle dieci.I got the ten o’clock train.
L’hai messo in frigo?Have you put it in the fridge?
Perché l’hai fatto?Why did you do it?
Carlo ha speso più di me.Carlo spent more than me.
Abbiamo comprato una macchina.We’ve bought a car.
Dove avete parcheggiato?Where did you park?
Non hanno voluto aiutarmi.They didn’t want to help me.
  • You do not use avere to make the perfect tense of:
  • reflexive verbs
  • certain verbs that do not take a direct object, such as andare (meaning to go), venire (meaning to come) and diventare (meaning to become).
  • Note that in English the verb to have can be used on its own in replies such as No, he hasn’t, and question phrases such as haven’t you? – avere cannot be used in this way in Italian.
Te l’ha detto? – No.Has he told you? – No, he hasn’t.
Lo hai fatto, vero?You’ve done it, haven’t you?
  • For more information on Questions, see Questions.

6  When to make the past participle agree

  • When you make the perfect tense with avere, the past participle never agrees with the subject.
  • You must make the past participle agree with the object pronouns lo and la (meaning him, her and it) when they come in front of the verb.
Hai visto Marco? – Sì, l’ho visto.Have you seen Marco? – Yes, I’ve seen him.
È un bel film, l’hai visto?It’s a good film, have you seen it?
Hai visto Lucia? – Non l’ho vista.Have you seen Lucia? – No, I haven’t seen her.
  • You must make the past participle agree with the object pronouns li and le (meaning them) when they come in front of the verb.
I fiammiferi? Non li ho presi.The matches? I haven’t taken them.
Le fragole? Le ho mangiate tutte.The strawberries? I’ve eaten them all.
Key points
  • The Italian perfect tense is used to translate both the English perfect, and the English simple past.
  • The Italian perfect tense is made with avere or essere and the past participle.
  • The past participle does not agree with the subject when the perfect tense is made with avere, except when certain object pronouns come in front of the verb.

7  How to make the perfect tense with essere

  • To make the perfect tense with essere:
  • choose the present tense form of essere that matches the subject of the sentence.
  • add the past participle. Make the ending of the participle agree with the subject.
  • The perfect tense of andare (meaning to go) is as follows:
Present tense
of essere
Past participle of
andare

Meaning
(io)sonoandato or andataI went or have gone
(tu)seiandato or andatayou went or have gone
(lui) èandatohe/it went or has gone
(lei)èandatashe/it went or has gone
(Lei)èandato or andatayou went or have gone
(noi)siamoandati or andatewe went or have gone
(voi)sieteandati or andateyou went or have gone
(loro)sonoandati or andatethey went or have gone
TipYou make past participles agree when they follow the verb essere, in the same way that you make adjectives agree.
Sei pronta, Maria?Are you ready Maria?
Sei andata anche tu, Maria?Did you go too, Maria?
  • For more information on Adjectives, see Adjectives.

8  When to make the perfect tense with essere

  • Use essere to make the perfect tense of certain verbs that do not take a direct object.
  • The most important of these verbs are:
andareto goarrivareto arrive
diventareto becomeentrareto come in
partireto leaverimanereto stay
riuscireto succeed, managesalireto go up, get on
scendereto go downsuccedereto happen
stareto betornareto come back
uscireto go outvenireto come
È rimasta a casa tutto il giorno.She stayed at home all day.
Siamo riusciti a convincerla.We managed to persuade her.
Sei mai stata a Bologna, Tina?Have you ever been to Bologna, Tina?
Le tue amiche sono arrivate.Your friends have arrived.
Cos’è successo?What happened?
  • Note that essere is used to make the perfect tense of piacere (meaning literally to please). The past participle agrees with the subject of the Italian verb, and not with the subject of the English verb to like.
La musica ti è piaciuta, Roberto?Did you like the music, Robert?
I cioccolatini mi sono piaciuti molto.I liked the chocolates very much.
Le foto sono piaciute a tutti.Everyone liked the photos.
  • Use essere to make the perfect tense of all reflexive verbs.
I miei fratelli si sono alzati tardi.My brothers got up late.
Le ragazze si sono alzate alle sei.The girls got up at six.
Key points
  • When the perfect tense is made with essere the past participle agrees with the subject of the sentence.
  • essere is used to make the perfect tense of some very common verbs that do not take a direct object.
  • essere is used to make the perfect tense of all reflexive verbs.

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