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Impersonal verbs - Easy Learning Grammar Italian

What is an impersonal verb?
In English an impersonal verb has the subject it, but this ‘it’does not refer to any specific thing; for example, It’s going to rain; It’s nine o’clock.

1  Verbs that are always impersonal

  • Verbs such as piovere (meaning to rain) and nevicare (meaning to snow), are always impersonal because there is no person, animal or thing doing the action.
  • They are used only in the ‘it’ form, the infinitive, and as a gerund (the –ing form of the verb).
Piove.It’s raining.
Sta piovendo?Is it raining?
Ha iniziato a piovere.It started to rain.
Nevicava da due giorni.It had been snowing for two days.
Pensi che nevicherà?Do you think it’ll snow?
  • Note that the perfect and pluperfect tenses of verbs to do with the weather such as piovere, nevicare, grandinare (meaning to hail) and tuonare (meaning to thunder) can be made either with avere or essere.
Ha piovuto or è piovuto molto ieri.It rained a lot yesterday.
Aveva nevicato or era nevicato durante la notte.It had snowed during the night.

2  Verbs that are sometimes impersonal

  • fare is used impersonally to talk about the weather and time of day:
Fa caldo.It’s hot.
Fa freddo.It’s cold.
Faceva bel tempo.It was good weather. OR
The weather was good.
Fa sempre brutto tempo.The weather’s always bad.
Fa notte.It’s getting dark.
TipFa niente means It doesn’t matter.
  • è, and other tenses of essere are used impersonally, like it’s and other tenses of
    to be in English.
È tardi.It’s late.
Era presto.It was early.
È da tre ore che aspettano.It’s three hours now that they’ve been waiting.
Era Pasqua.It was Easter.
Non era da lei fare così.It wasn’t like her to act like that.
TipJust use the verb by itself when talking about the time or the weather. There is no Italian equivalent for “it”.
  • essere is used in impersonal constructions with adjectives, for example:
  • with an adjective followed by an infinitive
È facile capire che qualcosa non va.It’s easy to see that something’s wrong.
Mi è impossibile andar via adesso.It’s impossible for me to leave now.
È stato stupido buttarli via.It was stupid to throw them away.
Sarebbe bello andarci.It would be nice to go there.
  • with an adjective followed by che
È vero che sono stato impaziente.It’s true that I’ve been impatient.
Era bello che ci fossimo tutti.It’s nice that we were all there.
Grammar Extra!When an impersonal construction with che is used to refer to something that is a possibility rather than a fact, the following verb must be in the subjunctive.The following impersonal expressions refer to what might, should, or could be the case, rather than what is the case, and therefore they are always followed by the subjunctive:
È possibile che…It’s possible that...
È possibile che abbia sbagliato tu.It’s possible that you made a mistake.
Non è possibile che…It’s impossible that…
Non è possibile che sappiano.It’s impossible that they should know. OR
They can’t possibly know.
È facile che…It’s likely that…
È facile che piova.It’s likely that it’ll rain. OR
It’ll probably rain.
È difficile che…It’s unlikely that…
È difficile che venga.It’s unlikely that he’ll come.
  • parere and sembrare (both meaning to seem) are often used impersonally.
Sono contenti? – Pare di sì.Are they happy? – It seems so.
L’ha creduto? – Pare di no.Did he believe it? – Apparently not.
Forse va tutto bene, ma non sembra.Maybe everything‘s okay, but it doesn’t look like it.
Pare che sia stato lui.Apparently it was him.
Sembra che tu abbia ragione.Seemingly you’re right.
  • Note that the Italian construction with a verb can often be translated by the adverbs apparently and seemingly.
  • Other verbs used impersonally are bastare (meaning to be enough), bisognare and occorrere (both meaning to be necessary), importare (meaning to be important).
Basta?Is that enough?
Bisogna prenotare?Is it necessary to or do you have to book?
Bisogna arrivare un’ora prima.You have to get there an hour before.
Occorre farlo subito.It should be done at once.
Oggi o domani, non importa.Today or tomorrow, it doesn’t matter.
  • Note that these verbs can be replaced by impersonal constructions with essere and an adjective.
È necessario prenotare?Is it necessary to book?
Sarebbe opportuno farlo subito.It would be best to do it at once.
Tippuò darsi (meaning it’s possible), can be used like forse (meaning maybe).
Vieni? – Può darsi.Are you coming? – Maybe.
Può darsi che vincano.It’s possible or maybe they’ll win.
Key points
  • Impersonal verbs and expressions can only be used in the ‘it’ form, the infinitive and the gerund.
  • Impersonal verbs are often used when talking about the weather.

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