Easy Learning Italian

The subjunctive - Easy Learning Grammar Italian

What is the subjunctive?
The subjunctive is a verb form that is often used in Italian to express wishes, thoughts and beliefs. In English the subjunctive is only used occasionally, mainly in formal language, for example, If I were you…; So be it; He asked that they be removed.

1  Using the subjunctive

  • If you have the word che (meaning that) in an Italian sentence you often have to use the subjunctive.
  • The subjunctive is used after che:
  • following verbs such as pensare (meaning to think), credere (meaning to believe/think) and sperare (meaning to hope).
Penso che sia giusto.I think it’s fair.
Credo che partano domani.I think they’re leaving tomorrow.
Spero che Luca arrivi in tempo.I hope Luca arrives in time.
TipWhereas in English you can say either I think... or I think that... in Italian you always say che.
  • following the verb volere (meaning to want).
Voglio che i miei ragazzi sianoI want my children to be happy.felici.
Vuole che la aiuti.She wants me to help her.

2  How to make the present subjunctive

  • To make the present subjunctive of most verbs, take off the –o ending of the io form and add endings.
  • For –are verbs the endings are –i, –i, –i, –iamo, –iate, –ino.
  • For –ere and –ire verbs the endings are –a, –a, –a, –iamo, –iate, –ano.
  • Note that in the case of –ire verbs which add –isc in the io form, for example finisco (meaning I finish) and pulisco (meaning I clean), –isc is not added in the noi and voi forms.
TipThe io, tu, lui and lei forms of the present subjunctive are all the same. The noi form of the present subjunctive is the same as the present simple.
  • The following table shows the present subjunctive of three regular verbs: parlare (meaning to speak), credere (meaning to believe) and finire (meaning to finish).
Infinitiveio, tu, lui, lei, Leinoivoiloro
Non voglio che mi parlino.I don’t want them to speak to me.
Può darsi che non ti creda.Maybe she doesn’t believe you.
È meglio che lo finisca io.It’ll be best if I finish it.
  • Some common verbs that are irregular in the ordinary present tense also have irregular present subjunctives:
Infinitiveio, tu, lui, lei, Leinoivoiloro
andare to govadaandiamoandiatevadano
avere to haveabbiaabbiamoabbiateabbiano
dare to givediadiamodiatediano
dire to saydicadiciamodiciatedicano
dovere to have todebbadobbiamodobbiatedebbano
essere to besiasiamosiatesiano
fare to do/makefacciafacciamofacciatefacciano
potere to be ablepossapossiamopossiatepossano
scegliere to choosescelgascegliamoscegliatescelgano
stare to bestiastiamostiatestiano
tenere to holdtengateniamoteniatetengano
tradurre to translatetraducatraduciamotraduciatetraducano
uscire to go outescausciamousciateescano
venire to comevengaveniamoveniatevengano
volere to wantvogliavogliamovogliatevogliano
È meglio che tu te ne vada.You’d better leave.
Vuoi che lo traduca?Do you want me to translate it?
È facile che scelgano quelli rossi.They’ll probably choose those red ones.
Spero che tua madre stia meglio ora.I hope your mother is better now.
Credi che possa essere vero?Do you think it can be true?
Key points
  • When you express a wish, hope, or belief with a verb + che, the verb following che should be in the subjunctive.
  • che cannot be missed out in Italian.

3  When to use the present subjunctive

  • Use the present subjunctive when you’re saying what you think, feel or hope.
  • The following are common verbs and expressions used to express opinions and hopes. They are used with che followed by the subjunctive:
  • pensare che      to think (that)
Pensano che abbia ragione io.They think I’m right.
Pensi che sia giusto?Do you think that’s fair?
  • credere che      to believe/think (that)
Crede che sia stata una macchina rossa.He thinks it was a red car.
  • supporre che      to suppose (that)
Suppongo che quello sia il padre.I suppose he’s the father.
  • sperare che      to hope (that)
Spero che vada bene.I hope it’ll be okay.
  • essere contento che      to be glad (that)
Sono contento che faccia bel tempo.I’m glad the weather’s nice.
  • mi dispiace che      I’m sorry (that)
Mi dispiace che non vengano.I’m sorry they’re not coming.
  • è facile che      it’s likely (that)
È facile che piova.It’ll probably rain.
  • può darsi che it’s possible (that)
Può darsi che non venga.It’s possible that he won’t come.
  • è un peccato che      it’s a pity (that)
È un peccato che non sia potuto venire.It’s a pity he couldn’t come.
TipIt is best to learn the irregular subjunctives of common verbs such as avere (meaning to have), essere (meaning to be), andare (meaning to go) and fare (meaning to make or do).
  • che is not always followed by the subjunctive. Use the ordinary present, future and so on, when you’re saying what you know, or are sure of.
So che è tuo.I know it’s yours.
Sa che vale la pena.She knows it’s worth it.
Sono certo che verrà.I’m sure she’ll come.
Key points
  • Use the present subjunctive + che to say what you think, feel or hope.
  • Do not use the subjunctive + che to say what you know or are sure of.
Grammar Extra!Verbs and verbal expressions that express thoughts and hopes are followed by di + the infinitive, instead of che + the subjunctive if the subject of the sentence is thinking, hoping or feeling something about themselves.Compare the following examples: in the sentences on the left side the two verbs have the same subect – I… I… and so on. These use di + infinitive. In the sentences on the right the two verbs have different subjects – I… they… and so on. These use che + subjunctive.
Infinitive constructionSubjunctive construction
Penso di poter venire.Penso che possano venire.
I think I can come.I think that they can come.
Credo di aver sbagliato.Credo che abbiamo sbagliato.
I think I’ve made a mistake.I think we’ve made a mistake.
È contenta di essere stata promossa.Sono contento che sia stata promossa.
She’s glad she passed.I’m glad she passed.
Vi dispiace di partire?Ti dispiace che loro partano?
Are you sorry you’re leaving?Are you sorry they’re leaving?

4  Infinitive or subjunctive after volere?

  • volere can be used with either the infinitive or the subjunctive.
  • As in English, the infinitive is used in Italian to say what you want to do.
Voglio essere felice.I want to be happy.
Vogliamo aiutarla.We want to help her.
  • However, when you’re saying what you want someone else to do, or how you want something to be, you use che followed by the present subjunctive.
Voglio che tutto sia pronto.I want everything to be ready.
Vuole che tu faccia del tuo meglio.He wants you to do your best.
Vogliamo che loro vadano via.We want them to go away.
  • When you’re saying what you wanted someone else to do in the past, or how you wanted something to be, change the present subjunctive to the imperfect subjunctive.
Volevo che tutto fosse pronto.I wanted everything to be ready.
Voleva che loro andassero via.She wanted them to go away.
Grammar Extra!The subjunctive is used after certain conjunctions which include che:
  • prima che      before
Vuoi parlargli prima che parta?Do you want to speak to him before he goes?
  • Note that prima di and the infinitive is used if the two verbs have the same subject:
Mi ha parlato prima di partire.He spoke to me before he went.
Gli ho parlato prima di partire.I spoke to him before I went.
  • affinché      so that
Ti do venti euro affinché tu possa comprarlo.I’ll give you twenty euros so that you can buy it.
  • a meno che      unless
Lo prendo io, a meno che tu lo voglia.I’ll take it, unless you want it.
  • nel caso che      in case
Ti do il mio numero di telefono nel caso che tu venga a Roma.I’ll give you my phone number in case you come to Rome.

5  How to make the perfect subjunctive

  • To make the perfect subjunctive you simply use the subjunctive of avere (meaning to have) or essere (meaning to be) with the past participle.
  • For example, fare (meaning to make or to do) makes its ordinary perfect tense and its perfect subjunctive with avere, while essere makes its ordinary perfect tense and its perfect subjunctive with essere.
  • For more information on the Perfect tense and Past participles, see The perfect tense-109.
ordinary perfectperfect subjunctive
to do/make
io, tu, lui, lei, Lei
ho fatto, hai fatto, ha fatto
abbiamo fatto
avete fatto
hanno fatto
abbia fatto
abbiamo fatto
abbiate fatto
abbiano fatto
to be
sono stato, sono stata
sei stato, sei stata
è stato
è stata
è stato, è stata
siamo stati, siamo state
siete stati, siete state
sono stati, sono state
sia stato, sia stata
sia stato, sia stata
sia stato
sia stata
sia stato, sia stata
siamo stati, siamo state
siate stati, siate state
iano stati, siano state
Non credo che l’abbiano fatto loro.I don’t think they did it.
È possibile che sia stato un errore.It might have been a mistake.

6  When to use the perfect subjunctive

  • When you want to say what you think or hope about something in the past, use a verb such as penso che and spero che, followed by the perfect subjunctive.
Penso che sia stata una buona idea.I think it was a good idea.
Spero che non si sia fatta male.I hope she didn’t hurt herself.
Spero che abbia detto la verità.I hope you told the truth.
È possibile che abbiano cambiato idea.It’s possible they’ve changed their minds.

7  Avoiding the perfect subjunctive

  • Instead of using expressions such as penso che and è possibile che with the perfect subjunctive, you can use secondo me (meaning in my opinion) or forse (meaning perhaps) with the ordinary perfect tense to say what you think or believe.
Secondo me è stata una buona idea.In my opinion it was a good idea.
Forse hanno cambiato idea.Perhaps they’ve changed their minds.
  • You can also avoid using the perfect subjunctive by saying what you think first, and adding a verb such as penso, credo or spero to the end of the sentence.
Hai detto la verità, spero.You told the truth, I hope.
Hanno fatto bene, penso.They did the right thing, I think.
Key points
  • When you express a wish, hope, or belief about something in the past, the verb following che should be in the perfect subjunctive.
  • You can sometimes reword sentences to avoid using the perfect subjunctive.

8  How to make the imperfect subjunctive

  • The imperfect subjunctive is made by adding endings to the verb stem.
  • The endings for –are verbs are –assi, –assi, –asse, assimo, –aste, and assero; the endings for –ere verbs are –essi, –essi, –esse, essimo, –este, and essero; the endings for –ire verbs are –issi, –issi, –isse, issimo, –iste and issero.
  • The following table shows the imperfect subjunctive of three regular verbs: parlare (meaning to speak), credere (meaning to believe) and finire (meaning to finish).
(loro) parlasserocredesserofinissero
Volevano che parlassi con l’inquilino.They wanted me to speak to the tenant.
Anche se mi credesse, non farebbe niente.Even if he believed me he wouldn’t do anything.
Se solo finisse prima delle otto!If only it finished before eight o’clock!
  • The imperfect subjunctive of essere is as follows:
(tu) fossi
Se fossi in te non lo pagherei.If I were you I wouldn’t pay it.
Se fosse più furba verrebbe.If she had more sense she’d come.
  • The imperfect subjunctive of the other important irregular verbs – bere (meaning to drink), dare (meaning to give), dire (meaning to say), fare (meaning to make or to do) and stare (meaning to be) – is as follows:
Se solo bevesse meno!If only he drank less!
Voleva che gli dessero il permesso.He wanted them to give him permission.

9  When to use the imperfect subjunctive

  • The imperfect subjunctive is used to talk about what you wanted someone to do in the past, or about how you wanted things to be.
Voleva che fossimo pronti alle otto.He wanted us to be ready at eight.
Volevano che tutto fosse in ordine.They wanted everything to be tidy.
Volevo che andasse più veloce.I wanted him to go faster.
  • In English, when you are talking about what you would do in an imagined situation, the past tense is used to describe the situation, for example, What would you do if you won the lottery?
  • In Italian the imperfect subjunctive is used for this kind of imagined situation, which is often introduced by se (meaning if).
Se ne avessi bisogno, te lo darei.If you needed it I’d give it to you.
Se lo sapesse sarebbe molto deluso.If he knew he’d be very disappointed.
Se solo avessi più denaro!If only I had more money!
Key points
  • The imperfect subjunctive is used when talking about what you wanted someone to do, or how you wanted things to be.
  • The imperfect subjunctive is used to talk about imagined situations.

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