italian-verb-conjugation

Italian Verb Conjugation Made Easy: The Essential Guide

Yup, this is “the topic.”

This is “that part” in the course.

If you ask former language students where they gave up on learning Italian, or where they thought the end of the road was, it’s here: Italian verb conjugations.

Sure, they can memorize vocabulary, learn numbers and sing the days of the week, but when it comes to conjugating verbs, there are just too many, they’re too complicated and too irregular and CVS doesn’t have pills for that kind of headache.

If this sounds like you, then this post will get you back on track and help you have a healthier attitude on the subject. And, if you’re asking yourself, “What in the world is conjugation?”, consider yourself warmly welcomed to an exciting topic! And ignore everything I’ve just said.

In this post, we take the stigma away from Italian verb conjugations.

Let’s begin…

Learn a foreign language with videos

The Fuss About Italian Verb Conjugations

It haunts the nightmares of Italian language learners. Many would rather ride a rollercoaster with cobwebs for seatbelts than face a wall of verb matrices that read like a foreign language unto itself.

But what exactly is it?

Well, in simplest terms, conjugation is when you turn a verb like “run” into “ran” or “running” or “will run”—depending on what it is exactly you mean. (Don’t laugh, but yeah, many language learners actually run at the prospect of turning “run” into “will run.”)

Granted, the subject of conjugations isn’t easy, and admittedly, Italian is a bit harder than English. But that said, conjugation is still not as hard as it’s made out to be. I think there are three major problems in the approach to the subject that we need to correct here.

1. The whole subject is covered too fast.

Many textbooks give a chapter or two to conjugations as if that’s enough. And the lessons, when they’re actually taught, are delivered too fast. (It’s one of those things that’s easy for the teacher to teach, but very hard for the students to master.)

But when you really think about it, you can’t just “okay next please!” conjugations. Realistically, you should never really leave the topic. As a second language speaker, you get better at it over time, and it takes years of language usage to master.

You have to give yourself the time to learn it. Take it slow. Marinate in the topic. I know the idea is quite counterintuitive in this era of “learn-a-second-language-in-between-sneezes,” where everything happens in an instant, but there’s really no way around it.

Conjugation is a big, fat topic. It’s like a catch-all subject that combines everything you’ve ever learned about Italian grammarpronouns, tenses, nouns, genders, subject-verb agreement, sentence structure and so on.

Mastering conjugations is like roasting a pig. You don’t blast it with all the heat you’ve got and finish the job in 15 minutes. No, you let it slowly burn. For hours. So the pig gradually cooks and the heat seeps into all corners and crevices of the meat. That’s the only way to tackle a thick slab of pork, and that’s the only way you tame conjugations.

2. Conjugations are taught almost without context.

Another mistake language learners make is that they think they can “hack” the subject by memorizing a table of rules written on a “cheat sheet.”

I’m not saying conjugation tables don’t have any use. Of course they do! And you should use them. I’m just saying they’re really best for review—when you’ve done all the hard work and you just want to put the pieces together and get a quick visual of the whole conjugation landscape.

Conjugation isn’t like math, where you memorize a bunch of formulas and plug in the numbers.

Italian verb conjugation tables and matrices lack the real-world context which gives nuance to your understanding. That’s why most people forget what they read in those tables pretty quickly.

Context makes things vivid. It’s like seeing things in action. So study verbs in sentences instead of conjugation tables. Repurpose the language content you’re already using—like songs, rhymes, audiobooks and short stories—for learning conjugation. Read children’s stories while paying attention to how the verbs are used, for example.

3. Mistakes aren’t encouraged.

What is it about this subject that makes grammar sticklers out of the sweetest little boys and girls?

“That’s the wrong form! Quick, burn this sinner at the stake!”

Italian language learners need to chill and cut themselves some slack. Seriously.

Even native speakers bungle every now and then. So don’t judge yourself harshly if you get into a kerfuffle. That’s normal. You made a mistake. So what?

Guess what? Native speakers understand you even if you butcher their verbs. (How? Context!) Just try to put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Imagine a kindly non-native English speaker on the subway offers his seat to a struggling old lady by saying, “Please, sitting down.” Do you not understand it? Do you, even for one second, judge the gentleman for getting the English grammar wrong? (And do you not wish to rush to the seat, ahead of the old lady?)

Don’t worry about making mistakes. We learn by making plenty of them early on and then weeding them out over time.

Mastery comes with practice. In the meantime, butcher as many verbs as you can. It’s okay.

Let’s roast that pig slowly.

Italian Verb Conjugation Made Easy: The Essential Guide

The 7 Pronouns, the 3 Persons and the 3 Verb Classes

In this section, we lay the groundwork and talk about the things that you’re going to use to conjugate verbs.

Italian Pronouns

Verbs are action words. So we’re going to be needing some “agent” who is the do-er of these actions. This “somebody” usually comes in the form of pronouns. So if you ask, “Who runs?” The answer might be “You run” or “They run” or “She runs.”

To correctly conjugate a verb, you need to know who is doing the action. Here are the seven Italian pronouns you need to know about:

“Io” — I

“Tu” — You

“Lui” — He

“Lei” — She

“Noi” — We

“Voi” — You-all

“Loro” — They

The English “it” is a special case. You can either use “lui,” “lei” or “loro” depending on what “it” is being replaced. Use “lui” if the noun being replaced is masculine in gender and “lei” if it’s feminine.

The 3 Persons

If the pronouns are the do-ers of the action, you need to know if they’re in the first person, second person or third person point of view, and whether they’re singular or plural. Why? Because each takes on a different verb form.

A quick review of points of view:

A “first” person point of view is used when you’re talking about yourself, your opinions and the things that happened to you.

The Italian pronoun “io” (I) is in the first person singular, while “noi” (we) is the first person plural.

The “second” person point of view is used to refer to the person you’re addressing. The pronouns “tu” (you) and “voi” (you-plural) are used for the second person point of view. Italian also distinguishes between the informal “you,” used for friends and family, and the formal “you,” used for people you’ve just met or people considered higher than you in the ladder of life. The informal you, as previously mentioned, is “tu” and the formal one is “Lei. This is different from the “lei” (she) which has an uncapitalized letter “l.” But no worries, “Lei” (you-formal) and “lei” (she) follow the same verb conjugation rules.

The “third” person refers to the people talked about and includes he, him, she, her, it and they.

The Italian pronouns “lui” and “lei” are third person singular, while “loro” is third person plural.

Verb Groups and Classes

It’s a curious case that in the Italian language, verbs can be grouped into three distinct classes based on their endings. (English, on the other hand, is just all over the place.)

The three classes of Italian verbs are those that end in: “-are,” “-ere” and “-ire”

Examples:

“-are”: parlare (talk), entrare (enter) and nuotare (swim)

“-ere”: scrivere (write), leggere (read) and vedere (see)

“-ire”: costruire (build), sentire (follow) and colpire (hit)

We’re talking here about verbs that are in the infinitive form or in their simplest form. In English, “swim” is in the infinitive form. “Swimming” or “swam” are not. (The simplest form of the verb is the one that’s used as an entry in the dictionary.)

Verbs with the same endings follow the same verb conjugation rules. Watch for the last three letters of the verbs (“-are,” “-ere” and “-ire”) because they’ll usually be dropped and replaced with something else.

In the next section, we’ll look at how those different verbs are conjugated in the most common tenses in Italian.

Conjugation Rules for Common Tenses

The Present Tense: Presente indicativo

Much like it is in English, the Italian present tense is used to talk about habitual actions, basic truths, descriptions and actions happening at the moment of speaking.

“-are” Verbs

In the present tense, if a verb ends with “-are,” the “-are” is dropped. You then add the corresponding ending:

“Mangiare” (To eat)

io” (I) — o
io mangio” (I eat)

tu” (You) — i
tu mangi” (You eat)

lui” (He), “lei” (She) or “Lei” (You-formal) a
lui/lei/Lei mangia” (He/She eats; You eat)

noi” (We) — iamo
noi mangiamo” (We eat)

voi” (You-all) — ate
“voi mangiate (You-all eat)

loro” (They) — ano
“loro mangiano” (They eat)

“-ere” Verbs

In the present tense, if a verb ends with “-ere,” the “-ere” is dropped and changed into the following:

“Vivere” (to live)

“io” (I) — o
“io vivo” (I live)

 “tu” (You) — i
“tu vivi” (You live)

lui” (He), “lei” (She) or “Lei” (You-formal) — e
“lui/lei/Lei vive” (He/She lives; You live)

“noi” (We) — iamo
“noi viviamo” (We live)

“voi” (You-all) — ete
“voi vivete” (You-all live)

“loro” (They) — ono
“loro vivono” (They live)

“-ire” Verbs

In the present tense, if a verb ends with “-ire,” the “-ire” is dropped and changed into the following:

“Dormire” (to sleep)

“io” (I) — o
“io dormo” (I sleep)

“tu” (You) — i
“tu dormi” (You sleep)

lui” (He), “lei” (She) or “Lei” (You-formal) — e
“lui/lei/Lei dorme” (He/She sleeps; You sleep)

“noi” (We) — iamo
“noi dormiamo” (We sleep)

“voi” (You-all) — ite
“voi dormite” (You-all sleep)

“loro” (They) — ono
“loro dormono” (They sleep)

The Present Perfect Tense: Passato Prossimo

Passato prossimo refers to actions that were done and completed in the past, but that have an effect in the present.

In English, the present perfect shows up in phrases like “I have eaten” or “I have tried.”

The formula for forming the passato prossimo is: conjugated avere/essere + past participle of the main verb

“Avere” (to have) and “essere” (to be) are two of the most common helping verbs in Italian, and they’re the only two you’ll need for conjugating the present perfect. But how do you know which to choose? An easy way to start is by remembering that “avere” is mostly used with transitive verbs, while essere is mostly used with intransitive verbs.

But before we get to conjugating avere and essere, here are the rules for how to form the past participle of the three verb classes:

For “-are” verbs, drop the “-are” and replace it with “-ato.” So “mangiare” (eat) becomes “mangiato” (eaten).

For “-ere” verbs, drop the “-ere” and replace it with “-uto.” So “vendere” (sell) becomes “venduto” (sold).

For “-ire” verbs, drop the “-ire” and replace it with “-ito.” So “sentire” (feel) becomes “sentito” (felt).

“Mangiare” (to eat): conjugated with auxiliary verb avere

“io” (I) + ho
Io ho mangiato” (I have eaten)

“tu” (You) + hai
Tu hai mangiato” (You have eaten)

lui” (He), “lei” (She) or “Lei” (You-formal) + ha
“Lui/lei/Lei ha mangiato” (He/She has eaten; You have eaten)

“noi” (We) + abbiamo
“Noi abbiamo mangiato” (We have eaten)

“voi” (You-all) + avete
“Voi avete mangiato” (You-all have eaten)

“loro” (They) + hanno
“Loro hanno mangiato” (They have eaten)

“Arrivare” (to arrive): conjugated with auxiliary verb essere

“io” (I) + sono
“Io sono arrivato/a” (I have arrived)

“tu” (You) + sei
“Tu sei arrivato/a” (You have arrived)

lui” (He), “lei” (She) or “Lei” (You-formal) + è
“Lui/lei è arrivato/a” (He/She has arrived; You have arrived)

“noi” (We) + siamo
“Noi siamo arrivati/e” (We have arrived)

“voi” (You-all) + siete
“Voi siete arrivati/e” (You-all have arrived)

“loro” (They) + sono
“Loro sono arrivati/e” (They have arrived)

The Imperfect Tense: L’imperfetto

Use this tense for actions that happened over and over again in the past. If you used to diet and if you used to exercise, but have since stopped, that’s an example of reality acceptance…I mean, l’imperfetto.

“-are” Verbs

In the imperfect tense, if a verb ends with “-are,” drop the “-are” and then add the following:

“Mangiare” (to eat)

“io” (I) — avo
io mangiavo” (I used to eat)

“tu” (You) — avi
tu mangiavi” (You used to eat)

lui” (He), “lei” (She) or “Lei” (You-formal) — ava
lui/lei/Lei mangiava” (He/She/You used to eat)

“noi” (We) — avamo
noi mangiavamo” (We used to eat)

“voi” (You-all) — avate
“voi mangiavate” (You-all used to eat)

“loro” (They) — avano
loro mangiavano” (They used to eat)

“-ere” Verbs

For “-ere” verbs, the conjugation is almost exactly the same as for “-are” verbs. You just have to take the “-are” suffixes and change the “a” into an “e.”

“Vivere” (to live)

“io” (I) — evo
“io vivevo” (I used to live)

“tu” (You) — evi
“tu vivevi” (You used to live)

lui” (He), “lei” (She) or “Lei” (You-formal) — eva
lui/lei/Lei viveva” (He/She/You used to live)

“noi” (We) — evamo
noi vivevamo” (We used to live)

“voi” (You-all) — evate
“voi vivevate” (You-all used to live)

“loro” (They) — evano
loro vivevano” (They used to live)

“-ire” Verbs

Finally, “-ire” verbs follow the exact same pattern as the two previous verb classes, but this time using an “i.”

“Dormire” (to sleep)

“io” (I) — ivo
“io dormivo” (I used to sleep)

“tu” (You) — ivi
“tu dormivi” (You used to sleep)

lui” (He), “lei” (She) or “Lei” (You-formal) — iva
lui/lei/Lei dormiva” (He/She/You used to sleep)

“noi” (We) — ivamo
noi dormivamo” (We used to sleep)

“voi” (You-all) — ivate
“voi dormivate” (You-all used to sleep)

“loro” (They) — ivano
loro dormivano” (They used to sleep)

The Future Tense: Futuro semplice

The future tense refers to actions that will be done in the future. Ask a teenager and he’ll give you a bunch of future (and tense!) actions, like: studying, washing the dishes and cleaning his room. But I digress.

“-are,” “-ere,” and “-ire” verbs

In the future tense, all three verb classes have the same rules. Just drop the letter “e” of “-are,” “-ere” and “-ire” and then add the following ending:

“Mangiare” (to eat)

“io” (I) — ò
“io mangerò” (I will eat)

“tu” (You) — ai
tu mangerai” (You will eat)

lui” (He), “lei” (She) or “Lei” (You-formal) — à
Lui/lei mangerà” (He/She/You will eat)

“noi” (We) — emo
“noi mangeremo” (We will eat)

“voi” (You-all) — ete
voi mangerete” (You-all will eat)

“loro” (They) — anno
loro mangeranno” (They will eat)

Those Irregular Verbs!

Getting the rules for the common tenses is challenging enough, but what makes conjugation spicier for language learners is that Italian has many “irregular” verbs that seem to say, “To heck with those rules.” They don’t follow the conjugation patterns and have rules of their own.

There are different “irregulars” for different tenses, and one way of taming them is by familiarizing yourself with these verbs and committing them to memory. For example, the verbs capire (understand), fare (make), andare (go) and potere (can) are irregulars in the present tense.

You don’t really have to memorize all of them. Irregular verbs aren’t made equal. You can just pick the most common ones, like the ones mentioned above, and hammer at them hard. This is a much better use of your time than memorizing every single irregular verb that exists.

Don’t be afraid of irregular verbs. They’re fairly common, and if you immerse yourself in Italian, you’ll meet them soon enough. Speaking of which, how exactly do we master verb conjugations? Here are three tips to get you started.

How to Master Italian Verb Conjugations

You have all the info at your fingertips. Now, how do you remember it all? And, beyond that—how do you use the correct verb in an actual Italian conversation?

1. Give conjugated verbs needed context.

The best way to study verb conjugations is in context. Conjugation charts and multiple-choice quizzes will only get you so far. If you want these verbs to stick in your head, you have to see them within real-life sentences.

Having an exciting context for the verbs—like a climactic scene in a movie or an important line in a song—is infinitely more effective than dryly memorizing entries of conjugation tables.

Any study material that contains verbs can be re-purposed for learning conjugations. This includes Italian songs, short stories, nursery rhymes and movies. Even the comments sections of Italian YouTubers’ videos can be studied!

But if you want an all-in-one spot for studying Italian verb conjugations in context, look no further than FluentU. FluentU is an innovative, immersive platform that turns real-world videos into fun and dynamic language-learning experiences. FluentU contains authentic videos featuring native Italian speakers, including music videos, movie clips, inspiring talks and news from around the world—in short, incredible real-world content where you’re sure to come across a ton of different Italian verb conjugations in memorable contexts.

italian-verb-conjugation

If you come across a conjugation you don’t know, you can simply click on the word in FluentU’s interactive subtitles. This will link you to a definition of the word, its infinitive form and several example sentences from other FluentU videos. These example sentences will help you learn how each verb conjugation is used in modern, spoken Italian.

With FluentU, you can practice verb conjugations, learn a bit about Italian culture and have fun at the same time. How’s that for a win-win-win situation?

2. Write them on walls. Literally and seriously.

Your memory will thank you if you learn things by writing them down. That means writing on paper and by hand.

Write everything from conjugation tables to sample sentences. Write them a lot, from left to right, right to left, top-down, bottom-up. Write them in different ways. Write your notes, annotations, questions. Write your own sentences. Write them on walls that you see every day. Write them on post-it notes. Make a flashcard deck.

You might think it’s a waste of time. And it’s time-consuming, for sure. But this is the kind of thing you need to waste time on.

We’re talking about mastery here, right?

So go ahead, “waste” your time doing this. Wrestle with conjugation tables. Think through example sentences and write them down. There’s a payoff at the end when that last drop of ink leaves your pen and you find yourself conjugating Italian verbs like a master.

3. Say them out loud. Again and again.

You don’t even need somebody to pretend to listen to you as you read sentences out loud. The most important audience is already there: You.

You need to hear yourself speak Italian in order to learn. Try reading what you’ve written in the previous tip. Read these sentences aloud multiple times. You need to hear them over and over. You’ll start to notice that Italian grammar is tightly coordinated. And by repeating these verbs again and again, you’ll begin to see and hear the patterns in the language. You’ll even notice that they sometimes rhyme. You’ll begin to intuitively know what pronoun goes with what conjugation. Not because you remember it as a rule, but because you’ve heard it so many times.

Over time, your work on verb conjugations will become semi-automatic. That is, instead of being backed by rules, you’ll operate on intuitions. You’ll have heard something a thousand times, so you’ll feel sure that such and such is the correct form of a verb.

Do you think native speakers refer to tables and matrices when they speak Italian? Nope, they’re not even really consciously aware of these things. It’s just that they’ve said a verb that way over and over, so saying it any other way sticks out like a sore thumb.

 

So, we’ve come to the end of this post. We’ve learned some really healthy attitudes to take on when we tackle verbal conjugations. Again, nobody’s saying they’re easy, but they don’t have to be any language learner’s nightmare. If you just take your time, make use of context and allow yourself to commit mistakes, you’ll never feel inadequate for the job.

Take little nibbles constantly, and before you know it, you’ll have eaten the whole pig!

Good luck.

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