Italian grammar

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Italian grammar is the body of rules describing the properties of the Italian language. Italian words can be divided into these lexical categories: article, noun, adjective, pronoun, verb, adverb, preposition, conjunction, and interjection.

Articles[edit]

Italian articles vary according to definiteness (definite, indefinite, and partitive), number, gender, and the initial sound of the subsequent word. Partitive articles compound the preposition "di" with the corresponding definite article, to express uncertain quantity. In the plural, they typically translate into English as "few". In the singular, typically as "some".

Definite article
Gender Number Article Usage
Masculine Singular il The standard definite article for masculine singular Italian nouns is il, used in every case other than those detailed below.[1]

Foreign words beginning with w, pronounced /w/ or /v/, take il and not lo: il West /'wɛst/ (referring to the American Old West), il whisky /'wiski/, il Watt /'vat/, etc.[2]

lo The alternate form lo is used before words with certain initial sounds:
  • before s pronounced as /s/, /z/, or /ʃ/ followed by another consonant ("impure s", Italian: S (esse) complicata, S impura, or S preconsonantica)
  • before self-geminating consonants:[3] z, pronounced as /ts/ or /dz/; gn; gli; sci (or sh or ch in loan words, e.g. lo chef) pronounced as /ʃ/
  • before complex consonant clusters ps, pronounced as /ps/ or /ss/; pn as /pn/ or /nn/; x as /ks/ or /ss/, mn as /mn/ or /nn/, etc., mostly foreign words
  • before y or i pronounced as semivowel /j/, (e.g. foreign words like lo yoghurt, and local words and scientific or geographical names like lo iodio)
l' The apocopic/contracted form l' is used before words with an initial vowel (l'amico) and before uo /wɔ/ (l'uomo).
Plural i The form i is used for plurals that take il in the singular. i cani (plural of il cane)
gli The plural definite article gli corresponds to lo and l' in the singular, i.e. before the consonants listed above for lo and before vowels. gli zii (plural of lo zio), gli amici (plural of l'amico)

Il dio ("the god") has the irregular plural gli dèi /[ʎ]ʎi 'dɛi/ ("the gods").

Feminine Singular la Standard form of the feminine singular definite article, used before consonants and before i when pronounced as semivowel /j/, eg. la iarda.
l' The articles lo and la elide to l' before any vowel, not including i when pronounced as semivowel /j/.
Plural le The feminine plural definite article le is normally used in full form, never elided.
Indefinite article
Gender Article Usage
Masculine un The standard form un is used before vowels and simple consonants.
uno The form uno is used instead of un before "impure s", self-geminating consonants, and complex consonant clusters following the same rules as lo vs. il above, for example: uno studente
Feminine una The standard form of the feminine singular indefinite article is una.
un' The article una elides to un' before any vowel, not including i when used as semivowel /j/.
Partitive article
Gender Number Article Usage
Masculine Singular del The standard form of the masculine singular partitive particle is del, a contraction of di and il, often translated into English as "Some".
dell' The masculine singular partitive article contracts to dell' before any vowel.
dello The form dello is used before "impure s", self-geminating consonants, and complex consonant clusters following the same rules as lo.
Plural dei The standard masculine plural partitive article is dei, e.g.: Ci sono dei libri sul tavolo. ("There are some books on the table.")
degli The masculine plural partitive article is degli before vowels, self-geminating consonants, and complex consonant clusters.
Feminine Singular della The standard form of the partitive feminine singular article is della, a contraction of di and la.
dell' The singular feminine partitive article contracts to dell' before any vowel.
Plural delle The plural feminine partitive article is invariantly delle.

Inflection of nouns and adjectives[edit]

Nouns and adjectives generally inflect by gender (masculine and feminine, with only some instances of vestigial neuter) and number (singular and plural). Inflection patterns are similar for the two categories:

General noun and adjectival endings for number and gender
Gender Singular Plural Example
Masculine -o -i il capello nero, i capelli neri ("the black hair")
Feminine -a -e la bella macchina, le belle macchine ("the beautiful car(s)")
Masculine and feminine -e -i il/la comandante intelligente, i/le comandanti intelligenti ("the smart commander(s)")
Legacy of the old neuter (singular masculine, plural feminine) -o -a il lenzuolo leggero, le lenzuola leggere ("the light bed sheet(s)")
Masculine -a -i l'atleta entusiasta , gli atleti entusiasti ("the enthusiastic athlete(s)")
All nouns ending with a stressed vowel singular = plural la città, le città ("the town(s)")
Non-integrated loanwords il/la manager trendy, i/le manager trendy ("the trendy manager(s)")

In the last two examples, only the article carries information about gender and number.

The Italian hard and soft C and G phenomenon leads to a few spelling/pronunciation peculiarities in certain cases:

  • Words in -cio and -gio form plurals in -ci and -gi, e.g. bacio / baci ("kiss(es)")
  • Words in -cia and -gia have been a point of contention; according to a commonly employed rule,[4] they:
    • form plurals in -cie and -gie if the final letter before the suffix is a vowel: camicia, camicie ("shirt(s)"); ciliegia, ciliegie ("cherry"/"cherries").
    • form plurals in -ce and -ge if the final letter before the suffix is a consonant: frangia, frange ("fringe(s)"); faccia, facce ("face(s)").[5]
    • when the i is stressed, it always remains in plural: farmacia / farmacie ("chemist's shop(s)"), nevralgia / nevralgie ("neuralgia(s)").
  • Words in -co and -go behave quite irregularly: "the grammarians are skeptical of any attempt at giving a ruling about this area".[6] There are only partial, empirical rules of thumb:
    • plurals are formed with -chi and -ghi if the last letter before the suffix is a consonant or a stressed vowel: fungo / funghi ("mushroom(s)"), stecco / stecchi ("stick(s)"), mago / maghi ("magician(s)"), fuoco / fuochi ("fire(s)")
    • plurals are formed with -ci and -gi if the last letter before the suffix is an unstressed vowel: comico / comici ("comedian(s)"), medico / medici ("physician(s)")
    • in words ending with -logo suffix, the plural is usually[6] in -gi when -logo means "expert" or "student", corresponding to English -logist (e.g. archeologo / archeologi, "archaeologist(s)"), while it is in -ghi when it means "speech" or "reasoning", corresponding often to English -logue/-log (e.g. catalogo / cataloghi, "catalogue(s)").
    • there are exceptions such as amico / amici ("friend(s)"), greco / greci ("Greek(s)"), valico / valichi ("mountain pass(es)"), carico / carichi ("cargo(s)").

Nouns[edit]

Most nouns derive from Latin, from Greek or from a Latinization of foreign words:

Derivation of noun inflections
Latin declension Masculine Feminine
1st (-a / -ae) poeta / poeti "poet(s)" rosa / rose "rose(s)"
2nd (-us / -i) carro / carri "truck(s)"
3rd (-Ø,-is / -is) cane / cani "dog(s)" parete / pareti "wall(s)"
3rd (-as / -atis) città / città "town(s)"
4th (-us / -us) passo / passi "step(s)" mano / mani "hand(s)"
5th (-ies / -iei) specie / specie "species"
Greek words problema / problemi "problem(s)" crisi / crisi "crisis", "crises"

Any other noun, both those from Latin with an unusual ending and those derived from languages other than Latin or Greek, and not Latinized (cifra - meaning "digit" - and ragazzo/ragazza - meaning "boy/girl" - are from Hebrew and Arabic respectively, but they are Latinized)[citation needed], and nouns ending with a stressed vowel are not inflected, thus:

  • il re / i re ("the king(s)": rex / reges)
  • il caffè / i caffè ("the coffee(s)")
  • il film / i film ("the film(s)")

There are certain words (neuter in Latin) that are masculine in the singular and feminine or masculine in the plural:

  • il braccio / le braccia or i bracci ("the arm(s)")
  • l'uovo / le uova ("the egg(s)")
  • il ginocchio / le ginocchia or i ginocchi ("the knee(s)")
  • il sopracciglio / le sopracciglia or i sopraccigli ("the eyebrow(s)")

These nouns' endings derive regularly from the Latin neuter endings of the second declension (sg. -um / pl. -a), but there are some from the third declension: e.g. il gregge / le greggi (flock(s), but i greggi works, too); the tradition of calling them "irregular" or "mobile gender" (genere mobile) would come from the paradigm that there are so few nouns of this kind that the existence of neuter can be considered vestigial. The choice of plural is sometimes left to the user, while in some cases there are differences of meaning:[7]

  • sometimes, for body parts, the feminine/neuter plural denotes the literal meaning while the masculine one denotes a figurative meaning: il braccio ("the arm") / le braccia ("the arms") / i bracci ("the isthmuses", "the inlets"); il corno ("the horn") / le corna ("the horns" of an animal) / i corni ("the horns" as musical instruments)
  • sometimes, especially in poetic and old-fashioned Italian, the masculine plural acts as a count noun, while the neuter/feminine plural acts as a mass noun: il cervello ("the brain") / due cervelli ("two brains") / le cervella ("the cerebral matter"); l'anello ("the ring") / due anelli ("two rings") / le anella ("ringlets"); furthermore, il dito ("the finger") / le dita ("the fingers") and also due dita ("two fingers") / but i diti indici ("the index fingers")

Irregular plurals[edit]

There are very few true irregular plurals in Italian (plurali irregolari). Some of these are:

  • l'uomo / gli uomini (man/men; lat. homo / homines )
  • il dio / gli dei (god/gods; note also the irregularity in the article: gli instead of i)
  • il bue / i buoi (ox/oxen)
  • il tempio / i templi (temple/temples)
  • il carcere / le carceri (prison (masculine) / prisons (feminine))
  • l'ala / le ali (wing/wings) (but "l'ale" is poetically admitted)
  • l'arma / le armi (weapon/weapons) (but "l'arme" is poetically admitted)
  • la mano / le mani (hand/hands)
  • l'eco / gli echi (echo (feminine) / echos (masculine))
  • la moglie / le mogli (wife/wives)

Alteration[edit]

In Italian, altered nouns are nouns with particular shades of meaning. They are divided into diminutives, "vezzeggiativi" (diminutives with kindness and sympathy nuance), augmentatives and pejoratives.

Suffix Example
diminutivi
(diminutive)
-ino tavolo (table) tavolino (a small table)
-etto libro (book) libretto
-ello bambino (child) bambinello (a little child)
-icello monte (mountain) monticello
-icciolo porto (port) porticciolo
vezzeggiativi
(terms of endearment)
-uccio cavallo (horse) cavalluccio
-acchiotto orso (bear) orsacchiotto
-iciattolo fiume (river) fiumiciattolo
-olo figlio (son) figliolo (also figliuolo)
-otto cucciolo (puppy) cucciolotto
accrescitivi
(augmentative)
-one libro (book) librone (a big book)
-accione uomo (man) omaccione
dispregiativi
(pejorative)
-accio libro (book) libraccio (a bad book)
-astro medico (medic) medicastro (quack doctor)
-ucolo poeta (poet) poetucolo
-onzolo medico (medic) mediconzolo
-uncolo uomo (man) omuncolo (an insignificant man)

Many other alterations can be built, also through more than one suffix: for example, libro (book) can become libretto (diminutive), libricino (double diminutive), libercolo (diminutive + pejorative), libraccio (pejorative), libraccione (pejorative + augmentative). Uomo (man), coming from Latin homo, becomes om- in altered forms: omino (diminutive), omone (augmentative), omaccio (pejorative), omaccione (augmentative + pejorative).

Adjectives[edit]

In Italian, an adjective can be before or after the noun. Placing the adjective after the noun can alter its meaning or indicate restrictiveness of reference; the unmarked placement for most adjectives (e.g. colours, nationalities) is after the noun.[8] If a noun has many adjectives, usually no more than one will be before the noun[citation needed]. When there is possibility to choose, the second word is the more important, so if the adjective is after the noun, it is more emphasized[clarification needed]:

  • un buon uomo = a good man (nothing special, a good man)
  • un uomo buono = a good man, a man that is good (it is important that he is good, the adjective is emphasized)

Adjectives are inflected by gender and number:

Gender Grammatical number Case 1 Case 2
Masculine Singular -o -e
Plural -i -i
Feminine Singular -a -e
Plural -e -i

Degrees of comparison[edit]

Italian has three degrees of comparison: comparative, relative superlative and absolute superlative.

The comparative and relative superlative degrees are both formed around the word più (literally "plus", meaning "more" or "most"), for instance:

  • sono il più scemo fra gli uomini ("I am the dumbest of men")
  • sono più scemo di te ("I am dumber than you")

Viceversa, inverting the order of the words, it's required to substitute più with meno (literally 'minus', meaning "less" or "few"), for instance:

  • sono il meno forte del campionato ("I am the less strong of championship", in this particular case "più debole" sounds well)
  • tu sei meno scemo di me ("You are less dumb than me", exactly the same meaning)

The absolute superlative, derived from the Latin synthetic superlative in -issimus, is formed by adding -issimo to an adjective: intelligente ("intelligent"), intelligentissimo ("very intelligent"); sporco ("dirty") sporchissimo ("very dirty"). If the two letters before the last vowel are pr or br (aspro, Latin asper, celebre, Latin celeber), the r is removed and -errimo is the suffix used (asperrimo, celeberrimo) (English: very sour, very famous).

Some adjectives form their degrees of comparison irregularly (though with a regular variant also in common use), like

  • buono ("good"), migliore / più buono ("better" or "best"), migliore / ottimo / buonissimo ("very good")
  • cattivo ("bad"), peggiore / più cattivo ("worse" or "worst"), pessimo / cattivissimo ("very bad")

Possessive adjectives[edit]

Possessive adjectives, like articles, must agree with the gender and number of the noun they modify. Hence, mio zio (my uncle), but mia zia (my aunt). So depending on what is being modified, the possessive adjectives are:

Person Masculine Feminine
Singular Plural Singular Plural
1st sing. mio miei mia mie
2nd sing. tuo tuoi tua tue
3rd sing. suo suoi sua sue
1st pl. nostro nostri nostra nostre
2nd pl. vostro vostri vostra vostre
3rd pl. loro loro loro loro

In most cases the possessive adjective is used with an article, usually the definite article:

Ho perso la mia penna. ("I have lost my pen.")
Mi piace il mio lavoro. ("I like my job.")
Hanno rubato la mia automobile! ("They have stolen my car!")

And with the indefinite article:

Un mio amico mi ha detto che... ("A friend of mine told me that...")
Ho visto una sua foto. ("I have seen a photograph of him/her.")
Luca è un mio amico. ("Luke is a friend of mine.")

The only exception is when the possessive refers to an individual family member, (unless the family member is described or characterized in some way):

Laura è mia sorella ("Laura is my sister.")
Ieri ho visto mia sorella Diana ("I saw my sister Diana yesterday.")
Questa penna è di mia zia. ("This pen is my aunt's.")

But mamma and papà (or babbo, in Central Italy) (mother and father) usually get the article.

For emphasis, however, possessive adjectives are sometimes placed after a noun. This is usually after words like 'colpa' (fault, sin); 'casa' (house, home); 'merito' (merit); 'piacere' (pleasure); or in vocative expressions.

È colpa sua ("It is his/her fault")
Oh dio mio! ("Oh, my god!")
Arrivederci, amico mio! ("Goodbye, my friend!")
Vorresti andare a casa mia? ("Would you like to come over to my house?")

If the antecedent of a third person possessive (being used as an object) is the subject of the sentence, proprio can be used instead of suo,[9] though the usage of proprio is declining in the spoken language[citation needed]:

Marco e Maria hanno discusso di filosofia. Marco ha scelto il proprio punto di vista. ("Marco and Maria discussed about philosophy. Marco took his own point of view.")
Marco e Maria hanno discusso di filosofia. Marco ha scelto il suo punto di vista. ("Marco and Maria discussed about philosophy. Marco took his/her point of view.")

The first sentence is unambiguous and states that Marco took his own point of view, whereas the second sentence is ambiguous because it may mean that Marco took either his own or Maria's point of view.

Demonstrative adjectives[edit]

Italian originally had three degrees of demonstrative adjectives: questo (for items near or related to the first person speaker: English "this"), quello (for items near or related to an eventual third person: English "that"), and codesto (for items near or related to an eventual second person). The usage has undergone a simplification, including the meaning of codesto in quello. Only Tuscan speakers still use codesto. In modern Italian, its use is very rare, and the word has acquired a rather pejorative connotation.

Pronouns[edit]

Italian features a sizeable set of pronouns. Personal pronouns are inflected by person, number and, in the third person, gender. Literary subject pronouns also have a distinction between animate (egli, ella) and inanimate (esso, essa) antecedents, although this is lost in colloquial usage, where lui, lei and loro are used for animate subjects as well as objects, while no specific pronoun is employed for inanimate subjects (if needed, demonstrative pronouns such as "questo" or "quello" may be used).

There is also the uninflected pronoun ciò, which is only used with abstract antecedents.

Personal pronouns are normally dropped in the subject, as the conjugation is usually enough to determine the grammatical person. They are used when some emphasis is needed, e.g. sono italiano ("I am Italian") vs. io sono italiano ("I [specifically, as opposed to others] am Italian").

Personal pronouns
First Person Second Person Third Person
Singular Plural Singular Plural Reflexive Masculine Feminine
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Subject io noi tu voi - egli, esso (lui) essi (loro) ella, essa (lei) esse (loro)
Stressed Object me noi te voi lui loro lei loro
Clitic accusative mi ci ti vi si lo li la le
Clitic dative mi ci ti vi si gli gli, loro le gli, loro
Clitic dat. before acc. me ce te ve se glie- glie- glie- glie-

Notes:

  • 2nd person nominative pronoun is tu for informal. For formal use, the 3rd person form Lei has been used since the Renaissance:[6] it is used like "Sie" in German, "Usted" in Spanish and "você" in Portuguese. Previously, and in some Italian regions today (e.g., Campania), voi is used as a formal singular, as in the French "vous". The pronouns lei (third-person singular) and Lei (second-person singular formal) are pronounced the same but written as shown. Formal Lei and Loro take third-person conjugations. The formal plural person is very rarely used in modern Italian; the unmarked form is widely used instead[10] Lei was originally an object form of ella, which in turn referred to an honorific of the feminine gender such as la magnificenza tua / vostra ("Your Magnificence") or Vossignoria ("Your Lordship").[11] Example: "Gino, Lei è un bravo ingegnere. Marco, Lei è un bravo architetto. Insieme, voi sarete una gran bella squadra" "Gino, you are a good engineer. Marco, you are a good architect. Together, you will be a great good team".
  • Accusative lo and la elide to l' before a vowel or before h: l'avevo detto ("I had said it"), l'ho detto ("I have said it").
  • When accusative pronouns are used in a compound tense, the final vowel of the past participle must agree in gender and number with the accusative pronoun. For example, hai comprato i cocomeri e le mele? ("Did you buy the watermelons and the apples?") - Li [i cocomeri] ho comprati ma non le [le mele] ho comprate ("I bought them [the former] but I did not buy them [the latter]"). This also happens when the underlying pronoun is made opaque by elision: l'ho svegliato ("I woke him up"), versus L'ho svegliata ("I woke her up").
  • In modern Italian, dative gli (to him) is used commonly even as plural (to them) instead of classical loro. So: "Conosci Luca: gli ho sempre detto di stare lontano dalle cattive compagnie" (You know Luca: I have always told him to stay away from bad companies"). And: "Conosci Luca e Gino: gli ho sempre detto..." (...I have always told them...) instead of "... ho sempre detto loro di stare...". It works even in feminine: "Conosci Lucia e Gina: gli ho sempre detto..." instead of more classic "... ho detto loro...".

Clitic pronouns[edit]

Though objects come after the verb as a rule, this is not the case with a class of unstressed, clitic pro-forms.

Dative and accusative pronouns come before the verb. If an auxiliary verb is used, the pronouns come before the auxiliary[citation needed]. If both dative and accusative pronouns are used, the dative comes first. Pronominal particles ce/ci (to it) and ne (of it) are treated like accusative pronouns for word-order purposes.

Note that the clitic ci acts both as a first person plural accusative pronoun and a pro-form with a different meaning.

Examples:

Davide lascia la sua penna in ufficio. (David leaves his pen at the office.)
Davide la lascia in ufficio. (David leaves it at the office.)
Davide ce la lascia. (David leaves it to us. (but also : David leaves it there.))
Davide ce ne lascia una. (David leaves us one of them. (but also [rare]: David leaves one [of them] there.))
Davide potrebbe lasciarcene una. (David might leave us one of them (but also [rare]: David might leave one [of them] there.))
or Davide ce ne potrebbe lasciare una. (exactly the same as above)

(Compare with the similar use of objective pronouns and pro-forms in French and Catalan.)

Finally, in the imperative mood, the objective pronouns come once again after the verb, but this time as a suffix:

Davide lascia la sua penna in ufficio. (David leaves his pen at the office.)
"Lasciala in ufficio!" ("Leave it at the office!")
"Lasciacela!" ("Leave it to us!" also [less common] "Leave it there!")
Davide potrebbe lasciarla in ufficio. (David might leave it at the office.)
"Non lasciarcela!" ("Do not leave it to us!" also [less common] "Do not leave it there!")
Davide dovrebbe lasciarcela. ("David should leave it to us." also [less common] "David should leave it there")
  • Dative mi, ti, ci, and vi become me, te, ce, and ve when preceding another pronoun ("dammelo" (give it to me)) or develop as a me, a te, a noi and a voi when emphasized ("dallo a me" (give it TO ME)).
  • Accusative mi, ti, lo, la, ci, and vi become me, te, lui, lei, noi, and voi when emphasized ("uccidimi" (kill me) against "uccidi me, non lui" (kill me, not him)).
  • Dative gli, le, loro (commonly gli) can be developed into a lui, a lei, a loro, when emphasized ("lo sai solo tu: a loro non l'ho detto" (only you know it: I have not told them))
  • Dative gli combines with accusative lo, la, li, le and ne (partitive, meaning "of it" or "of them") to form glielo, gliela, glieli, gliele and gliene. These combinations are used for feminine and plural too ("Maria lo sa? Gliel'hai detto?" (Does Maria know it? Have you said it to her?)).

Verbs[edit]

Main article: Italian verbs

Italian infinito presente may end by one of these three endings, either -are, -ere, or -ire. Exceptions are also possible fare "to do/make" (from Latin facere), and verbs ending in -urre or -arre, most notably tradurre (Latin traducere) "to translate". Italian grammar does not have distinct forms to indicate specifically verbal aspect, though different verbal inflections and periphrases do render different aspects, in particular the perfective and imperfective aspects and the perfect tense–aspect combination. While the various inflected verbal forms convey a combination of tense (location in time), aspect, and mood, language-specific discussions generally refer to these inflectional forms as "tempi", for this reason it is impossible to make comparisons between the tenses of English verbs and the tempi of Italian verbs as there is no correspondence at all.

Tenses[edit]

Simple tenses[edit]

Tense Italian name Example English equivalent
Indicative Mood
Present indicativo presente faccio I do
I am doing[verbs 1]
Imperfect indicativo imperfetto facevo I did/used to do
I was doing[verbs 2]
Future futuro semplice farò I will do
Preterite passato remoto feci I did (historic)[verbs 3]
Conditional mood
Present condizionale presente farei I would do
Subjunctive mood
Present congiuntivo presente (che) io faccia (that) I do
Imperfect congiuntivo imperfetto (che) io facessi (that) I did/do
Imperative mood
Present imperativo fa'/fai! do! (sing. informal)

Compound tenses[edit]

Tense Italian name Example English equivalent
Indicative Mood
Recent past passato prossimo ho fatto I have done
I did[verbs 4]
Recent pluperfect trapassato prossimo avevo fatto I had done[verbs 5]
Future perfect futuro anteriore avrò fatto I will have done
Remote pluperfect trapassato remoto ebbi fatto I had done[verbs 5]
Conditional mood
Preterite condizionale passato avrei fatto I would have done
Subjunctive mood
Preterite congiuntivo passato (che) io abbia fatto (that) I did
Pluperfect congiuntivo trapassato (che) io avessi fatto (that) I had done

Impersonal forms[edit]

Tense Italian name Example English equivalent
Infinitive
Present infinito presente fare to do
Past infinito passato aver fatto to have done
Gerund
Present gerundio presente facendo doing
Past gerundio passato avendo fatto having done
Participle
Present participio presente facente doing
Past participio passato fatto done

Aspect other than imperfective, aorist (that are rendered by simple tenses) and perfect (that is rendered by compound tenses) are rendered in Italian through periphrastical forms which aren't recognized by the canonical Italian grammar as proper tenses.

Examples
  • Present tense, indicative mood, progressive aspect: io sto facendo (English: I'm doing)
  • Present tense, indicative mood, prospective aspect: io sto per fare (English: I'm about to do)
Notes
  1. ^ Although Italian does have a present continuous tense that is similar to the Present Continuous in English, it is used much less frequently in Italian. The simple present is normally used instead, except when emphasizing the ongoing nature of the action.
  2. ^ As with the present continuous, the past continuous in Italian is not used often, and its use is considered interchangeable in most situations with the imperfetto (imperfect).
  3. ^ The preterite is becoming obsolete in spoken Italian (as in French and High German); instead, the present perfect (ho fatto) is used. It is still used in Southern Italy but becoming less common there, too. It is, however, very common in literature, even modern literature. If there is no reference to the present, as when speaking of the dead, the perfect is proscribed and the preterite must be used.
  4. ^ In modern Italian, the true preterite form (today known as the passato remoto) is used only in literary, historic contexts. The compound forms are used instead.
  5. ^ a b The Trapassato Prossimo (Recent Pluperfect) and the extremely rare Trapassato Remoto (Remote Pluperfect) are separate tenses in Italian though not in English.

Compound tense auxiliary verbs[edit]

In Italian, compound tenses are formed with either auxiliary verb essere ("to be") or avere ("to have").

All transitive verbs use avere as their auxiliary verb. Verbs in the passive voice use essere or venire, with a different meaning:

  • La porta è stata aperta. ("The door has been opened.")
  • La porta viene aperta. ("The door is being opened.")

For intransitive verbs a reliable rule cannot be given, although a useful rule of thumb is that if a verb's past participle can take on adjectival value, essere is used, otherwise avere.[12][13] Also, reflexive verbs and unaccusative verbs use essere (typically non-agentive verbs of motion and change of state, i.e. involuntary actions like cadere ("to fall") or morire ("to die")).[citation needed]

The distinction between the two auxiliary verbs is important for the correct formation of the compound tenses and is essential to the agreement of the past participle. Some verbs use either, though, like vivere ("to live"): Io ho vissuto ("I have lived") can alternatively be expressed as, Io sono vissuto.

Past participle[edit]

The past participle is used in Italian as both an adjective and to form many of the compound tenses of the language. There are regular endings for the past participle, based on the conjugation class (see below). There are, however, many irregular forms as not all verbs follow the pattern, particularly the -ere verbs. Some of the more common irregular past participles include: essere (to be) → stato (same for stare); fare (to do, to make) → fatto; dire (to say, to tell) → detto; aprire (to open) → aperto; chiedere (to ask) → chiesto; chiudere (to close) → chiuso; leggere (to read) → letto; mettere (to put) → messo; perdere (to lose) → perso; prendere (to take, to get) → preso; rispondere (to answer) → risposto; scrivere (to write) → scritto; vedere (to see) → visto.

For the intransitive verbs taking essere, the past participle always agrees with the subject—that is, it follows the usual adjective agreement rules: lui è partito; lei è partita. This is also true for reflexive verbs, the impersonal si construction (which, interestingly, requires any adjectives that refer to it to be in the masculine plural: Si è sempre stanchi alla fine della giornata - One is always tired at the end of the day), and the passive voice, which also use essere (Si è sparato - He shot himself, against Lui ha sparato - He shot).

The past participle when used with avere never changes to agree with the subject. It agrees with the object though, in sentences where a pronoun replacing the object precedes the verb (e.g. Hai mangiato la mela? - Sì, l'ho mangiata (Have you eaten the apple? - Yes, I have eaten it)).

When the pronoun is first or second person, there is optional agreement: Maria! Giovanni ti ha chiamato / chiamata? - No, non mi ha chiamato / chiamata (Maria! Has Giovanni called you? - No, he has not). In relative clauses, the agreement is obsolete: La storia che avete raccontata (obsolete) / raccontato non mi convince (The story you told does not convince me).

Tense relationship in subordinate sentences[edit]

Italian inherits consecutio temporum, a grammar rule from Latin that disciplines the relationship between the tenses in subordinate sentences. Consecutio temporum has very rigid rules. These rules order the subjunctive tense in order to express contemporaneity, posteriority and anteriority in relation with the principal sentence.

  • to express contemporaneity when the principal clause is in a simple tense (future, present, or simple past,) the subordinate clause uses the present subjunctive, to express contemporaneity in the present.
    • Penso che Davide sia intelligente. I think David is smart.
  • when the principal clause has a past imperfect or perfect, the subordinate clause uses the imperfect subjunctive, expressing contemporaneity in the past.
    • Pensavo che Davide fosse intelligente. I thought David was smart.
  • to express anteriority when the principal clause is in a simple tense (Future, or present or passato prossimo) the subordinate clause uses the past subjunctive.
    • Penso che Davide sia stato intelligente. I think David has been smart.
  • to express anteriority when the principal clause has a past imperfect or perfect, the subjunctive has to be pluperfect.
    • Pensavo che Davide fosse stato intelligente. I thought David had been smart.
  • to express posteriority the subordinate clause uses not subjunctive but indicative mood, because the subjunctive has no future tense.
    • Penso che Davide sarà intelligente. I think David will be smart.
  • to express posteriority with respect to a past event, the subordinate clause uses the past conditional, whereas in other European languages (such as French, English, and Spanish) the present conditional is used.
    • Pensavo che Davide sarebbe stato intelligente. I thought that David would have been smart.

Regular conjugations[edit]

The infinitive of first conjugation verbs end in -are, that of second conjugation verbs in -ere, and that of third conjugation verbs in -ire. In the following examples for different moods, the first conjugation verb is parlare (meaning to talk/speak), the second conjugation verb is temere (to fear) and the third conjugation verb is partire (to leave/depart.)

Indicative mood[edit]

Present Preterite Imperfect Simple future
1st Conj. 2nd Conj. 3rd Conj. 1st Conj. 2nd Conj. 3rd Conj. 1st Conj. 2nd Conj. 3rd Conj. 1st Conj. 2nd Conj. 3rd Conj.
io parlo temo parto parlai temetti partii parlavo temevo partivo parlerò temerò partirò
tu parli temi parti parlasti temesti partisti parlavi temevi partivi parlerai temerai partirai
egli parla teme parte parlò temette partì parlava temeva partiva parlerà temerà partirà
noi parliamo temiamo partiamo parlammo tememmo partimmo parlavamo temevamo partivamo parleremo temeremo partiremo
voi parlate temete partite parlaste temeste partiste parlavate temevate partivate parlerete temerete partirete
essi parlano temono partono parlarono temettero partirono parlavano temevano partivano parleranno temeranno partiranno
Recent past = present of avere / essere + past participle Remote pluperfect = preterite of avere / essere + past participle Recent pluperfect = imperfect of avere / essere + past participle Future perfect = simple future of avere / essere + past participle

Some third conjugation verbs such as capire insert -isc- between the stem and the endings in the first, second, and third persons singular and third person plural of the present, e.g., capire -> capisco, capisci, capisce, capiamo, capite, capiscono. It is impossible to tell from the infinitive form which verbs exhibit this phenomenon, which often originated in Latin verbs denoting the "inchoative" aspect of an action, that is, verbs describing the beginning of an action.[6] There are some 500 verbs like this, the first ones in alphabetic order being abbellire, abolire, agire, alleggerire, ammattire and so forth.[14] In some grammatical systems, "isco" verbs are considered a fourth conjugation, often labelled 3b. There are also certain verbs that end in -rre, namely trarre, porre, (con)durre and derived verbs with different prefixes (such as attrarre, comporre, dedurre, and so forth). They are derived from earlier trahere, ponere, ducere and are conjugated as such.

Subjunctive mood[edit]

The Italian subjunctive mood is used to indicate cases of desire, express doubt, make impersonal emotional statements, and to talk about impeding events.

Present Imperfect
1st Conj. 2nd Conj. 3rd Conj. 1st Conj. 2nd Conj. 3rd Conj.
io parli tema parta parlassi temessi partissi
tu parli tema parta parlassi temessi partissi
egli parli tema parta parlasse temesse partisse
noi parliamo temiamo partiamo parlassimo temessimo partissimo
voi parliate temiate partiate parlaste temeste partiste
essi parlino temano partano parlassero temessero partissero
Past = present of avere / essere + past participle Past perfect = imperfect of avere / essere + past participle
  • Third conjugation verbs like capire mentioned above insert -isc- in the first, second, and third persons singular and third person plural of the present.
  • Compound forms (past and past perfect) are made by adding the past participle (e.g. parlato) to the corresponding auxiliary form (as "abbia") in the present and imperfect.

Conditional mood[edit]

Present
1st Conj. 2nd Conj. 3rd Conj.
io parlerei temerei partirei
tu parleresti temeresti partiresti
egli parlerebbe temerebbe partirebbe
noi parleremmo temeremmo partiremmo
voi parlereste temereste partireste
essi parlerebbero temerebbero partirebbero
Past = present of avere / essere + past participle

From the table we can see that the verbs each take their own root, from their class of verb, -are becomes -er-, -ere becomes -er-, and -ire becomes -ir-, the same roots as used in the future indicative tense. Onto this root, all verbs add on the same ending, depending on the conjugation.

Some verbs do not follow this pattern, but take irregular roots, these include: Andare (to go) ~ Andr-, Avere (to have) ~ Avr-, Bere (to drink) ~ Berr-, Dare (to give) ~ Dar-, Dovere (to have to) ~ Dovr-, Essere (to be) ~ Sar-, Fare (to make/do) ~ Far-, Godere (to enjoy) ~ Godr-, Potere (to be able to) ~ Potr-, Rimanere (to remain) ~ Rimarr-, Sapere (to know) ~ Sapr-, Sedere (to sit) ~ Sedr-, Stare (to be/feel) ~ Star-, Tenere (to hold) ~ Terr-, Vedere (to see) ~ Vedr-, Venire (to come) ~ Verr-, Vivere (to live) ~ Vivr-, Volere (to want) ~ Vorr- etc.

The Italian conditional mood is a mood that refers to an action that is possible or likely, but is dependent upon a condition. Example:

Io andrei in spiaggia, ma fa troppo freddo. ("I would go to the beach, but it is too cold.")

It can be used in two tenses, the present, by conjugation of the appropriate noun, or the past, using the auxiliary conjugated in the conditional, with the past participle of the appropriate noun:

Mangerei un sacco adesso, se non stessi cercando di fare colpo su queste ragazze. ("I would eat a lot now, if I were not trying to impress these girls")
Sarei andato in città, se avessi saputo che ci andavano loro. ("I would have gone to the city, if I had known that they were going.")

Many Italian speakers often use imperfect instead of conditional and subjunctive. While incorrect, this is somewhat tolerated in spoken Italian (rarely in written Italian, even if it used to be a correct form in past times):[15]

Se lo sapevo, andavo al spiaggia ("If I had known it, I would have gone to the beach.")
Se Lucia non faceva quel segno, la risposta sarebbe probabilmente stata diversa.[16] ("If Lucia had not made that sign, the answer would probably have been different.")

The conditional can also be used in Italian to express "could", with the conjugated forms of potere ("to be able to"), "should", with the conjugated forms of dovere ("to have to"), or "would like", with the conjugated forms of "volere" (want):

[Lui] potrebbe leggere un libro. ("He could read a book.")
[Loro] dovrebbero andare a letto. ("They should go to bed.")
Vorrei un bicchiere d'acqua, perfavore. ("I would like a glass of water, please.")

Imperative mood[edit]

1st Conj. 2nd Conj. 3rd Conj.
(tu) parla! temi! parti!
(Lei) parli! tema! parta!
(noi) parliamo! temiamo! partiamo!
(voi) parlate! temete! partite!
(essi) parlino! temano! partano!

Verbs like capire insert -isc- in all except the noi and voi forms. Technically, the only real imperative forms are the 2nd persons singular and plural, with the other persons being borrowed from the present subjunctive.

Non-finite forms[edit]

  • Infinitive: present: -are, -ere, -ire; past: avere/essere + past participle
  • Gerund: present: -ando, -endo, -endo; past: avendo/essendo + past participle
  • Participle: present: -ante -ente -ente; past: -ato, -uto (though verbs of the second conjugation almost always have a contracted desinence, e.g. "cuocere" (to cook) "cotto" (cooked)), -ito

Irregular verbs[edit]

While the majority of Italian verbs are regular, many of the most commonly used ones are irregular. In particular, the auxiliary verbs essere and avere, and the common modal verbs potere (ability, to be able to), dovere (duty, to have to), sapere (knowledge, to know how to) and volere (will, to want to) are all irregular. Many of the irregularities are accounted for by the substance of Latin grammar; in Latin the verb had four principal parts, of which the third and fourth (perfect stem and perfect passive participle) were formed regularly from the present stem only in the first and second conjugations, whereas in the third and fourth (in -ere with short e and in -ire) the presence of the i on the stem caused a mutation of the following consonants and made irregularities at a very early stage of the language.

The first conjugation has the majority of regular verbs (except "andare" (to go), "fare" (to do, to make (from third Latin conjugation)), "dare" (to give) and "stare" (to stay), which are strongly irregular). Almost every new verb (as neologism) enters in first conjugation (e.g. formattare (to format) is of first conjugation and perfectly regular).

The second conjugation is usually irregular. The few regulars are from Latin second conjugation: like "temere" (to fear), "godere" (to enjoy)... The majority is from Latin third conjugation. Most of these have developed irregularities in Italian.

The third conjugation (deriving from Latin fourth conjugation) has two different ways: Greek one (or incohative) with insertion of -sc-, "capire" (to understand), "io capisco" (I understand), and Latin one with no insertion, "sentire" (to feel), "io sento" (I feel). There are some irregulars, but not too many: example, "morire" (to die), "io muoio" (I die). The verb "dire" (to say, to tell) derives from Latin third conjugation, and is strongly irregular.

Most verbs of the second conjugation are irregular in the passato remoto (preterite) tense, which resembles the Latin perfect.

essere (to be; an auxiliary)
Indicative Subjunctive Conditional
Present Preterite Imperfect Future Present Imperfect
io sono fui ero sarò sia fossi sarei
tu sei fosti eri sarai sia fossi saresti
egli è fu era sarà sia fosse sarebbe
noi siamo fummo eravamo saremo siamo fossimo saremmo
voi siete foste eravate sarete siate foste sareste
essi sono furono erano saranno siano fossero sarebbero
avere (to have; an auxiliary)
Indicative Subjunctive Conditional
Present Preterite Imperfect Future Present Imperfect
io ho ebbi avevo avrò abbia avessi avrei
tu hai avesti avevi avrai abbia avessi avresti
egli ha ebbe aveva avrà abbia avesse avrebbe
noi abbiamo avemmo avevamo avremo abbiamo avessimo avremmo
voi avete aveste avevate avrete abbiate aveste avreste
essi hanno ebbero avevano avranno abbiano avessero avrebbero
potere (to be able to, can, could; a modal)
Indicative Subjunctive Conditional
Present Preterite Imperfect Future Present Imperfect
io posso potei potevo potrò possa potessi potrei
tu puoi potesti potevi potrai possa potessi potresti
egli può poté poteva potrà possa potesse potrebbe
noi possiamo potemmo potevamo potremo possiamo potessimo potremmo
voi potete poteste potevate potrete possiate poteste potreste
essi possono poterono potevano potranno possano potessero potrebbero
dovere (to have to, must, should; a modal)
Indicative Subjunctive Conditional
Present Preterite Imperfect Future Present Imperfect
io devo/debbo dovetti dovevo dovrò debba dovessi dovrei
tu devi dovesti dovevi dovrai debba dovessi dovresti
egli deve dovette doveva dovrà debba dovesse dovrebbe
noi dobbiamo dovemmo dovevamo dovremo dobbiamo dovessimo dovremmo
voi dovete doveste dovevate dovrete dobbiate doveste dovreste
essi devono/debbono dovettero dovevano dovranno debbano dovessero dovrebbero
volere (to want, will, would); a modal)
Indicative Subjunctive Conditional
Present Preterite Imperfect Future Present Imperfect
io voglio volli volevo vorrò voglia volessi vorrei
tu vuoi volesti volevi vorrai voglia volessi vorresti
egli vuole volle voleva vorrà voglia volesse vorrebbe
noi vogliamo volemmo volevamo vorremo vogliamo volessimo vorremmo
voi volete voleste volevate vorrete vogliate voleste vorreste
essi vogliono vollero volevano vorranno vogliano volessero vorrebbero

Adverbs[edit]

An adjective can be made into a modal adverb by adding -mente (from Latin "mente", ablative of "mens" (mind), feminine noun) to the ending of the feminine singular form of the adjective. E.g. lenta "slow (feminine)" becomes lentamente "slowly". Adjectives ending in -re or -le lose their e before adding -mente (facile "easy" becomes facilmente "easily", particolare "particular" becomes particolarmente "particularly").

These adverbs can also be derived from the absolute superlative form of adjectives, e.g. lentissimamente ("very slowly"), facilissimamente ("very easily").

There is also a plethora of temporal, local, modal and interrogative adverbs, mostly derived from Latin, e.g. quando ("when"), dove ("where"), come ("how"), perché ("why"/"because"), mai ("never"), sempre ("always"), etc.

Prepositions[edit]

Italian has a closed class of basic prepositions, to which a number of adverbs can be added that also double as prepositions, e.g.: sopra il tavolo ("upon the table"), prima di adesso ("before now").

In modern Italian the prepositions tra and fra are interchangeable, and often chosen on the basis of euphony: tra fratelli ("among brothers") vs. fra i tralicci ("between the power pylons").

All the basic prepositions except tra, fra, per and con have to be combined with an article placed next to them.

Italian English Preposition + article
di of, from del, dello, della, dell' / dei, degli, delle
a to, at al, allo, alla, all' / ai, agli, alle
da from, by dal, dallo, dalla, dall' / dai, dagli, dalle
in in nel, nello, nella, nell' / nei, negli, nelle
con with con il or col, con lo, con la, con l' / con i or coi, con gli, con le
su on, about sul, sullo, sulla, sull' / sui, sugli, sulle
per for, through per il, per lo, per la, per l' / per i, per gli, per le
tra / fra between, among tra il, tra lo, tra la, tra l' / tra i, tra gli, tra le

Sentences and word order[edit]

Italian is an SVO language. Nevertheless, the SVO sequence is sometimes replaced by one of the other arrangements (SOV, VSO, OVS, etc.), especially for reasons of emphasis and, in literature, for reasons of style and metre: Italian has a relatively free word order.

The subject is usually omitted when it is a pronoun – distinctive verb conjugations make it redundant. Subject pronouns are considered emphatic when used at all.

Questions are formed by a rising intonation at the end of the sentence (in written form, a question mark). There is usually no other special marker, although wh-movement does usually occur. In general, intonation and context are important to recognize questions from affirmative statements.

Davide è arrivato in ufficio. (David has arrived at the office.)
Davide è arrivato in ufficio? (Has David arrived at the office?)
Perché Davide è arrivato in ufficio? (Why has David arrived at the office?)
Perché Davide è arrivato in ufficio. (Because David has arrived at the office.)
È arrivato Davide in ufficio. ("It was David who arrived at the office" or "David arrived at the office" - depending on the intonation)
È arrivato Davide in ufficio? (Has David, in particular, arrived at the office?)
È arrivato in ufficio. (He has arrived at the office.)
(Egli) È arrivato in ufficio. (He has arrived at the office.)
Chi è arrivato in ufficio? (Who has arrived at the office?)

In general, adjectives come after the noun they modify, adverbs after the verb. But: as with French, adjectives coming before the noun indicate essential quality of the noun. Demonstratives (e.g. questo this, quello that) come before the noun, and a few particular adjectives (e.g. bello) may be inflected like demonstratives and placed before the noun.

Disputed points in Italian grammar[edit]

Among the deprecated Italian grammar uses are:

  • in spoken informal or dialectal language, the usage of an indicative form where a subjunctive one is prescribed. For Instance: credo che Giorgio ieri fosse a casa ("I believe that yesterday George was at home") is right, credo che Giorgio ieri era a casa is deprecated; se Maria fosse stata a casa, le avrei telefonato ("if Mary had been at home, I would have telephoned her") is preferred by prescriptive grammars, se Maria era a casa le telefonavo is deprecated, even if it is an old usage, found in classic Italian writers.
  • the nominative third person pronouns (egli, ella, essi) and the courtesy form (Ella) are being replaced by their accusative forms (lui, lei, loro and Lei).

Italian grammar books[edit]

The first Italian grammar was printed by Giovanni Francesco Fortunio in 1516 with the title Regole grammaticali della volgar lingua.[17] Ever since, several Italian and foreign scholars have published works devoted to its description. Among others may be mentioned the famous Grammatica storica della lingua italiana e dei suoi dialetti written by the philologist Gerhard Rohlfs, published at the end of the 1960s.

Among the most modern publications are those by Luca Serianni, in collaboration with Alberto Castelvecchi, Grammatica italiana. Suoni, forme, costrutti (Utet, Torino, 1998); and by Lorenzo Renzi, Giampaolo Salvi and Anna Cardinaletti, Grande grammatica italiana di consultazione (3 vol., Bologna, Il Mulino, 1988-1995).

References[edit]

External links[edit]