Welcome to the Italian course! Remember that you can click on the words to see tips of possible translations.
The subject pronouns in Italian are:
The verb is always conjugated to match the subject, and the subject is only specified for clarity or emphasis.
Articles have to match gender and number of the noun they refer to.
The singular determinate articles (the) are:
The indeterminate articles (a/an) are:
The plural definite articles (the) are:
When some prepositions are followed by a definite article they merge into a single word.
The compounds formed by con and per are archaic and literary, with the exception of col (con + il) for which the contraction is optional.
In this section you'll use negations for the first time.
The English no has two main uses:
The English not almost always translates to the Italian non. However, while not often follows the verb it negates or its auxiliary, the Italian non always precedes it.
Italian has three ways to express the presence of an ingredient in the name of a dish:
When there is no room for confusion the three can occasionally be mixed up, e.g. "panino al salame" is as common as "panino con salame"; however, in many cases using one instead of the other can give hints on the dish's composition.
In this section you'll meet the first proper questions. In Italian word order doesn't change in a question, meaning that the question mark at the end and the raising tone of voice are usually the only differences between a question and a statement.
It's important to keep in mind that the English idiom of "having food" being synonymous with "eating food" doesn't apply to Italian, where "avere cibo" simply means owning food.
You already met some noun variations in gender and number in the past lessons.
The most common noun classes in Italian are the following:
Italian possessives are in the form definite article (il, la, i, le) + possessive adjective. They agree with the gender and number of the thing they describe:
il mio cane My dog ("Cane" is masculine singular, so we use "il" and "mio.")
la mia pizza My pizza ("Pizza" is feminine singular, so we use "la" and "mia.")
Even though in English the possessive in the third person (his, her, its) varies based on the owner, remember that in Italian the gender and number are determined by the thing being owned:
il cane di Giulia > il suo cane ("Cane" is masculine, so we use the masculine, even though it is her dog.)
In Italian an article is almost always mandatory before a possessive. The exceptions are:
Possessive pronouns (possessives acting as a noun) are formed using the definite article and the possessive. They agree with the object they describe, even if it is not explicitly mentioned in the sentence:
Dov'è la tua macchina? La mia è qui. Where is your car? Mine is here. (It is understood that "la mia" refers to my car, so it is feminine.)
In this section you'll learn some common verbs; let's have a look at the "tough" ones.
Both verbs translate the English "to know": that means that while the difference is obvious to speakers of other languages (e.g. German kennen vs wissen, Spanish conocer vs saber, Latin cognoscere vs sapere), it might be particularly hard for native English speakers.
This is the first verb you'll meet with a different transitiveness compared to English: it means "to like" but the one being liked is the subject! Again, this is something that speakers of other languages might be familiar with (e.g. German gefällt mir, Spanish me gusta, Latin placet mihi):
Note that contrary to Spanish the indirect object doesn't need a reinforcement (A Julieta le gusta Romeo), and instead using one is often regarded as a grammar mistake.
Most adjectives (like colors) in Italian have a masculine singular ending in either -O or -E. The ones that end in -O have separate feminine and masculine forms. Take for example "rosso":
il libro rosso / la camicia rossa / i libri rossi / le camicie rosse
Adjectives ending in E only have two forms: singular (-E) and plural (-I). They don't distinguish between masculine and feminine. "Verde" works this way:
il libro verde / la camicia verde / i libri verdi / le camicie verdi
With colors, certain words don't change at all (in the dictionary you'll see them called "invariable") because they are nouns, not adjectives. "Rosa" is an example of this, because it is the word for "rose":
il libro rosa / la camicia rosa / i libri rosa / le camicie rosa
Before a vowel (A, E, I, O, U), the conjunctions "e" and "o" and the preposition "a" may add a D (ed, od, ad). In current Italian grammar, this is optional, but is advised if the word following begins with the same letter (ed Elena, od olio, ad Alessandria). "Od" is used almost exclusively with words beginning with O, but you will see the others before other vowels ("ed io," for example).
Prepositions, just like in English, don't always make sense. For example, things that in English are in something, in Italian may be at something. It very much depends on context, and/or on the verb that precedes them (again, just like in English). However, you'll find that most of the time English and Italian are not that different after all!
The main prepositions are di, a, da, in, con, su, per, tra, fra.
Tra and fra both mean between, or among, and they're almost completely interchangeable nowadays. However, it's better not to use tra before a tr sound, or fra before a fr sound.
They can also mean in, when talking about time:
The main difference between English and Italian, however, is that some Italian prepositions have to be combined with the article the whenever it ends up next to them. As you can see, di and in change into de- and ne- respectively, but the rest are quite predictable!
|da||from, by, since||dal||dallo||dalla||dall'||dai||dagli||dalle|
|con||with||con il, col||con lo||con la||con l'||con i, coi||con gli||con le|
|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|
There are three ways to specify an occupation in Italian:
Like you saw with colors, most adjectives in Italian have masculine singular endings with either -O or -E. Adjectives ending in -O (like "alto") have four different forms:
-O (masculine singular) / -A (feminine singular) / -I (masculine plural) / -E (feminine plural)
Adjectives ending with -E (like "nazionale") only have two forms:
-E (masculine AND feminine singular) / -I (masculine AND feminine plural)
Most adjectives are placed AFTER the word they describe, for example: l'uomo alto
Some adjectives, such as those that describe size (grande/piccolo), quality (bello/bravo/cattivo) or age (giovane/vecchio/nuovo) can come before the thing they describe: una brava ragazza.
The verb "mancare," when referring to people, works like "piacere": the indirect object misses the subject.
Io (subject) non le (indirect object) manco.
She does not miss me.
In this section, you will see several different types of object pronouns: 1) direct objects, 2) indirect objects, 3) objects of preposition, 4) reflexive pronouns, 5) the passive “si,” and 5) ci and ne.
1) Direct objects
A direct object receives the action of the verb and answers the question, “What?” For example:
We can ask, “What do I see?” and answer “The girl.” So “la ragazza” is our direct object.
Just like how in English we can replace “the girl” with the pronoun “her,” in Italian we can replace direct objects with pronouns. The direct object pronouns are the following:
|1st person singular (me)||mi||1st person plural (us)||ci|
|2nd person singular (you)||ti||2nd person plural (you)||vi|
|3rd person singular (him, her, formal you)||lo, la, La||3rd person plural (them)||li, le|
Usually these pronouns come before your verb. So the sentence “Vedo la ragazza” becomes “La vedo” (I see her).
Sometimes pronouns are put after the verb for emphasis, and then use a different set of pronouns, called tonic pronouns:
|1st person singular (me)||me||1st person plural (us)||noi|
|2nd person singular (you)||te||2nd person plural (you)||voi|
|3rd person singular (him, her, formal you)||lui, lei, Lei||3rd person plural (them)||loro|
Except for “me” and “te,” these are the same forms as the subject pronouns. Going back to “Vedo la ragazza,” we can say “Vedo lei,” if we want to emphasize that it is her (not someone else).
2) Indirect objects
Like direct objects answer the question “What?” indirect objects usually answer the question “To whom?” or “For whom?” For example:
“My sister” answers the question, “To whom do I write?” so “mia sorella” is the indirect object.
The indirect object pronouns look like the direct object pronouns, except the third person:
|1st person singular (to me)||mi||1st person plural (to us)||ci|
|2nd person singular (to you)||ti||2nd person plural (to you)||vi|
|3rd person singular (to him, her, formal you)||gli, le, Le||3rd person plural (to them)||gli|
Like the direct object pronouns, these typically come before the verb:
You can also use the tonic pronouns (see above) after the verb for emphasis or clarification, but with the indirect object, “a” is required:
The only exception is “loro,” which does not require “a”:
3) Objects of preposition
After a preposition (for example, “con,” “di,” “per”), you should use a tonic pronoun (see above):
4) Reflexive pronouns
In Italian, some verbs are reflexive, meaning that the person doing the action does it to him or herself. Examples of this would be “mettersi” (to put a piece of clothing on), “chiamarsi” (literally “to call oneself”), and “sentirsi” (to feel). In the dictionary, you may notice that the infinitive has “si” on the end to show the verb is reflexive.
Reflexive verbs have their own pronouns:
|lui, lei, Lei||si||loro||si|
These pronouns match the verb (“mi” with the “io” form, “ti” with “tu,” etc.) and are usually placed before the verb:
5) The passive “si” (si passivante)
We use the passive or impersonal “si” when we don't want to state who exactly did the action. This can be translated in different ways in English. For example:
This could be translated as: In Italy, pizza is eaten, In Italy, you (in general) eat pizza, In Italy, one eats pizza, In Italy, they (in general) eat pizza, among other things. The important thing to remember is that this action is not being done by any specific person.
To form this, use “si” and a verb in the third person (the form for lui/lei or loro). If there is an object after the verb, the verb agrees with the object. So we say:
If there is no object, the verb is singular:
For reflexive verbs, you add “ci” before “si”:
6) Ci and ne
“Ci” and “ne” replace prepositional phrases. “Ci” replaces “in” or “a” and their object:
“Ne” replaces “di” and its object:
To express a person's age, Italian offers the choice of either a number or an adjective:
Alongside numbers, in this section you'll learn how to express the time of day: in Italian it is always expressed as a hour number, e.g.
The most common format is in multiples of 24 hours, but it's also possible to express it in multiples of 12, in which case to avoid confusion it could be necessary to specify the period of day:
Minutes are expressed as additions (e) or subtractions (meno):
The Italian passato prossimo (near past tense) is very similar, in form and definition, to the English present perfect: however, there are some important differences to keep in mind.
In many cases the choice of auxiliary differs between English and Italian.
The past participle is a verbal adjective, and as such can be declined in gender and number.
Andrea li ha letti. Andrea has read them.
Antonio mi ha chiamata. OR Antonio mi ha chiamato. Antonio called me. (For a feminine "me.")
Giulia non è venuta. Giulia didn't come.
The Italian infinitive has many uses.
As a rule, when the subject of a subordinate sentence is the same as the one of the main sentence, the subordinate should be "shortened" into an infinitive proposition: but in many cases the same happens for subordinates referring to the object of the main sentence, or acting as its object.
There is no clear-cut rule of which preposition to use before each infinitive, and sometimes synonyms require different ones, and the same verb might require a different preposition when used reflexively.
The verbs that can be followed directly by an infinitive are:
Most verbs need a preposition before the infinitive:
The infinitive subordinate can also be introduced by other sentence elements for different effects, and in this case the prepositions are more loosely related to the main sentence:
The imperative (commands) is used for giving instructions or orders. In this section, you will find commands for tu, voi, Lei, and noi. These are all formed in slightly different ways.
For affirmative commands for "tu," you use the 3rd person singular (the form for lui or lei) in the present for verbs with -ARE and the normal second person (tu) for -ERE and -IRE.
With affirmative commands with "tu," pronouns are placed at the end of the verb:
For negative commands for "tu," you use the infinitive:
With negative commands, pronouns can be placed either before or on the end of the verb:
When attached to the end, the final E of the infinitive is dropped.
2) Voi and Noi
Forming commands with "voi" and "noi" is easy - you just use the normal present tense form!
Chiamate! Non chiamate! Call! Don't call!
Chiamiamo! Non chiamiamo! Let's call! Let's not call!
When adding pronouns to these commands, follow the same rules as with "tu" commands:
Affirmative: Chiamatemi! Chiamiamoci! Call me! Let's call each other!
Negative: Non mi chiamate! / Non chiamatemi! Non ci chiamiamo! / Non chiamiamoci!
Formal commands with "Lei" use the present subjunctive. You will learn the other forms of the subjunctive mood later. For now, the regular endings for Lei are:
Words with an irregular "io" form will use that one as the stem for the formal imperative. For example:
Fare --> (io) faccio --> (Lei) faccia!
For the formal imperative, pronouns are always placed before the verb:
The imperfect tense (l’imperfetto) is another past tense in Italian. Unlike the passato prossimo, which is used for defined actions in the past, the imperfect is used for actions without a set starting and ending point.
The imperfect has three primary uses:
Paolo era alto. Paolo was tall.
Il bambino aveva due anni. The child was two years old.
Quando ero piccola, andavamo sempre al mare. When I was little, we always went to the beach.
Parlavo con mia madre quando ha suonato il telefono. I was talking to my mother when the phone rang.
Because English does not have an imperfect tense, we can use a variety of different structures to translate it. Consider the following paragraph:
When I was a kid, I always wanted to be an artist. I used to draw pictures every day. I would take out my markers and I would color all afternoon.
In Italian, all of the phrases in bold would be in the imperfect. We must remember, then, that there is not a one-to-one correspondence to a certain structure in English. Likewise, when we see the simple past (“went,” for example), only context can tell us which Italian past tense is appropriate.
Because of this, it can sometimes be hard for English speakers to know when to use the imperfect and when to use the passato prossimo. Apart from being used in a similar way to the English present perfect (“have gone,” for example), the passato prossimo is used for completed actions in the past tied to a specific point in time or a specific length of time. We use the imperfect for the midpoint of an action, but the passato prossimo for the beginning or end.
Consider these sentences:
In this case, I went to the dentist once, and this is a completed action.
In contrast, we can say:
Here, going to the dentist is a repeated, habitual action. It does not have a clear ending or starting point.
We could also say:
In this case, we have two actions. One, “andavo” (I was going), is an ongoing action (an action in progress), so we use the imperfect. The other, “ho visto” (I saw), is a complete action, confined to this set moment in time, so we use the passato prossimo.
The past perfect (or pluperfect) in Italian is used very similarly to the past perfect in English (had been, had gone, had wanted, etc.).
Like in English, the past perfect is formed by a helping verb and a past participle. For example:
Avevo mangiato la pasta. I had eaten the pasta.
Erano stati a Roma. They had been to Rome.
As you can see, for the helping verb, you must choose between essere and avere. The rules for choosing the verb and agreement are the same as in the present perfect. The only difference is that the helping verb is in the imperfect.
You may note when dealing with body parts that many have irregular plural forms. Some masculine words ending in -O in the singular (braccio, labbro, ginocchio, dito) become feminine in the plural and have the ending -A:
il braccio - le braccia
"Orecchio" is also an exception and uses the feminine for the plural, but with the normal feminine plural ending -E:
l'orecchio - le orecchie
The future tense, or futuro semplice, is quite simple for the most part, but there are a few irregularities.
Some verbs lose the vowel before the last r.
Among these verbs, those that would end in -nr- or -lr- end in -rr- instead.
Finally, stare, dare and fare mantain their -ar- (io starò, io darò, io farò ), while essere changes its root altogether (sa- ).
|lui, lei, Lei||amerà||crederà||capirà|
|some irregular verbs||ESSERE||AVERE||VEDERE|
|lui, lei, Lei||sarà||avrà||vedrà|
The future perfect in Italian is formed using the future tense of “avere” (avrò, avrai, avrà, etc.) or “essere” (sarò, sarai, sarà, etc.) followed by the past participle of the verb (-ato, -uto, -ito). Agreement for the participles and the use of “avere” or “essere” follows the same rules as the present perfect (passato prossimo) and all other perfect tenses.
Though the Italian future perfect can be translated as the future perfect in English (for example, “will have played”), there are a couple of unique uses of the future perfect in Italian.
One of these is the conjectural future tense. In Italian, the future and future perfect are used to express a conjecture about something in the present or the past, respectively. For statements, this can often be translated as “must” (in the future) or “must have” (in the future perfect):
Marta avrà voluto un gatto. = Marta must have wanted a cat.
For questions, one can express conjecture in English with “could,” “can,” “might,” etc.:
Chi l’avrà preso? = Who can have taken it?
You may also note that Italian uses the future or future perfect in some adverbial clauses (after “quando,” for example) referring to an action in the future, where English prefers the present or present perfect. For example:
Quando avrò finito i compiti, ti chiamerò. = When I have finished my homework, I will call you.
The subjunctive is a grammatical mood used to express doubt, emotion, wishes, orders, or opinions. In other words, it doesn't refer to facts or actual events, but to feelings or situations that are uncertain or simply not yet verifiable. Mastering the subjunctive is a great way to impress native speakers with your Italian, mostly because even native speakers get it wrong sometimes! Don't worry though, it's only a matter of getting used to it.
This mood can be found in English as well (that you be... if I were...), and in Italian it's often introduced by the conjunction che (that ), but not necessarily. Here are some examples:
Also, the conjunctions nonostante, sebbene, malgrado and benché (= even though) always trigger the subjunctive. Many native speakers often ignore this rule, but still...
Finally, regular verbs follow this pattern:
|lui, lei, Lei||-i||-a||-a/-isca|
|(che) lui, lei, Lei||parli||veda||parta||capisca|
The conditional is another grammatical mood, and simply put, it's the Italian equivalent of the English verbs would, could, might and should.
Lo farei solo per te. = I would do it only for you.
Lei potrebbe leggere un libro. = She could/might read a book.
Tu dovresti essere qui. = You should be here.
So, in Italian instead of could and might you use the conditional of the verb potere (can, to be able to ), instead of should you use the conditional of dovere (must ), and instead of would... you just use the conditional, because there's no need for an additional verb.
The conditional is formed by taking the root of the future tense, and adding these endings:
|lui, lei, Lei||amerebbe||vedrebbe||capirebbe|
The conditional perfect is formed using the present conditional form of avere or essere and the past participle. It follows the same rules as the other perfect tenses (present perfect, past perfect, etc.) to determine whether to use "avere" or "essere" and the gender and number of the participle.
The conditional perfect can often be used in the same way as the conditional perfect in English ("would have __").
One exception is that in Italian the conditional perfect is preferred when talking about the future from the point of view of the past, where English prefers the present conditional ("would __"). For example, for a sentence like, "You said you would arrive at seven," a good translation would be, "Hai detto che saresti arrivato alle sette" (literally "you would have arrived").
The imperfect subjunctive is used in similar situations to the present subjunctive (wishes, hopes, emotions, doubts, orders, etc.), but is set off by a verb in the past.
When preceded by a past tense verb, the imperfect subjunctive indicates an action occurring at the same time or after the main verb.
Volevo che fosse vero. I wanted it to be true.
Non credevamo che Anna avesse paura. We didn't believe that Anna was afraid.
Occasionally you will see the imperfect subjunctive following a present tense verb to show an action occurring before the main verb:
Another use of the imperfect subjunctive is in "if" statements. You use the imperfect subjunctive after se when referring to a hypothetical situation. Sometimes these are called "contrary-to-fact" statements, because they describe something different from reality. In these cases, the imperfect subjunctive is paired with the conditional.
Se fossi miliardaria, comprerei un castello. If I were a billionaire, I would buy a castle.
Se i cani parlassero, cosa direbbero di noi? If dogs talked, what would they say about us?
We may notice that in English we also use a past tense for these hypothetical statements. We just have to remember to use the past subjunctive in Italian.
|lui, lei, Lei||-asse||-esse||-isse|
|(che) lui, lei, Lei||parlasse||vedesse||capisse|
Unlike the imperfetto, which refers to continuous or habitual actions in the past, the passato remoto is a tense that indicates a single action that was completed a long time ago. This tense presents lots of irregularities, and some verbs even have multiple correct conjugations. In fact, even native speakers find this tense a bit difficult sometimes, and that's probably why in the spoken language the passato remoto is often replaced by the passato prossimo (ho mangiato, ho bevuto...), which is easier and far more regular. Oddly enough, in southern Italy the exact opposite tends to happen: for some reason many southerners often prefer to use the passato remoto, even when talking about recent events.
So, why learn the passato remoto?
Just because many native speakers try to avoid it, it doesn't mean they never use it! Some verbs in particular are very common and very easy to learn.
It's without a doubt the most common tense in Italian literature, where events usually take place at some indefinite point in time, or in the distant past from the narrator's point of view.
It will definitely take your Italian skills to the next level!
Here's an example with three different past tenses:
Lui mi diede un consiglio. [passato remoto] = He gave me advice. Once, a long time ago.
Lui mi ha dato un consiglio. [passato prossimo] = He gave me advice. Once, maybe recently.
Lui mi dava consigli. [imperfetto] = He gave me advice, for a period of time. / He used to give me advice.
|lui, lei, Lei||parlò||ricevé/ette||partì|
|some irregular conjugations||ESSERE||AVERE||DIRE|
|lui, lei, Lei||fu||ebbe||disse|
You might be wondering, "how should I learn all those other irregular forms outside of Duolingo?" The same way native speakers do: through exposure, and mostly through reading! Luckily, many irregular verbs share the same patterns.