In English, an infinitive is always preceded by to (to be, to do, and to read).
In its infinitive form, a verb has no subject and isn’t conjugated.
When you discover a new verb in Italian, you realize this “raw” form.
To use the verb effectively, you need to understand the rules of conjugation.
What is conjugation?
In Italian a verb is recognizable from the last three letters that it takes in the infinitive (the infinitive is the form used in dictionary entries):
There are 3 of this conjugations:
- 1st conjugation of verbs ending in -are as parl-are (to speak)
- 2nd conjugation of verbs ending in -ere as cred-ere (to believe)
- 3rd conjugation of verbs ending in -ire as dorm–ire (to sleep)
Each verb has an invariable part (the stem), which carries its meaning, and an inflected part (the ending) which identifies the person, the tense, the mood, and other features.
Stems are essential because they are the structures to which you attach the different verb endings of the different tenses.
To conjugate verbs, you need to know who or what the subject is.
The subject tells you what to add to the verb stem, which you get by removing the –are, –ere, or –ire.
→ For example, the stem of parlare is parl-.
To this stem, you add endings based on the subject.
Each subject calls for a specific ending.
→ For example in the present tense:
Io (I) means that you add an -o to the verb stem: Io parlo, (I speak).
Noi (we) gets the ending -iamo, as in Noi parliamo (We eat).
Although in English you can’t use a verb without naming the subject, in Italian, the endings tell you what the subject is.
In a sense, the subject pronouns are redundant in Italian.
Regular verbs do not change their stems or roots so the stem remains the same when conjugated.
Irregular verbs change their stems so it may change form once it has been conjugated.
They don’t follow a pattern of standard endings. Therefore, you need to memorize them.
Most irregular verbs belong to the second conjugation.
The Anatomy of a Verb
|Conjugation||Infinitive||Verb in English||Stem||Infinitive Ending|
Regular -are verbs
Verbs of the first conjugation end in -are and are the most common verbs in Italian.
In regular -are verbs, the person, or subject is indicated by the ending, which is added to the stem.
To use an -are verb, first, you remove the letters –are from the infinitive, which leaves you with the stem:
infinitive → parlare
stem: → parl-
To the stem, you add the ending (-o, -i, -a, -iamo, -ate, or -ano) that reflects the subject (io, tu, lui, lei, Lei, noi, voi, loro) (example of ending for the present tense)
Common regular -are verbs
- abitare (to live)
- amare (to love)
- ballare (to dance)
- cambiare (to change)
- cantare (to sing)
- compare (to buy)
- domandare (to ask a question)
- giocare (to play a sport or game) (adds -h- in the tu and noi forms)
- guardare (to look at)
- lasciare (to leave)
- mangiare (to eat) (drops the -i- in the tu and noi forms)
- pagare (to pay) (adds -h- in the tu and noi forms)
- studiare (to study) (drops the -i- in the tu and noi forms)
- suonare (to play an instrument)
- trovare (to find)
Where to place the stress of a conjugated -ARE verb?
When pronouncing all forms of the verbs, note that—except for noi and voi — stress should be placed on the stem of the verb, not the ending. Although there are exceptions, this is particularly helpful to recall when you’re pronouncing the third-person plural (loro).
Regular -ere verbs
Verbs of the second conjugation end in -ere.
This is the second largest category of Italian verbs.
In regular -ere verbs, the person, or subject, is indicated by the ending, which is added to the stem.
To use an -ere verb, first, you remove the letters –ere from the infinitive, which leaves you with the stem:
infinitive → leggere
stem: → legg-
The stress pattern in -ere verbs can be of two types.
In the infinitive form, some verbs have the stress on the penultimate syllable (vedere,temere) similar to the -are verbs, but most have the stress on the stem (vendere, prendere, spendere), or the third-to-last syllable.
Common regular -ere verbs
- accendere (to light)
- cadere (to fail)
- chiedere (to ask)
- chiudere (to close)
- credere (to believe)
- leggere (to read)
- mettere (to put)
- prendere (to have/to take)
- riceveer (to receive)
- ripetere (to repeat)
- rispondere (to aswer)
- scendere (to go down)
- scrivere (to write)
- spendere (to spend)
- vedere (to sea)
- vincere ( to win)
- vivere (to live)
Regular -ire verbs
Verbs of the third conjugation end in -ire.
In regular -ire verbs, the person, or subject, is indicated by the ending, which is added to the stem.
To use an -ire verb, first, you remove the letters –ire from the infinitive, which leaves you with the stem:
infinitive → dormire
stem: → dorm-
There are two groups of –ire verbs.
The first group follows conjugation rules (for the present tense) that are similar to those for the –ere verbs except for the voi form.
♦ dormire (to sleep)
- (io) dorm-o
- (tu) dorm-i
- (lei/lui) dorm-e
- (noi) dorm-iamo
- (voi) dorm-ite
- (loro) dorm-ono
The second is known as an”isc” verb because all the conjugated forms, except for noi and voi, insert the letters isc between the stem and the endings.
Group of IRE verb with –isc adds
This group of the –ire verbs that adds -isc between the stem and the ending in first, second, and third-person singular and third-person plural. Most verbs of this type (capire, finire, ferire, preferire, pulire) tend to have one consonant and vowel just before the -ire ending.
How do you know which verbs take “isc” in their conjugation?
You don’t. You have to refer to the dictionary, which shows the conjugation right after the infinitive.
Common type 1 -ire verbs
- aprire to open
- dormire (to sleep)
- fuggire (to escape)
- offrire (to offer)
- partire to depart
- seguire to follow
- sentire to hear
Common type 2 -ire verbs
- capire (to understand)
- finire (to finish)
- preferire (to prefer)
- pulire (to clean)
- colpire (to hit)
- costruire (to build)
- guarire (to cure)
- sparire (to disappear)
- suggerire (to suggest)
How to easily remember all these rules of verb conjugations.
Here some examples for the present tense.
1st person singular ⇒ IO (I)
See the three conjugations together and notice that the endings for this IO it’s always -O for all the conjugations.
2nd person singular ⇒ TU (YOU sing)
See the three conjugations together and notice that the endings for this TU it’s always -I for all the conjugations.
3rd person singular ⇒ LUI/LEI (HE/SHE)
See the three conjugations together and notice that the endings for this LUI/LEI are different for the conjugation ARE from ERE and IRE
1st person plural ⇒ NOI (WE)
See the three conjugations together and notice that the endings for this NOI it’s always -IAMO for all the conjugations.
2nd person singular ⇒ VOI (YOU plur.)
See the three conjugations together and notice that the endings for this VOI it’s different for all the conjugation ARE/ ERE/IRE
3rd person plural ⇒ LORO (THEY)
See the three conjugations together and notice that the endings for this LORO are different for the conjugation ARE from ERE and IRE
Do you want to read and listen to a list of High-frequency Italian verbs?
Learn how to use the special Verb Piacere