How to Form the Passato Prossimo

The Passato Prossimo is a fundamental tense in the Italian language used to express actions or events that occurred in the past.

Understanding how to form the Passato Prossimo is essential for effective communication in Italian.

In this post, we will explore the rules and techniques to successfully construct this tense, allowing you to express past actions with confidence.

Maria ha comprato un'auto nuova ed è partita per le vacanze. How to Form the Passato Prossimo

Maria bought a new car and left for the holidays

Look at these examples to see how the passato prossimo is used.

  1. Ho mangiato la pizza. (I ate the pizza.)
  2. Sono andato/a al cinema ieri. (I went to the cinema yesterday.)
  3. Hai telefonato a tuo padre? (Did you call your father?)
  4. Lei ha letto un libro interessante. (She read an interesting book.)
  5. Ho comprato una nuova maglietta. (I bought a new t-shirt.)
  6. Loro hanno visto un bel film. (They watched a nice movie.)
  7. Hai capito la lezione? (Did you understand the lesson?)
  8. Ho scritto una lettera all’amico. (I wrote a letter to my friend.)

These examples showcase the Passato Prossimo tense in action, expressing completed actions or events in the past.

Do you know how to use the passato prossimo?  Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Read the explanation to learn more.

What is the Passato Prossimo?

The Passato Prossimo is a compound tense formed by combining an auxiliary verb with the past participle of the main verb.

A compound time is formed by two parts: auxiliary verb + past participle.

Italian Compund verbs are:

  • il passato prossimo 
  • il trapassato prossimo 
  • il futuro anteriore 
  • il condizionale passato

We use the ESSERE and AVERE verbs and the past participle to form the compound tenses.

The choice of an auxiliary verb depends on the verb itself and whether it is intransitive or transitive.

Choosing the Auxiliary Verb: “Avere” as the Auxiliary Verb:

Most verbs use “avere” as the auxiliary verb in the Passato Prossimo.

Example: Ho mangiato una pizza. (I ate a pizza.)

Usually, we use AVERE followed by a direct object.

With these verbs, we can ask the question CHI-WHO? – CHE COSA-WHAT?)


Example 1: Ho mangiato la pasta (I ate pasta)
 Che cosa ho mangiato?(What did I eat?) ➠ Pasta
➠ Pasta is a direct object

Example 2: Ieri ho incontrato Mario (Yesterday I met Mario) 
Chi ho incontrato? (Who did I meet?) ➠ Mario
➠ Mario is a direct object.

Example 3: L’anno scorso ho visitato Milano (Last year I visited Milan)  
Che cosa ho visitato? (What have I visited?) ➠ A city, Milano.
➠ Milano is a direct object.

These verbs in grammar are called TRANSITIVE

Choosing the Auxiliary Verb: Essere” as the Auxiliary Verb:

Some verbs, especially those indicating motion or change of state, use “essere” as the auxiliary verb.

Example: Sono andato al cinema. (I went to the cinema.)

You usually have to use Essere with verbs that don’t have an object.

With these verbs, it is impossible to ask the question: who? ( CHI) what? (CHE COSA?) – but you can ask questions like: where? (DOVE?) – when? (QUANDO?) – how much? (QUANTO?)


Example 1: Ieri sono andato al cinema (Yesterday I went to the cinema)
Dove sei andato? ➠ al cinema (where did you go? → to the cinema)
Cinema is not a direct object but a place)

Example 2: Luisa è nata cinque anni fa (Luisa was born five years ago)
Quando è nata Luisa? ➠  cinque anni fa (When was Luisa born? five years ago)
Cinque anni fa it is not a direct object but an information about time.

Example 3: L’automobile è costata molto (The car cost a lot)
Quanto è costata? → molto (How much did it cost? → a lot)
➠ Molto  is not a direct object but a quantity.

Agreement with Auxiliary Verb “Essere”:

When “essere” is the auxiliary verb, the past participle agrees in gender and number
with the subject of the sentence.
Remember these agreements for verbs of motion or change of state, reflexive and impersonal.

Here are a few examples demonstrating the agreement with the auxiliary verb “essere” in the Passato Prossimo:

  1. Masculine Singular:
    • Marco è arrivato ieri. (Marco arrived yesterday.)
    • Il gatto è scappato dal giardino. (The cat ran away from the garden.)
  2. Feminine Singular:
    • Maria è partita per Roma. (Maria left for Rome.)
    • La porta è rimasta aperta. (The door remained open.)
  3. Masculine Plural:
    • I ragazzi sono usciti insieme. (The boys went out together.)
    • I libri sono stati spostati sulla mensola. (The books were moved to the shelf.)
  4. Feminine Plural:
    • Le ragazze sono tornate dalla vacanza. (The girls came back from vacation.)
    • Le finestre sono rimaste aperte tutta la notte. (The windows remained open all night.)

In these examples, you can observe the agreement of the past participle with the gender and number of the subject when “essere” is used as the auxiliary verb. Remember that the past participle agrees only when “essere” is the auxiliary verb and not with “avere.”

How to form the Participio Passato of the verbs ending in -ARE -ERE -IRE

The past participle is formed by adding specific endings to the verb’s stem. The endings differ based on the verb’s conjugation (-are, -ere, -ire).

Here’s a breakdown:

First Conjugation
-ARE Verbs

Remove the –are ending and add –ato for regular verbs.

Example: Parlare (to speak) -> Parlato (spoken)

parlare – mangiare – studiare
parlato – mangiato – studiato

Second Conjugation
– ERE Verbs

Remove the –ere ending and add –uto for regular verbs.

Example: Leggere (to read) -> Letto (read)

vendere – credere – ricevere
venduto – creduto – ricevuto

Third Conjugation
-IRE Verbs

dormire – partire – finire
dormito – partito – finito

Remove the –ire ending and add –ito for regular verbs.

Example: Dormire (to sleep) -> Dormito (slept)




• with all reflexive verbs:alzarsi, lavarsi, incontrarsi, sentirsi …

• with verbs of movement: andare, tornare, uscire, partire, scendere …

• with verbs of change: diventare, nascere, crescere, morire.

• with state verbs: stare, restare, rimanere

• with impersonal verbs: piacere, bastare, costare, succedere, occorrere

• with the verb ESSERE: sono stato

• with transitive verbs: mangiare, comprare, leggere …(possono rispondere alla domanda: “chi?” – “che cosa?”.)

• with some verbs of movement : camminare, viaggiare, nuotare, correre

• with verb AVERE: ho avuto, avevo avuto

Mastering the formation of the Passato Prossimo is crucial for expressing past events accurately in Italian.
By understanding the choice of auxiliary verbs, forming the past participle, and applying agreement rules, you can confidently communicate in the past tense. Practice constructing sentences and gradually incorporate this tense into your Italian conversations, enhancing fluency and comprehension.

Do you want to learn more?

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