In Italian, the imperfect is very common and indispensable for everyday speech, narrating, and reading.
In English, you can convey an imperfect action in the past with the formula used to + infinitive.
WHAT YOU WILL LEARN
What is THE Imperfect Tense?
The “imperfetto” (imperfect) is, together with the “passato prossimo”, one of the most used past tenses in Italian.
It is called ‘imperfetto’ because, generally speaking, there is no reference to the beginning or end of the action it expresses.
In the Latin language “perfect” means finished, complete. A perfect action is a completed and finished action.
The opposite of perfect is imperfect.
Imperfect is, therefore, an action that continues, it is not complete, it is not finished.
The “imperfetto” is the form of a verb used to show incomplete action in the past, whereas the “passato prossimo” expresses a completed action in the past.
the imperfetto structure
In Italian, the “imperfetto” is a simple tense so it doesn’t need an auxiliary verb (essere/avere).
The first part of the verb does not change, then we add the different endings.
Most verbs are regular, so there are few irregular verbs.
THE IMPERFECT OF REGULAR VERBS
In Italian there are three different groups of regular verbs:
<< First group >> (Prima Coniugazione) with the infinitive ending in ARE
<< Second group >> (Seconda Coniugazione) with the infinitive ending in ERE
<< Third group >> (Terza Coniugazione) with the infinitive ending in IRE
The imperfect of a verb “ARE” of a verb “ERE” and a verb “IRE”:
lavor – avo
lavor – avi
lavor – ava
lavor – avamo
lavor – avate
lavor – avano
prend – evo
prend – evi
prend – eva
prend – evamo
prend – evate
prend – evano
cap – ivo
cap – ivi
cap – iva
cap – ivamo
cap – ivate
cap – ivano
THE IMPERFECT OF ESSERE AND AVERE
Verbs essere and avere are irregular. In Italian they are special verbs because they are used as auxiliary verbs.
Verbs with an irregular conjugation in the imperfetto
fac – evo
fac – evi
fac – evi
fac – evamo
fac – evate
fac – evano
bev – evo
bev – evi
bev – eva
bev – evamo
bev – evate
bev – evano
dic – evo
dic – evi
dic – eva
dic – evamo
dic – evate
dic – evano
IRREGULAR VERBS with a regular conjugation in the imperfetto
Some irregular verbs like andare, stare, dare, venire, salire have a regular conjugation in the imperfetto.
The verbs fare, dire, bere, produrre, porre, and essere take their root for the imperfect tense from the original Latin infinitives, but the conjugations are regular.
For these verbs add the imperfect endings to fac- (for fare), dic- (for dire), bev- (for bere), produc- (for produrre), pon- (for porre).
and – avo
and – avo
and – ava
and – avamo
and – avate
and – avano
st – avo
st – avi
st – ava
st – avamo
st – avate
st – avano
d – avo
d – avi
d – ava
d – avamo
d – avate
d – avano
Modal Verbs, Volere, Potere, Dovere, have a regular conjugation in the Imperfetto
THE imperfect of modal verbs
vol – evo
vol – evi
vol – eva
vol – evamo
vol – evate
vol – evano
pot – evo
pot – evi
pot – eva
pot – evamo
pot – evate
pot – evano
dov – evo
dov – evi
dov – eva
dov – evamo
dov – evate
dov – evano
Why you need the “imperfetto” in Italian?
Imperfetto tense is used for:
1 – a description
• health and age
• physical characteristics of things and places.
• time, dates and seasons
• the weather
Faceva cosi freddo ieri!
(It was so cold yesterday!)
Da bambina avevo i capelli biondi.
(I had blonde hair as a child.)
2 – Usual ACTIONS or happened repeatedly in the past
What people used to do or what things used to be like.
These are easy to identify, as they are often expressed by ‘used to’ or ‘would’ in English.
D’estate andavamo al mare tutti i giorni.
(In the summer we went to the beach every day.)
ACTIONS OR HAPPENED REPEATEDLY IN THE PAST
Ricordo che di solito andavo a scuola con il treno. (I remember I used to go to school by train)
3 – psychological description, sensations and a feeling
• physical, psychological or emotional characteristics of people
• states of being
Ieri non sono venuto perché ero depresso. (Yesterday I didn’t come because I was depressed.)
– Anna non si sentiva bene ieri. (Anna was not feeling well yesterday.)
4 – telling a story at the beginning of a fairy tale
A FAIRY TALE
C’era una volta un re che aveva una figlia bellissima. (Once upon a time there was a king who had a beautiful daughter.)
5 – expressions “stare + gerund” and “stare per” in the past
Stavi mangiando? (were you eating?)
6 – after the word “mentre” (while)
Mentre cucinavo, guardavo la televisione.
(While cooking, I watched television.)
Mentre camminavo, sono caduto (while I was walking I fell down)
For the action with the red line use the imperfetto
For the action with the blue line use the passato prossimo
7 – a continuous action in the past which is not finished or has not been limited in time.
Aspettavo l’autobus da mezz’ora quando è passato mio padre in macchina.
(I had been waiting for the bus for half an hour when my father passed by car.)
Mentre mangiavo la pizza, guardavo la TV
While I was eating pizza I was watching TV
Mentre mangiavo, ha suonato il telefono
While I was eating the telephone rang
Quando è arrivato Gianni, studiavo.
When Gianni arrived, I was studying
Da ragazzo (quando ero ragazzo) andavo al mare tutte le domeniche
When I was a boy I used to go to the seaside every Sunday
Quando sono andata al mare il cielo era sereno e il mare era calmo
When I went to the seaside, the sky was clear and the sea was calm
Practice the pronunciation of the imperfect. There are one-syllable, two-syllable, three-syllable, and four-syllable verbs.
Be sure to pronounce the imperfect tense in this way:
–> io parlavo, tu parlavi, lui/lei parlava, noi parlavamo, voi parlavate, loro parlavano
LISTEN TO THE CORRECT PRONUNCIATION
PASSATO PROSSIMO, AND IMPERFETTO
⇒ COMPARED ⇐
The passato prossimo and the imperfetto are all past tenses.
They can be used in the same sentence to express something that was going on when something else happened.
Deciding whether the imperfect or the passato prossimo should be used is not always easy since in English there is no distinction between these tenses.
In Italian, they express different types of actions and the imperfetto and the passato prossimo cannot be used interchangeably.
Compare the difference in meaning in the following sentences where the passato prossimo and the impefetto are used:
Lei è partita ieri. (She left yesterday)
Di solito lei partiva alle cinque. (She used to leave at five)
Io sono andata al supermercato. (I went to the supermarket)
Io andavo al supermercato tutti i giorni. (I went to the supermarket every day)
Che cosa hai comprato al supermercato? (What did you buy at the supermarket?)
Che cosa compravi di solito? (What did you use to buy?)