The Italian present tense

The presente indicativo, the Italian present tense, is the most important tense in this language. It’s very important for you to learn it well if you want to talk about current events with your Italian pen pals.

Il topo mangia il formaggio.
The mouse eats the cheese.

a mouse and a piece of swiss cheese

In this lesson, we will see how to form and when to use the Italian present tense, as well as the most important irregular verbs.

Let’s get started! Iniziamo!


How to form the Italian present tense

The Italian present tense is the same as the English present simple tense, although it can include the present progressive tense as well.

However, before we can talk about how to conjugate Italian verbs in the present tense, we need to zoom out a bit and talk about the 3 verb classes that exist in this language.

-ARE, -ERE and -IRE verb classes

Knowing how to divide Italian verbs into classes is very important because the conjugations for each verb will depend on its class. Fortunately, it’s very easy to tell which class a verb belongs to.

Every Italian verb belongs to one of these classes, depending on its ending:

  • -are
  • -ere
  • ire
1st class (-are)amarelavoraresuonare
2nd class (-ere)leggerecuocerescrivere
3rd class (-ire)dormirefiniredire
man handling a big printer

These are known as infinitive verbs (to work, to write, to sleep…) and this is the form you will find in dictionaries.

To start conjugating verbs in the Italian present tense (or any other tense, really), you first need to get rid of the class ending to get the verb stem.

Let’s find the stems of these verbs: amare, scrivere, dormire:

  1. First find the endings: am-are, scriv-ere, dorm-ire.
  2. Get rid of them: am-, scriv-, dorm-.
  3. Done! Those are the stems of these verbs!

Now, you should do something with them. If you want to conjugate verbs in the Italian present tense, you should attach the present tense endings to these stems.

Now, here’s the thing: each verb class has different endings, and so does each subject pronoun. This means that you’ll get a different ending for each subject. This is why subjects are often omitted in Italian: you will be able to understand who the subject is thanks to the verb ending!

It looks harder than it is, I assure you. Let’s dive right away into the conjugations of regular verbs of all 3 classes!


Conjugation of regular verbs in the Italian present tense

Amare (to love), scrivere (to write) and dormire (to sleep) are all regular verbs, so let’s see how to conjugate them in the table below.

Present tense conjugations of amare, scrivere, dormire

-ARE-ERE-IRE
io (I)amoscrivodormo
tu (you)amiscrividormi
lui/lei (s/he)amascrivedorme
noi (we)amiamoscriviamodormiamo
voi (you)amatescrivetedormite
loro (they)amanoscrivonodormono

As you can see, verb classes share many endings in common, and the ones that change are those of the:

  • third-person singular conjugation (lui/lei… ama, scrive, dorme)
  • second-person plural conjugation (voi… amate, scrivete, dormite).

Let’s make some examples with the Italian present tense…

I gattini dormono.
The kittens sleep.

two cats sleeping near each other

Giovanna ama disegnare.
Giovanna loves to draw.

Paolo e Anna scrivono un libro.
Paul and Anna write a book.

Here are some more examples with infinitive verbs in brackets.

Il ladro mente.
The thief is lying.
(mentire)

Il bambino rompe la finestra.
The child breaks the window.
(rompere)

Fuori nevica.
It is snowing outside.
(nevicare)

bicycle covered in snow

Conjugation of irregular verbs in the Italian present tense

Let’s now take a look at 6 very common irregular verbs in Italian: essere (to be), avere (to have), fare (to do, to make), venire (to come), andare (to go) and dire (to say).

Essere and avere are especially important because they are used as helping verbs in compound tenses such as the passato prossimo, the most common past tense in Italian.

Present tense of essere and avere

ESSEREAVERE
io (I)sonoho
tu (you)seihai
lui/lei (s/he)èha
noi (we)siamoabbiamo
voi (you)sieteavete
loro (they)sonohanno

Be sure to put an accent mark on è: è means “it is”, while e without an accent mark means and!

Present tense of fare and venire

FAREVENIRE
io (I)facciovengo
tu (you)faivieni
lui/lei (s/he)faviene
noi (we)facciamoveniamo
voi (you)fatevenite
loro (they)fannovengono
man working on a laptop

Present tense of andare and dire

ANDAREDIRE
io (I)vadodico
tu (you)vaidici
lui/lei (s/he)vadice
noi (we)andiamodiciamo
voi (you)andatedite
loro (they)vannodicono

Here are some examples using the Italian present tense of these verbs…

Abbiamo tre cani.
We have three dogs.

Sei il mio migliore amico.
You are my best friend.

La bambina fa un castello di sabbia.
The little girl is making a sandcastle.

Luca dice di non aprire la porta.
Luca says not to open the door.

Venite con noi al cinema?
Are you coming to the movies with us?

Andiamo allo zoo domani?
Are we going to the zoo tomorrow?

zoo animals: an elephant, a lion, a giraffe and a panda

-IRE verbs wish -ISC- stem

There are a number of verbs ending in -ire, such as capire (to understand) and pulire (to clean) that also have an irregular stem in the Italian present tense.

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to know which -ire verbs are regular and which are irregular, so you have to learn them by heart. Here are two such verb conjugations.

Present tense of capire and pulire

CAPIREPULIRE
io (I)capiscopulisco
tu (you)capiscipulisci
lui/lei (s/he)capiscepulisce
noi (we)capiamopuliamo
voi (you)capitepulite
loro (they)capisconopuliscono

For example, you could say…

Non capisco questa parola.
I don’t understand this word.

La mamma pulisce la cucina.
Mom cleans the kitchen.

woman cleaning the floor

Verbs wish -CH- and -GH stems

Some verbs whose stem ends in -c or -g, such as cercare (cerc-, to search for) and pagare (pag-, to pay), add an -h- in the Italian present tense where necessary to preserve the quality of the consonant c/g.

Present tense of cercare and pagare

C + I or E is pronounced “chee” or “cheh”.
CH + I or E is pronounced “kee” or “keh”.

The c/g in cercare and pagare is hard. The conjugation must preserve this quality.

CERCAREPAGARE
io (I)cercopago
tu (you)cerchipaghi
lui/lei (s/he)cercapaga
noi (we)cerchiamopaghiamo
voi (you)cercatepagate
loro (they)cercanopagano

Cosa cerchi nel cassetto?
What are you looking for in the drawer?


When do you use the Italian present tense?

The present tense in Italian is used…

To describe events and customs that occur in the present.

Mia mamma vive a Londra.
My mom lives in London.

Arrivo subito!
I’m coming right now!

Prendo il treno ogni giorno alle 8.
I take the train every day at 8 o’clock.

Marco va alle scuole superiori.
Marco goes to high school.

kids making noise in the classroom

To talk about future events that are going to happen soon (present progressive or going to future in English).

Dove vai per Capodanno?
Where are you going for New Year’s?

Venerdì pulisco il frigorifero.
I’m going to clean the fridge on Friday.

To introduce a general truth.

L’italiano è una lingua romanza.
Italian is a romance language.

Il ghiaccio è fatto di acqua.
Ice is made of water.

To introduce an offer.

Faccio io qui in cucina, tu vai ad aprire le finestre.
I’ll take care of it in the kitchen, you go open the windows.

Lascia stare. Pago io il conto.
Leave that. I’ll pay the bill.

To introduce the verb after how long…?.

Da quanto tempo studi il tedesco?
How long have you been studying German?

Da quanto tempo sei lì?
How long have you been there?

drawing of a cat and a dog in a cage

The Italian present tense in the negative

It’s very easy to make a sentence negative in the Italian present tense. It’s even easier than in English! All you have to do is put the negative adverb non in front of the conjugated verb. There’s no need to use a helper verb. For example:

Papà non lavora.
Dad doesn’t work.

Il bambino non gioca in giardino.
The child doesn’t play in the garden.

L’uomo non risponde alla domanda.
The man doesn’t answer the question.

Non is placed in front of direct object and indirect object pronouns.

Il bambino non calcia la palla.
The child doesn’t kick the ball.

Il bambino non la calcia.
The child doesn’t kick it.

Non credo a Luisa.
I don’t believe Luisa.

Non le credo.
I don’t believe her.

conspiracy theorist

How to form questions in the present tense in Italian

To turn a statement into a question when using the Italian present tense, all you need to do is raise the pitch of your voice at the end of the sentence.

That’s it, you don’t need any helper verbs, and you don’t need to change any verb position. Listen carefully:

Stasera andiamo a teatro.
We are going to the theater tonight.

Stasera andiamo a teatro?
Are we going to the theater tonight?

Sei un dottore.
You are a doctor.

Sei un dottore?
Are you a doctor?

And that’s the end of our lesson on the Italian present tense! If you still have any doubts about this tense, feel free to leave a comment.


What next?

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Now that you’ve seen the Italian present tense, you might want to keep learning Italian online with these free Italian resources:

Or you might also want an excellent offline Italian grammar resource to take with you at all times (Amazon).

Title: Italian All-in-One For Dummies
Language: English / Italian
Publisher: For Dummies
Pages: 672

Learn to speak Italian like a native? Easy.
Italian All-in-One For Dummies appeals to those readers looking for a comprehensive, all-encompassing guide to mastering the Italian language. It contains content from all For Dummies Italian language instruction titles, including Italian For Dummies, Intermediate Italian For Dummies, Italian Verbs For Dummies, Italian Phrases For Dummies, Italian Grammar For Dummies, and Italian For Dummies Audio Set.

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