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 penpals.

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, along with the main irregular verbs.

Let’s get started! Iniziamo!


How to form the Italian present tense

The Italian present tense is equal to the English present simple tense, although it can sometimes cover the present progressive tense as well.

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

-ARE, -ERE and -IRE verb classes

Knowing how to divide Italian verbs into classes is very important because conjugations for any verb will depend on its class. Luckily, it’s very easy to tell what class any 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 must first get rid of the class ending to get the verb stem.

Let’s get the stem of these verbs: amare, scrivere, dormire:

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

Now, you should be doing something with these. If you want to conjugate verbs in the Italian present tense, you should append the present tense endings to these stems.

Now, here’s the deal: each verb class has different endings, and so does each subject pronoun. That means that for each subject you’ll get a different ending. This is why subjects in Italian are often omitted: 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 delve right away into the conjugations of regular verbs of all 3 classes!


Regular verbs conjugation 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 and those that do 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 a few 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 other examples with infinitive verbs in brackets.

Il ladro mente.
The thief lies.
(mentire)

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

Fuori nevica.
It snows outside.
(nevicare)

bicycle covered in snow

Irregular verbs conjugation in the Italian present tense

Let’s now have 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 like 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

Make sure you 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 featuring 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 makes a sand castle.

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

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

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 like 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 will need 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 can’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, like cercare (cerc-, to search for) and pagare (pag-, to pay), add an -h- in the Italian present tense where required so that the quality of the consonant c/g is preserved.

Present tense of cercare and pagare

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

The c/g in cercare and pagare is hard. The conjugation needs to 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 searching for in the drawer?


When do you use the Italian present tense?

The present tense in Italian is used…

To describe events and habits that are valid in the present time.

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

Arrivo subito!
I’m coming right away!

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 happening soon (present progressive or going to future in English).

Dove vai per Capodanno?
Where are you going on 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 sort it out 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 turn a sentence negative in the Italian present tense. It’s even easier than in English! You just have to put the negative adverb non before the conjugated verb. There’s no need to use a helper verb. Thus:

Papà non lavora.
Dad doesn’t work.

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

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

Non is placed before direct object and indirect object pronouns.

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

Il bambino non la calcia.
The kid 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, you only need to 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 go 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 it with 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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