Passato prossimo in Italian

Passato prossimo is the most common past tense in everyday Italian language, so it’s very important for you to learn it well if you want to talk about past events with your Italian friends.

Ho guardato un film.
I watched a movie.

man crying while watching a movie at the cinema

In this lesson, we will see how to form and when to use the passato prossimo in Italian.

Let’s start!


How to form the passato prossimo in Italian

In the spoken language, the passato prossimo is equivalent to the English present perfect and past simple tenses. It is mainly used for introducing events that took place in the past, but it can also describe events that are still relevant to the present time.

Passato prossimo is a compound tense

Much like the present perfect tense in English, the passato prossimo in Italian is a compound tense because it’s made up of two verbs:

  • the auxiliary verb, also known as helper verb, in the present tense
  • the past participle of the primary verb

If you’re not a pro at conjugating verbs in the Italian present tense, it might be useful to brush up on the conjugations of Italian’s auxiliary verbs, essere and avere.

essere (to be)avere (to have)
io sonoio ho
tu seitu hai
lui/lei èlui/lei ha
noi siamonoi abbiamo
voi sietevoi avete
loro sonoloro hanno
happy girl reading a sheet

Let’s make a few examples with these conjugations! We will see how to form past participles in a minute.

Il cane ha morso un uomo.
The dog has bitten a man.

Marzia è caduta dalle scale.
Marzia has fallen down the stairs.

Avete chiamato la polizia?
Have you called the police?

Non sono mai stato a Venezia.
I have never been to Venice.

gondolier on a gondola

Since you can choose between two auxiliary verbs, how can you tell which one you have to use with any given past participle? Let’s see in the next paragraphs.


Verbs that use avere as an auxiliary verb

It’s mandatory to use avere as an auxiliary verb for all transitive verbs.

Transitive verbs are actions that can take a direct object, such as calciare (to kick), rompere (to break), or pulire (to clean).

Luca ha calciato il pallone.
Luca kicked the ball.

Luca ha rotto la finestra della sala.
Luca broke the window in the living room.

La mamma ha dovuto pulire il pavimento.
Mum had to clean the floor.
Literally: Mom has had to clean the floor.

The ball, the window and the floor are all direct objects. We could say that the direct object is the main “recipient” of the action. You will also be happy to know that most Italian past participles use avere.


Verbs that use essere as an auxiliary verb

It’s mandatory to use avere as an auxiliary verb in the passato prossimo tense for many intransitive verbs and all reflexive verbs.

Intransitive verbs are actions that can do without a direct object, such as iniziare (to start) or diventare (to become).

La lezione è iniziata un’ora fa.
The class started an hour ago.

La vittima è morta ieri.
The victim died yesterday.

drawing of a man who fainted on the ground

You have to pay special attention to intransitive verbs denoting a change of state and movement, such as:

  • stare (to stay)
  • andare (to go)
  • scendere (to go down)
  • salire (to go up)
  • diventare (to become)

For example, you could say…

Il mio cane è diventato molto aggressivo.
My dog has become very aggressive.

Siamo andati allo zoo.
We went to the zoo.

Finally, you have to use essere with reflexive verbs. These verbs always end in –rsi, with -si being a reflexive pronoun. Examples of reflexive verbs are pettinarsi (to comb one’s hair) and addormentarsi (to fall asleep).

Mi sono pettinata i capelli.
I combed my hair.

Il pappagallo si è addormentato sul trespolo.
The parrot fell asleep on its perch.

ara parrot looking left

How to form the past participle of Italian verbs

The past participle is the most important verb in the passato prossimo tense since it’s the verb that defines the action.

You form the past participle of regular verbs by removing the infinitive verb ending (-are, -ere are -ire) and adding –ato, -uto and -ito respectively, as in the table below.

-are verbrootpast participle
mangiaremangi-mangiato
lavorarelavor-lavorato
portareport-portato
-ere verbrootpast participle
caderecad-caduto
pioverepiov-piovuto
doveredov-dovuto
-ire verbrootpast participle
capirecap-capito
rapirerap-rapito
saliresal-salito

For example, you could say…

Una biro è caduta sul pavimento.
A ballpoint pen fell on the floor.

Non ho capito. Potresti ripetere?
I didn’t understand. Could you say that again?

Ho lavorato tutto il giorno.
I worked all day long.

men overtired at the office

Pitfalls of the Italian past participles

It’s very important to remember that passato prossimo verbs that want essere must match the subject in gender and number. These past participles basically behave like Italian adjectives. This way, for any given verb, you will have four different past participles.

singularplural
masculinesalitosaliti
femininesalitasalite

Siamo salite sulle montagne russe.
We got on the roller coaster.

singularplural
masculinediventatodiventati
femininediventatadiventate

Venezia è diventata una meta turistica molto popolare.
Venice has become a popular tourist destination.

This rule also applies to any past participle that precedes a direct object pronoun.

Hai pulito camera tua? – No, non l’ho pulita.
Did you clean your room? – No, I didn’t clean it.
(Camera is a feminine singular noun.)

Hai chiuso le finestre? – No, non le ho chiuse.
Did you close the windows? – No, I didn’t close them.
(Finestre is a feminine plural noun.)

boy opening a window

Irregular past participles in the passato prossimo

There are quite a few irregular past participles in Italian, and the worst news is that many of these belong to very common verbs such as aprire (to open), scrivere (to write), and vivere (to live).

Make sure you learn the list below featuring the most common irregular past participles used in the Italian passato prossimo! If you feel like it, you can also try your hand with the verb trainer exercises.

infinitive verbtranslationpast participle
aprireto openaperto
bereto drinkbevuto
chiedereto askchiesto
chiudereto closechiuso
correreto runcorso
cuocereto cookcotto
direto saydetto
essereto bestato
fareto dofatto
leggereto readletto
mettereto putmesso
morireto diemorto
perdereto loseperso
prendereto takepreso
ridereto laughriso
rompereto breakrotto
scegliereto choosescelto
scrivereto writescritto
smettereto stopsmesso
vedereto seevisto
venireto comevenuto
vivereto livevissuto

And that’s it with the passato prossimo in Italian! 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 passato prossimo in Italian, 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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