Passato remoto in Italian

The passato remoto in Italian is the third most common past tense in the everyday language (the first would be the passato prossimo and the second the imperfetto), so it’s very important that you learn it well if you want to talk about past events with your Italian friends.

Il bambino sorrise.
The child smiled.

a kid smiling

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

Let’s get started! Iniziamo!


When do you use the passato remoto in Italian?

The passato remoto is mainly used in literature and history to talk about events that happened a long time ago. Its use in the spoken language is limited to the regional use of Italian in southern Italy. You will almost never hear it in movies and on the radio, for example, because it sounds kind of old-fashioned.

It’s usually the same as the English past simple tense, since we’re talking about events that began and ended in the past.

If it’s so rare, why do you need to learn how to conjugate verbs in this tense or at least how to recognize and understand them?

You see, almost all novels published in Italian, whether translated from other languages or written in this language, use a combination of the passato remoto and imperfetto tenses.

If you don’t learn at least the most common conjugations of the passato remoto in Italian, you won’t be able to read books in Italian. You need at least a passive knowledge of this tense to get by.

Il cacciatore catturò il cervo.
The hunter caught the deer.

drawing of a hunter posing with animals

Uses of the passato remoto in Italian

The passato remoto in Italian is used…

In all published books and novels told in the past tense (the vast majority).

Frodo raccolse l’anello.
Frodo picked up the ring.

Harry lanciò un incantesimo.
Harry cast a spell.

In southern Italy, it usually replaces the passato prossimo tense.

Tornammo dalla festa a mezzanotte.
We came back from the party at midnight.

L’altro giorno andai al cinema.
The other day I went to the movies.

people watching a movie at the cinema

When people recall very old events that they witnessed in the first person, they don’t use the passato remoto, but the trapassato prossimo tense (past perfect in English).

The passato remoto in Italian is reserved for very distant events that we are not emotionally involved with. For example, a history teacher might use this tense to talk about ancient Rome.


How do you form the passato remoto in Italian?

The passato remoto in Italian is very easy to conjugate because it’s not a compound tense. On the other hand, however, it features many irregular verbs, so you will have to do a lot of memorizing.

Conjugating regular verbs in the passato remoto

For regular verbs, just take the stem of the verb you want to conjugate and add these endings:

  • -ai/-etti/-ii
  • -asti/-esti/-isti
  • -ò/-ette/-ì
  • -ammo/-emmo/-immo
  • -aste/-este/-iste
  • -arono/-ettero/-irono

What’s the stem of a verb?
Italian infinitive verbs end in -ARE, -ERE and -IRE.
Cut off this part and you are left with the root verb.
Examples:
tremare ➡️ trem-
piovere ➡️ piov-
cucire ➡️ cuc-
Verb endings for passato remoto in Italian are added to these root forms of the verb for each person.

pronountrovAREdovEREcapIRE
iotrovaidovetti / doveicapii
tutrovastidovesticapisti
lui/leitrovòdovette / dovécapì
noitrovammodovemmocapimmo
voitrovastedovestecapiste
lorotrovaronodovettero / doveronocapirono

For example, you could say…

Dovemmo uscire di casa all’alba.
We had to leave the house at dawn.

Trovammo un tesoro.
We found a treasure.

treasure chest overflowing witl gold coins

You will notice that for the -ERE verb class there are two possible conjugations for some persons. You can choose either one, but the ones ending in -etti/ette/ettero are much more common.


Irregular verbs in the passato remoto

I told you that there are many exceptions to the conjugations of the passato remoto in Italian. There are many irregular verbs that have an irregular stem only in some persons, while other verbs are completely irregular like essere, to be.

First, let’s see the conjugations for essere and avere.

Passato remoto of essere and avere

essereavere
iofuiebbi
tufostiavesti
lui/leifuebbe
noifummoavemmo
voifosteaveste
lorofuronoebbero

You will notice that the verb avere is regular for some subjects and irregular for others. Many other verbs share this behavior!

Here are the passato remoto conjugations for some of the irregular verbs you will find in books.

fareto do, makefeci, facesti, fece, facemmo, faceste, fecero
stareto staystetti, stesti, stette, stemmo, steste, stettero
direto say, telldissi, dicesti, disse, dicemmo, diceste, dissero
volereto wantvolli, volesti, volle, volemmo, voleste, vollero
chiedereto askchiesi, chiedesti, chiese, chiedemmo, chiedeste, chiesero
rispondereto replyrisposi, rispondesti, rispose, rispondemmo, rispondeste, risposero
andareto goandai, andasti, andò, andammo, andaste, andarono
venireto comevenni, venisti, venne, venimmo, veniste, vennero
chiudereto closechiusi, chiudesti, chiuse, chiudemmo, chiudeste, chiusero
vedereto seevidi, vedesti, vide, vedemmo, vedeste, videro
guardareto look atguardai, guardasti, guardò, guardammo, guardaste, guardarono
rimanereto remainrimasi, rimanesti, rimase, rimanemmo, rimaneste, rimasero
prendereto takepresi, prendesti, prese, prendemmo, prendeste, presero
dareto givediedi, desti, diede, demmo, deste, diedero
togliereto take awaytolsi, togliesti, tolse, togliemmo, toglieste, tolsero
muovereto movemossi, muovesti, mosse, muovemmo, muoveste, mossero
leggereto readlessi, leggesti, lesse, leggemmo, leggeste, lessero
scrivereto writescrissi, scrivesti, scrisse, scrivemmo, scriveste, scrissero
rompereto breakruppi, rompesti, ruppe, rompemmo, rompeste, rompemmo
conoscereto knowconobbi, conoscesti, conobbe, conoscemmo, conosceste, conobbero
sapereto knowseppi, sapesti, seppe, sapemmo, sapeste, seppero
ridereto laughrisi, ridesti, rise, ridemmo, rideste, risero
piangereto crypiansi, piangesti, pianse, piangemmo, piangeste, piansero
nascereto be bornnacqui, nascesti, nacque, nascemmo, nasceste, nacquero
crescereto grow upcrebbi, crescesti, crebbe, crescemmo, cresceste, crebbero
morireto diemorii, moristi, morì, morimmo, moriste, morirono
uccidereto killuccisi, uccidesti, uccise, uccidemmo, uccideste, uccisero
cadereto fallcaddi, cadesti, cadde, cademmo, cadeste, caddero
correreto runcorsi, corresti, corse, corremmo, correste, corsero
decidereto decidedecisi, decidesti, decise, decidemmo, decideste, decisero
vincereto winvinsi, vincesti, vinse, vincemmo, vinceste, vinsero
difendereto defenddifesi, difendesti, difese, difendemmo, difendeste, difesero
perdereto losepersi, perdesti, perse, perdemmo, perdeste, persero
spendereto spendspesi, spendesti, spese, spendemmo, spendeste, spesero
drawing of a crying child with the writing "la bambina pianse", "the child cried"

Examples using the passato remoto in Italian…

L’uomo non rispose alla domanda.
The man did not answer the question.

I ragazzi scrissero una frase sul muro.
The boys wrote a sentence on the wall.

Il pedone guardò a sinistra.
The pedestrian looked to the left.

Dicemmo la verità.
We told the truth.

Fu una splendida giornata.
It was a wonderful day.

Vidi un gufo sul ramo di un albero.
I saw an owl on the branch of a tree.

sleepy brown owl on a branch

And that’s the end of our lesson on the passato remoto 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 remoto 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

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