Verbs in Italian: Modes and Conjugations

Italian is a neo-Latin language, and from Latin has maintained the verb conjugations. Italian verbs are more complex than in English. The verbal system comprises 7 "Modi" which include many "Tempi" (=tenses), 3 conjugations (are, ere, ire) and 3 forms (active, passive, reflexive).
  • io* amo (I love): mode indicative, present tense, active
  • essi* sono amati (they are loved): mode indicative, present tense, passive
  • egli* si ama (he loves himself): mode indicative, present tense, reflexive

    * the subject pronoun is usually omitted, since the verb form reveals the person, that is, it is normal to say: "studio matematica" (=I study Maths), omitting "io".

The Modes / I modi

Italian regular verbs have seven "Modi", 4 are conjugated according to the person, 3 have a fixed form for all persons, but the participle can change as an adjecive (masculine, feminine, singular, plural) with intransitive verbs and with transitive passive (auxiliary "essere", to be in both cases).
  • conjugated modes: indicative, subjunctive, conditional, imperative
  • non-conjugated: infinitive, participle, gerund
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The Conjugations - regular verbs - Present Tense

Four model verbs appear in the table below; in block letters are the endings, the same for all the conjugation; a CAPITAL vowel shows the stressed syllable. The verbs of the Third Conjugation are of two types, the first type usually has 2 consonants before the infinitive suffix -ire; an easy (but not always true) rule of thumb is that if the 5th letter from the end of the verb infinitive is a consonant, the verb will use the "isc" suffix.
1st conj. -are
io Amo
tu Ami
egli Ama
noi amiAmo
voi amAte
essi Amano
2nd conj. -ere
io scrIvo
tu scrIvi
egli scrIve
noi scriviAmo
voi scrivEte
essi scrIvono
3rd conj.-1 -ire
io dOrmo
tu dOrmi
egli dOrme
noi dormiAmo
voi dormIte
essi dOrmono
3rd conj.-2 -ire
io finIsco
tu finIsci
egli finIsce
noi finiAmo
voi finIte
essi finIscono

Some common verbs

Try to say these verbs in the present following the declensions above (the CAPITAL vowel show the stressed syllable).
  • verbs in -are: lavorAre (work), mangiAre (eat), comprAre (buy), studiAre (study), viaggiAre (travel), cercAre (search), lavAre (wash), guidAre (drive), camminAre (walk)
  • verbs in -ere: scrIvere (write), vEndere (sell), lEggere (read), prEndere (take), chiUdere (shut), pErdere (lose), spEndere (spend)
  • verbs in -ire: dormIre (sleep), partIre (leave), sentIre (feel, hear), seguIre (follow), aprIre (open), vestIre (dress)
  • verbs in -ire (using suffix -isc): finIre (finish), capIre (understand), preferIre (prefer), costruIre (build), spedIre (ship), trasferIre (transfer, move)

Use of the Present Tense in Italian

  • English Simple Present: In the evenings I usually watch TV -->La sera di solito guardo la TV (pronounced tee-voo)
  • English Continuous Present: He is reading a novel. --> Legge un romanzo (but also: sta leggendo un romanzo)
  • Future when a time expression is present: I'll leave (I'm leaving, will be leaving) next month. --> Parto il mese prossimo (but also: partirò)

The "Continuous" Tense in Italian

In the English language "continuous" forms are possible in many tenses. In the Italian language a corresponding expressions can be created with the verb "stare" followed by the gerund (-ando, -endo). This is used only in the present (sto, stai, sta, stiamo, state, stanno) and in the past (stavo, stavi, stava, stavAmo, stavAte, stAvano), but the normal "simple" tenses can also be used often with no change of meaning.

    Example 1: What are you doing? I am sending an email.
    Che stai facendo? Sto mandando un'email
    but also: Che fai? Mando un'email.
    Example 2: What were they doing when you saw them? They were leaving.
    Che stavano facendo quando li vedesti? Stavano partendo. but also: Che facevano quando li vedesti? Partivano.