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Verbs in Italian: Modes and Conjugations

Italian is a neo-Latin language, and from Latin has maintained the verb conjugations and endings, which make Italian verbs more complex than in English.

The verbal system comprises seven Modi, which include number of Tempi (=tenses). Moreover, as to endings, each verb follows one of the three Coniugazioni ( -are, -ere, -ire) and can be in either of the three Forme (active, passive, reflexive).

Remember that in Italian the subject pronoun (io, tu, egli, etc.) is usually omitted, since the verb form reveals the person, that is, it is normal to say: Cosa studi? Studio matematica. (=What are you studying? I'm studying Maths), omitting the pronouns.

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. In both cases the auxiliary is "essere" (= to be).
  • Conjugated modes: indicative, subjunctive, conditional, imperative.
  • Non-conjugated modes: infinitive, participle, gerund.

The Conjugations of Regular Verbs - Present Tense

Four model verbs appear in the table; in block letters are the endings, the same for all the conjugation; a Capital vowel shows the stressed syllable, which changes usually in the first and second person plural (we, and you). 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 NOT use the -isc suffix.
Model Conjugations

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 -ire (1)

io dOrmo
tu dOrmi
egli dOrme
noi dormiAmo
voi dormIte
essi dOrmono

3rd conj. -ire (2)

io finIsco
tu finIsci
egli finIsce
noi finiAmo
voi finIte
essi finIscono
More on the Italian Present Tense

Practice on Some Common Verbs

Try to say these verbs in the present following the declensions above; the CAPITAL vowel shows 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)

The "Continuous" Tense in Italian

In the English language "continuous" forms are possible in many tenses. In the Italian language corresponding expressions can be created with the verb stare followed by the gerund (-ando or -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.

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)
  • English Future, English Present used as 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)

Examples of Verb Forms

  • Io* amo (I love): 1st conjugation, mode indicative, present tense, active;
  • Essi* sono amati (they are loved): 1st conjugation, mode indicative, present tense, passive;
  • Egli* si ama (he loves himself): 1st conjugation, mode indicative, present tense, reflexive.