How to Conjugate Italian Verbs Like a Native

Use this method to improve your knowledge of verbs

Learn how to improve your knowledge and usage of regualar and irregular verbs in Italian from the present to the imperfect tense
Learn how to improve your knowledge and usage of regualar and irregular verbs in Italian from the present to the imperfect tense. PeopleImages

Learning vocabulary for nouns like “toothbrush” and “tomato” are important, but without verbs, they’re not as useful.

Verbs are essential to communicating in any foreign language, and while Italian verbs have a consistent, logical pattern of conjugation, there are still many verbs that are irregular.

Plus, even if you memorize all of the verb conjugations, being able to use them quickly in conversation is another story.

I say this to emphasize the importance of getting a lot of practice with verbs -- both with written exercises and with plenty of speaking.  

To get you started, or perhaps to fill in some gaps, below you can read about the three Italian verb categories along with suggestions for your studies so you can learn how to conjugate verbs like a native.

Step 1) Learn the present tense conjugations of the verbs avere (to have) and essere (to be). They are the key to learning all of the other Italian verb conjugations.

Step 2) Understand that Italian verbs fall into three categories of conjugations depending on the endings of the infinitive:

-are verbs

  • Comprare - To buy

  • Imparare - To learn

  • Mangiare - To eat

  • Parlare - To talk

-ere verbs

  • Credere - To believe

  • Leggere - To read

  • Prendere - To take

  • Scendere - To get off, to descend

-ire verbs

  • Salire - To go up

  • Uscire - To go out

The stem of regular verbs is obtained by dropping the infinitive ending.

In English, the infinitive (l'infinito) consists of to + verb.

Step 3) Recognize that Italian verbs are conjugated in the various persons, numbers, and tenses by adding the proper ending to the stem.

To start, let’s use the regular verb “credere - to believe” as an example.

io - credonoi - crediamo
tu - credivoi - credete
lui / lei / Lei  - credeloro, Loro - credono

 

Notice how the ending changes based on the subject. “I believe” is “credo” and “they believe” is “credono.”

Let’s use the irregular verb “andare - to go” as another example.

io - vadonoi - andiamo
tu - vaivoi - andate
lui / lei / Lei  - valoro, Loro - vanno

 

Since the endings are different for each subject, more often than not you can drop the pronoun. So, for example, instead of saying “Io credo - I believe,” you can just say “Credo - I believe” with the “io” as a subject pronoun.

Step 4) Memorize the present tense conjugations of common, irregular verbs. These are “dovere - must,” “fare - to do, to make,” “potere - can, to be able to,” and “volere - to want.”

Step 5) Learn how to use common verbs in the following tenses:

How do you know which verbs are common? While you could use the lists of the most common verbs online, I think it’s more useful to think about the verbs you commonly use and learn how to be flexible with those. One exercise for figuring out which verbs those are is by writing short compositions about your life, like how to introduce yourself, talking about your family, and discussing your hobbies. You’ll start to notice which verbs are used most often and then you can focus on those to memorize.

Tips:

  1. Note that in the third person plural the stress falls on the same syllable as in the third person singular form.

  2. In a pinch, you can always consult a table of verb endings to determine the correct tense.