Third Conjugation Italian Verbs Ending in -isco: Capisco!

Many important third-conjugation Italian verbs take -isc infix

Runners running through a Finish Line
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As you have probably learned by now, one of the greatest challenges in learning Italian comes with irregular verbs: verbs that change root mid-way, that are irregular in one tense or two, or sometimes three, and verbs that act in an entirely independent manner—unfortunately, some of the most common verbs, including andare. With a bit of study, you will discern patterns and groupings in the world of irregular verbs and find a certain logic to it, and beauty, too.

But there are some pesky verbs in the world of regular verbs as well, and a group that occupies a special place: they are verbs that end in -ire, and are indeed third conjugation Italian verbs, but they are noted for grafting to their root a little infix-isc—in some of their tenses. These are known as third-conjugation -isco verbs, or -isc verbs in English. It is useful to learn how these verbs conjugate because they comprise a large and useful group. Among them are such common verbs as capire (to understand) and finire (to finish).

Let's take a look at their conjugation in the present tense:

Present Indicative of Finire and Capire

  • io fin-isc-o
  • tu fin-isc-i
  • egli fin-isc-e
  • noi finiamo
  • voi finite
  • essi fin-isc-ono

As you can see, the infix is inserted in all the singular persons and the third person plural. Apart from the infix, the endings are normal.

The same for capire:

  • io cap-isc-o
  • tu cap-isc-i
  • egli cap-isc-e
  • noi capiamo
  • voi capite
  • essi cap-isc-ono

In terms of pronunciation, remember that sc followed by a hard vowel such as o or a keeps a hard sound (think of a sk) and with a soft vowel, such as i and e, it takes on a soft sound (think of a sh).

Present Subjunctive and Imperative

In this group of verbs, we find the same infix in the present subjunctive tense and the present imperative tense, in the same pattern.

In the present subjunctive

  • che io fin-isc-a
  • che tu fin-isc-a
  • che egli fin-isc-a
  • che noi finiamo
  • che voi finiate
  • che essi fin-isc-ano

Same for capire:

  • che io cap-isc-a
  • che tu cap-isc-a
  • che egli cap-isc-a
  • che noi capiamo
  • che voi capiate
  • che essi cap-isc-ano

In the present imperative (and exhorative), the second person singular and the third person plural take on the infix.

fin-isc-i fin-isc-a finiamo finite fin-isc-ano

cap-isc-i cap-isc-a capiamo capiate cap-isc-ano.

Finisci di studiare!, for example. Finish studying!

List of Useful -isco Verbs

The list of verbs that take the -isc- infix and are conjugated the same as finire and capire is very rich and long—much longer in fact than the other group of third conjugation verbs. Among them is preferire. They are a mix of transitive and intransitive, and many of them also have a reflexive mode. Since there is no telltale way of simply eyeing an infinitive and knowing whether a verb is in this group, it is helpful to become familiar at least with the most useful ones and to see if any patterns in meaning can be derived:

  • Abbellire - to make beautiful
  • Abbruttire - to make ugly
  • Abolire - to abolish
  • Acquisire - to acquire
  • Agire - to act/take action
  • Ammattire - to go crazy
  • Approfondire - to deepen/go deeper into something
  • Arricchire - to enrich/become rich
  • Avvilire - to become dejected
  • Capire - to understand
  • Chiarire - to clarify
  • Colpire - to strike/hit/impress
  • Concepire - to conceive
  • Contribuire - to contribute
  • Costruire - to build
  • Definire - to define
  • Digerire - to digest
  • Dimagrire - to lose weight
  • Distribuire - to distribute
  • Esaurire - to exhaust
  • Fallire - to fail
  • Favorire - to favor
  • Ferire - to injure
  • Garantire - to guarantee
  • Gioire - to rejoice
  • Guarire - to heal/get over an illness
  • Imbestialire - to get angry like a beast
  • Imbruttire - to become ugly
  • Impartire - to impart/teach
  • Impaurire - to scare/frighten
  • Impazzire - to go crazy
  • Impigrire - to become lazy
  • Incattivire - to become mean
  • Incuriosire - to become curious
  • Infastidire - to bother
  • Infreddolire - to become cold
  • Innervosire - to become nervous
  • Istruire - to teach/instruct
  • Marcire - to rot
  • Obbedire - to obey
  • Perire - to die/perish
  • Perquisire - to search
  • Preferire - to prefer
  • Presagire - to presage
  • Proibire - to prohibit
  • Rattristire - to become sad/make sad
  • Restituire - to restitute/give back
  • Retribuire - to compensate someone for something
  • Rimbambire - to become harebrained/go off one's rocker/lose one's wits
  • Rinverdire - to green/become green anew
  • Ripulire - to clean up again
  • Risarcire - to reimburse
  • Riunire - to reunite
  • Sminuire - to diminish
  • Snellire - to become thin
  • Sparire - to disappear
  • Spedire - to ship
  • Stabilire - to establish
  • Starnutire - to sneeze
  • Svanire - to vanish
  • Stupire - to shock or surprise somebody/to be shocked or surprised
  • Subire - to suffer something/to endure/to be subject to
  • Tradire - to betray
  • Ubbidire - to obey
  • Unire - to unite
  • Zittire - to silence/hush/make somebody shut up

Examples

  • Io pulisco la casa. I clean the house.
  • Preferisco il verde al giallo. I prefer green to yellow.
  • Gli amici si uniscono in battaglia. The friends unite in battle.
  • I bambini ubbidiscono. The children obey.
  • Non voglio che lui ti tradisca. I don't want him to betray you.
  • In primavera gli alberi si rinverdiscono. In spring the trees green anew.
  • Ti imbestialisci spesso. You get furious often.
  • Voglio che la professoressa mi chiarisca la lezione. I want the teacher to clarify the lesson for me.
  • Tutti gli anni a Natale i miei nonni mi spediscono i regali. Every year at Christmas my grandparents send me gifts.
  • Mi stupisco: pensavo di conoscerti. I am surprised: I thought I knew you.
  • Oggi la prof distribuisce gli esami. Today the prof is handing out the tests.
  • Sparisco per una settimana; devo lavorare. I am disappearing for a week: I need to work.
  • Quando mi innamoro, rimbambisco. When I fall in love I turn harebrained.

-isc or non-isc?

Important tip #1: As you can see from the list above, many -isc verbs start with Latin suffixes (a, con, di, im, in, pre, rim, rin, ris) and many denote the ending of an action or the coming in and out of a state of being (turning color, for example, or changing mood). But certainly not all.

Hence, important tip #2: If you look at the infinitive of an -ire verb in an Italian language dictionary (a good thing to have and to practice), it will tell you how to conjugate the first person present, hence you will know if it belongs in this group or not. If you look up pulire, it will say, io pulisco, tu pulisci, ecc. And it will usually say con mutamento di coniugazione, which means it has the mutation. That tells you what you need to know.

Occasionally you will run into a verb of the third conjugation that can be conjugated with the -isc infix or, as the other group, without. Among these verbs are applaudire (to clap, to applaud), assorbire (to absorb), nutrire (to nourish), and inghiottire (to swallow). In some cases the -isc forms of those verbs have so fallen in disuse that some dictionaries do not include them at all in the -isc category nor do they give that form of conjugation as an option. They only include the verb if it is considered a full-fledged -isco verb. Treccani, the authority on all Italian grammar matters, will give you the option of usage only if both are acceptable and in use. Otherwise, it will indicate that the -isco form has fallen in disuse (in disuso) or is much less common (meno comune).

Exercise

Fill in with the right conjugation of the indicated verb, in the correct tense.

Io ................... (capire) la lezione.

Voglio che tu ....................... (capire) la lezione.

I ragazzi non ........................... (capire) l'italiano.

....................(Finire) i tuoi compiti, Paolo!

Spero che mamma e papà....................... (finire) di mangiare presto.

Non credo che Francesca .............................. (capire) la serietà della situazione.

Non penso che i ragazzi .................................(finire) la lezione prima delle 8.

Ogni tanto quando gioca mio figlio ..................... (sparire).

Spero che tu non ....................... (impazzire) con questa lezione!

Adesso io ............................ (zittire) i ragazzi nel corridoio che fanno rumore.