Italian Imperfect Tense

View of Matera in southern Italy
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“Every Sunday, when I was a kid, my nonna cooked us a big dinner.”

How do you express that sentiment in Italian? It’s something that happened in the past, but since it was something that happened often, you wouldn’t use the present perfect, or il passato prossimo.

In this and similar cases, which we’ll discuss throughout this article, you would use the imperfect tense.

Lucky for you, this tense, l’imperfetto, is formed by adding the same endings to all three conjugations. The only difference is the typical vowel of the infinitive.

What’s more, you should know that the imperfect tense is much more frequently used in Italian than in English. It expresses the English "used to" and is used to describe actions or conditions that lasted an indefinite time in the past. It's also used to express a habitual action in the past and to describe time, age, and weather in the past. So if you like telling stories, it’s a critical tense to learn.

Adverbial Expressions That Are Commonly Used With the Imperfect Tense:

  • a volte - at times, sometimes
  • continuamente - continuously
  • giorno dopo giorno - day in and day out
  • ogni tanto - once in awhile
  • sempre - always
  • spesso spesso - again and again
  • tutti i giorni - every day

How to Conjugate Regular Verbs in the Imperfect Tense

Mangiare - To eat (regular verbs with -are endings)

Mangiavo - I ate Mangiavamo - We ate
Mangiavi - You ate Mangiavate - You (all) ate
Mangiava - He/she/it ate Mangiavano - They ate

Finire - To finish (regular verbs with -ire endings)

Finivo - I finished Finivamo - We finished
Finivi - You finished Finivate - You (all) finished
Finiva - He/she/it finished Finivano - They finished

Prendere - To take, to get (regular verbs with -ere endings)

Prendevo - I took Prendevamo - We took
Prendevi - You took Prendevate - You (all) took
Prendeva - He/she/it took Prendevano - They took

Using Common, Irregular Verbs

Essere - To be

Ero - I was Eravamo - We were
Eri - You were Eravate - You (all) were
Era - He/she/it was Erano - They were

Fare - To do/to make

Facevo - I did Facevamo - We did
Facevi - You did Facevate - You (all) did
Faceva - He/she/it did Facevano - They did

Dire - To say, to tell

Dicevo - I said Dicevamo - We said
Dicevi - You said Dicevate - You (all) said
Diceva - He/she/it said Dicevano - They said

Examples Using L’imperfetto:

  • Ogni domenica, quando ero un bambino/a, mia nonna ci preparava una splendida cena. Every Sunday, when I was a kid, my nonna cooked us a big dinner.
  • Giocavo a calcio ogni pomeriggio. I played soccer every afternoon.
  • Quando ero piccolo/a, mangiavo la pasta ogni giorno. When I was a kid, I ate pasta every day.
  • La settimana scorsa, era (c’era) un tempo bellissimo! Last week, it was really beautiful weather!
  • Loro credevano sempre a tutto. They always believed everything.
  • Volevamo andare in Italia. We wanted to go to Italy.
  • Il cielo era sempre blu. The sky was always blue.
  • Ogni mattina, prendevo un bel cappuccino e un cornetto vuoto. Every morning, I got a cappuccino and a plain croissant.
  • Nel 2000, avevo quarant’anni. In 2000, I was forty years old.
  • Mi ricordo quello che diceva sempre mio padre: “Guarda il ceppo”! I remember what my dad always used to say: “Take a look at the log”! (figurative = the family)