Italian Imperfect Tense

Understanding the Italian Imperfect Tense

View of Matera in southern Italy
"We wanted to go to Italy.". Ghost Presenter/Pexels/Getty Images

“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 an 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 ateMangiavamo - We ate
Mangiavi - You ateMangiavate - You (all) ate
Mangiava - He/she/it ateMangiavano - They ate

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

Finivo - I finishedFinivamo - We finished
Finivi - You finishedFinivate - You (all) finished
Finiva - He/she/it finishedFinivano - They finished

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

Prendevo - I tookPrendevamo - We took
Prendevi - You tookPrendevate - You (all) took
Prendeva - He/she/it tookPrendevano - They took

Here Are a Few Charts Using Common, Irregular Verbs

Essere - To be

Ero - I wasEravamo - We were
Eri - You wereEravate - You (all) were
Era - He/she/it wasErano - They were

Fare - To do/to make

Facevo - I didFacevamo - We did
Facevi - You didFacevate - You (all) did
Faceva - He/she/it didFacevano - They did

Dire - To say, to tell

Dicevo - I saidDicevamo - We said
Dicevi - You saidDicevate - You (all) said
Diceva - He/she/it saidDicevano - They said

Some 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)

It can often be confusing to choose between l’imperfetto and il passato prossimo, so if you need some more examples of when to choose either one, check out the link above.

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Filippo, Michael San. "Italian Imperfect Tense." ThoughtCo, Jul. 16, 2017, Filippo, Michael San. (2017, July 16). Italian Imperfect Tense. Retrieved from Filippo, Michael San. "Italian Imperfect Tense." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2018).