Italian Past Perfect Tense

Trapassato Prossimo in Italian

Avevo chiuso le finestre quando è cominciato a piovere. (I had shut the windows when it started to rain.). photography by Jo-Ann Stokes/Moment/Getty Images

In English, the past perfect tense (trapassato prossimo) is formed with the auxiliary "had" plus the past participle of the main verb. In Italian, the trapassato prossimo, a compound tense, is formed with the imperfetto of the auxiliary verb avere or essere and the past participle of the acting verb.

The students were tired because they had studied until late. He didn't go to the theater because he had already seen the film. The past perfect tense (trapassato prossimo) is used when two actions happened at different times in the past.

Here are a few examples of the trapassato prossimo:

Già erano partiti quando sono arrivato. (They had already left when I arrived.)
Avevo chiuso le finestre quando è cominciato a piovere. (I had shut the windows when it started to rain.)
La macchina sbandava perché aveva piovuto. (The car was sliding because it had rained.)

Using Auxiliary Verb Avere

The appropriate tense of avere or essere (called the auxiliary or helping verbs) and the past participle of the target verb forms the verb phrase.

Avere is used in a myriad of grammatical and linguistic situations. Learning the many conjugations and uses of the verb is crucial to the study of the Italian language.

In general, transitive verbs are conjugated with avere. Transitive verbs express an action that carries over from the subject to the direct object: The teacher explains the lesson.

The past participle is invariable when the passato prossimo is constructed with avere.

Today Anna isn't working because she worked yesterday. Oggi Anna non lavora perchè ha lavorato ieri.

The others worked yesterday too. Anche gli altri hanno lavorato ieri.

When the past participle of a verb conjugated with avere is preceded by the third person direct object pronouns lo, la, le, or li, the past participle agrees with the preceding direct object pronoun in gender and number.

Avere is an irregular verb (un verbo irregolare); it does not follow a predictable pattern of conjugation.

Using Auxiliary Verb Essere

When using essere, the past participle always agrees in gender and number with the subject of the verb. It can therefore have four endings: -o, -a, -i, -e. In many cases, intransitive verbs (those that cannot take a direct object), especially those expressing motion, are conjugated with the auxiliary verb essere.

The verb essere is also conjugated with itself as the auxiliary verb.

Some of the most common verbs that form compound tenses with essere include:

  • andare—to go
  • arrivare—to arrive
  • cadere—to fall, to drop
  • costare—to cost
  • crescere—to grow
  • diventare—to become
  • durare—to last, to continue
  • entrare—to enter
  • morire—to die
  • nascere—to be born
  • partire—to leave, to depart
  • restare—to stay, to remain
  • tornare—to return
  • uscire—to exit
  • venire—to come

Conjugating Italian Verbs in the Past Perfect With Avere and Essere

io avevo parlato avevo creduto ero andato(-a) ero uscito(-a)
tu avevi parlato avevi creduto eri andato(-a) eri uscito(-a)
lui, lei, Lei aveva parlato aveva creduto era andato(-a) era uscito(-a)
noi avevamo parlato avevamo creduto eravamo andati(-e) eravamo usciti(-e)
voi avevate parlato avevate creduto eravate andati(-e) eravate usciti(-e)
loro, Loro avevano parlato avevano creduto erano andati(-e) erano usciti(-e)