Italian Preterite Perfect Tense

Learn the complex trapassato remoto tense

Learn the complex trapassato remoto tense
Learn the complex trapassato remoto tense. Plume Creative Creative, Illustration by Tom Howey.

You’ve learned about the passato remoto tense, which is the one you use in literature or to talk about events that happened in history. But you have also learned the trapassato remoto tense?

As you’ll see below, it’s a tense for students who are more advanced in their studies.

It’s used primarily in literary contexts and is known in English as the preterite perfect. It’s a compound tense formed with the passato remoto of the auxiliary verb avere or essere and the past participle of the acting verb.

For example, a sentence like the one below, in a literary context, would require the trapassato remoto.

As soon as Julia had gone down the stairs, she left the building. - Dopo che Giulia ebbe sceso le scale, uscì dal palazzo.

“Ebbe sceso” comes from the conjugated verb “essere - to be” and “sceso” is the past participle of the verb “scendere - to go down.”

The action indicated by the verb scendere (to descend—conjugated in the past perfect) occurs prior to the action indicated by the verb uscire (to exit, to leave—conjugated in the passato remoto).

The past perfect is a verb form that is used to refer to events, experiences, or facts that happened or were already completed before a point of reference in the past.

In each sentence set in the trapassato remoto, you will encounter an expression of time, such as the following: appena (barely), dopo che (as soon as), or finché non (up until).

For example:

  • Partirono, quando ebbero ricevuto la notizia. - They were leaving when they received the notice.
  • Renata entrò, appena Giorgio fu uscito. - Renata entered just after Giorgio had left.
  • Andò a casa, quando ebbe finito di lavorare. - He went home when he had finished working.
  • Dopo che ebbe letto quel libro, lei ne comprò uno nuovo. - After she had read that book, she bought a new one.
  • Non appena ebbi iniziato a guidare, ebbi bisogno di usare il bagno. - As soon as I started driving, I had to use the bathroom.

Most verbs of the second conjugation are irregular in the passato remoto tense.

To see how avere and essere are conjugated in the remote past tense, see the table below.






(io) ebbi

(noi) avemmo


(tu) avesti

(voi) aveste


(lui, lei, Lei) ebbe

(loro, Loro) ebbero






(io) fui

(noi) fummo


(tu) fosti

(voi) foste


(lui, lei, Lei) fu

(loro, Loro) furono

Note that if the verb requires “essere,” then you must change the ending of the past participle to agree with the subject in gender and number.

For example: Dopo che le ragazze furono salite sull’autobus, si sedettero. - After the girls got on the bus, they sat down.

The past participle “salire” ends in an -e because the subject is a group of girls. Click here to read more about gender and number agreement.