The Remote Past Tense in Italian

Funes Dolomites, Italy
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The remote past tense (passato remoto), although typically used to talk about history or in literature, is actually a simple tense and is formed by one word.

In general, as I referenced, it refers to the historical past or to events that have happened in the distant past relative to the speaker.

However, there are many places in the south of Italy that still use the remote past tense as the passato prossimo.

For example, someone might use the past remote tense to talk about something that happened just two weeks ago.

How to Form the Past Remote Tense

Follow this format to form the passato remoto of regular verbs:

  • For -are verbs, drop the infinitive ending and add one of these personal endings to the root: -ai, -asti, , -ammo, -aste, -arono.

  • For -ere verbs, drop the infinitive ending and add these personal endings to the root: -ei, -esti, , -emmo, -este, -erono. Note that many regular -ere verbs have an alternative form in the first person singular, third person singular, and third person plural forms.

  • For -ire verbs, drop the infinitive ending and add these personal endings to the root: -ii, -isti, , -immo, -iste, -irono.

Here are a few examples of how the remote past is used in Italian:

  • Dante si rifugiò a Ravenna. - Dante took refuge in Ravenna.

  • Petrarca morì nel 1374. - Petrarca died in 1374.

  • Michelangelo nacque nel 1475. - Michelangelo was born in 1475.

The table below provides examples of three regular Italian verbs (one of each class) conjugated in the remote past tense.

Conjugating Italian Verbs in the Remote Past Tense​

 

PARLARE

RICEVERE

CAPIRE

io

parlai

ricevei (ricevetti)

capii

tu

parlasti

ricevesti

capisti

lui, lei, Lei

parlò

ricevé (ricevette)

capí

noi

parlammo

ricevemmo

capimmo

voi

parlaste

riceveste

capiste

loro, Loro

parlarono

riceverono (ricevettero)

capirono

Irregular Verbs in the Past Remote Tense

Like with most verbs in Italian, there are plenty of irregular ones in the past remote tense.

Here are five common verbs.

1) Essere – To be

fui                    fummo

fosti                 foste

fu                     furono

— Albert Einstein fu un uomo di grande saggezza. – Albert Einstein was a man of great wisdom.

— “Fatti non foste per viver come bruti…” - “Consider your origins: You were not born to live like brutes." [Dante, La Divina Commedia, canto XXVI)

2) Avere – To have

ebbi                avemmo

avesti             aveste

ebbe               ebbero

— Ebbero così tanta fortuna da vincere persino il primo premio della lotteria nazionale! - They had such luck that they also won the first prize of the National Lottery!

— Giulia ebbe il coraggio di donare un rene a sua sorella. - Giulia had the courage to donate a kidney to her sister.

3) Fare – To do/make

feci                 facemmo

facesti           faceste

fece                fecero

— Con pochi soldi fecero un matrimonio bellissimo. – They set up a beautiful wedding with little money.

— Facemmo tutto il possibile per riportare alla luce l’affresco di Raffaello. - We did everything possible to bring to light Raffaello’s fresco.

4) Stare – To stay/to be

stetti               stemmo

stesti              steste

stette              stettero

— Mi ricordo che stetti in silenzio tutta la festa. Ero troppo timida! - I remember I spent the whole party without saying a word. I was too shy!

— I feriti, dopo la scoperta della penicillina nel 1937, stettero subito meglio. - The wounded felt immediately better after the discovery of penicillin in 1937.

5) Dire – To say

dissi               dicemmo

dicesti           diceste

disse              dissero

— Cimabue disse: “L’allievo ha superato il maestro.” – Cimabue said: “The pupil has surpassed the teacher.”

— Romeo e Giulietta si dissero parole d’amore che sono arrivate fino ai nostri tempi! - Romeo and Juliet said words of love to each other that have persisted until the present!

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Filippo, Michael San. "The Remote Past Tense in Italian." ThoughtCo, Aug. 10, 2017, thoughtco.com/italian-remote-past-tense-2011716. Filippo, Michael San. (2017, August 10). The Remote Past Tense in Italian. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/italian-remote-past-tense-2011716 Filippo, Michael San. "The Remote Past Tense in Italian." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/italian-remote-past-tense-2011716 (accessed January 24, 2018).