Italian verb tenses are one of the areas where learners struggle the most. One of the main difficulty is talking about the past correctly in Italian.
Indeed, in Italian there are many verbs that can be used to refer to the past. Two of the most used verbs in standard Italian to talk about the past are passato prossimo and the imperfect.
I already explained how to form passato prossimo and when and how to use it in another article: Learn the Italian past tense passato prossimo.
In this article, instead, I’ll focus on the imperfect tense.
Imperfect is an Italian verb tense that is used for many different functions. Let’s see them together.
1. Imperfect tense is used to indicate a fact happened in the past.
Mio fratello aveva un gatto, tanti anni fa
My brother used to have a cat many years ago
2. Imperfect tense is also used to talk about a past action that was carried out as a habit
Da bambina andavo sempre al parco col mio papà
When I was a child I always went to the park with my daddy
3. Imperfect tense is used to indicate an action that you were carrying out while another action happened
Guardavo la televisione, quando qualcuno bussò alla porta
I was watching television, when someone knocked at the door
Do you want to master all the Italian verb tenses? Have a look at my book Sos Italian verbs.
4. Imperfect tense is also used to make a request in a gentle way
Volevo tre bistecche di tacchino
I wanted three turkey steaks
5. Imperfect tense is used to describe characteristics of people, places or objects
Era una donna interessante. Aveva lunghi capelli neri e occhi verdi, e sorrideva sempre
She was an interesting woman. She had long black hair and green eyes, and she always smiled
6. Imperfetto is used after a past tense
L’ho visto mentre correva via
I saw him while he was running away
7. Finally, Imperfect tense is used informally to express a condition and a consequence
Se mi telefonavi, venivo subito
If you called me I would have come immediately
The formation of imperfect changes according to the type of verb – regular or irregular.
To form imperfect of regular verbs, you just replace the infinitive verb ending (-are, -ere, -ire) with one of the followings:
Cucinare -> cucinare -> Lui cucinava
Avere -> avere -> Noi avevamo
Dormire -> dormire -> Io dormivo
For irregular verbs there are no formation rules and they have to be learnt by heart.
Some examples are: essere (ero, eri, era, eravamo, eravate, erano), dire (dicevo, dicevi, diceva, dicevamo, dicevate, dicevano), fare (facevo, facevi, faceva, facevamo, facevate, facevano), dare (davo, davi, dava, davamo, davate, davano).
Can you talk about the past easily in Italian? Are you struggling with some topic? Drop me a line and I’ll write an article or I’ll make a video about it.
If you need to master or revise basic Italian grammar, have a look at my book Sos Italian grammar A1-A2.
Original photo by Alexas_Fotos