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Past Tense with “essere” (to be)

Most of the time the past tense in Italian is formed by taking the verb “avere” + the past participle. There are however some cases where instead of using “avere” we must use essere + the past participle

Here is the conjugation of “essere”

sono = I am
sei = You are (singular)
è = He/she is
siamo = we are
siete = you are (plural)
sono = they are

We take one of the above forms (depending on which one we want to use) and then we add our past participle.

Just to be sure that you know how to form a past participle here is how:

To form a past partciple, start from the infinitve form of the verb. Infinitives end in either “are” “ere” or “ire”

If the infinitive ends in “are” then you cut off the “are” and add the letters “ato” parlare —> parl —> parlato = spoken

If the infinitive ends in “ere” then you cut off the “ere” and add the letters “uto” vedere —> ved —> veduto = seen

If the infinitive ends in “ire” then you cut off the “ire” and add the letters “ito” finire —> fin —> finito = finished

The above rules do not apply if the past participle is irregular. In that case you would use the past participles that you see in parentheses in the list of verbs below. Example: essere —> stato

Here are the verbs that take “essere” instead of “avere” irregular past particples are in parenthesis.

to arrive arrivare
to go andare
to go out uscire
to enter entrare
to come venire (venuto)
to be essere (stato)
to leave partire
to stay, be stare (stato)
to disappear sparire
to come back tornare
to be born nascere (nato)
to die morire (morto)
to remain rimanere (rimasto)

So let’s try some:

I stayed home

1. Go to the “I am” form of essere which is sono.
2. Find your past participle which is “rimasto”
3. put it together and what to you get?
4. Sono rimasto a casa = I stayed home.

OK simple right……it does get a little harder.

The spelling of the past participle changes depending on the number and gender of the subject.

so let’s take the past particple “rimasto”. If the subject is masculine singular, the past participle ends in “o” — rimasto. If the subject is feminine singular the past particple ends in “a” —rimasta. If the subject is masculine plural the past particple ends in “i” — rimasti. If the subject is feminine plural the past participle ends in “e” — rimaste


He stayed home = è rimasto a casa.


She stayed home = è rimasta a casa.


Laura e Jessica stayed home = Laura e Jessica sono rimaste a casa.


Jacob e Scott stayed home = Jacob e Scott sono rimasti a casa.

So as you can see, the spelling of the past participle changes depending on the subject. This does not occur with verbs conjugated with “avere”

Now you try:

Michael (He) went to school = Michael andò a scuola

Janet (She) went to school = Janet andò a scuola

Michael e Paolo (They) went to school. = Michael e Paolo andarono a scuola

Janet e Beth (They) went to school. = Janet e Beth andaronon a scuola

Exercise: The Bald Knight

Once upon a time, a long time, there was a knight who, as he grew older, lost all his hair.

He became as bald as an egg. He didn’t want anyone to see his bald head so he bought a beautiful, black, curly wig.

One day some lords and ladies from the castle invited him to go hunting with them, so of course he put on his beautiful wig. “How handsome I look!” he thought to himself as he was dressing in front of his mirror. Then he set off happily for the forest.

However, a terrible thing happened. He was riding alone, singing merrily to himself, when he passed under an oak tree, and his wig caught on a branch and fell off in full view of everyone.

How they all laughed at him! At first the poor knight felt very foolish but then he saw the funny side of the situation, and he started laughing, too.

They were all still laughing when they arrived back at the castle. The knight never wore his wig again.

The moral of this story is: When people laugh at us, it is best to laugh with them.

IL Re calvo

C’era una volta , molto tempo fa un Re che come ( diventare) vecchio, ( perdere) tutti i suoi capelli.

Egli (diventare) calvo come un uovo.

Egli non voleva che nessuno vedesse la sua calvizie, così ( comperare) una bellissima nera, riccia parrucca.

Un giorno alcuni signori e signore del castello lo invitarono ad andare a caccia con loro, così egli si ( mettere) la sua bellissima parrucca. ” Come sto bene” ( pensare) tra sè e sè quando la stava indossando di fronte allo specchio.

A quel punto ( partire) felicemente per la foresta.

Comunque, ( succedere) una cosa terribile. Mentre stava cavalcando da solo, cantando felicemente,  ( passare) sotto una quercia, quando la sua parrucca si impigliò in un ramo e ( cadde) a terra alla  vista di tutti.

Come gli ( ridere) tutti! In un primo momento il povero Re si sentì molto sciocco, ma quando ( vedere) la parte buffa della cosa, (iniziare) a ridere anche lui. Tutti stavano ancora ridendo , quando ( ritornare) al castello. Il Re non ( indossare) di nuovo la sua parrucca.

La morale della storia è: quando la gente ride di noi, è meglio ridere con loro.

Article by Giacomo DePasquale

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