Unità 10 – Grammatica

L’ imperfetto


Quando ero piccola, andavo sempre in vacanza al mare. (When I was a kid, I always went on vacations by the sea)

Marco e Giulia guardavano la TV, quando all’improvviso è arrivata Michela. (Marco and Giulia were watching TV, when suddenly, Michela arrived)

Mentre Semia leggeva, Isabel cantava. (While Semia was reading, Isabel was singing)


We use the imperfect tense to talk about actions that happened routinely or for an extended period of time in the past, or for background information.


To form the imperfect tense, drop the infinitive ending and add the appropriate imperfect ending:

mangiare ricevere dormire
mangiavo ricevevo dormivo
mangiavi ricevevi dormivi
mangiava riceveva dormiva
mangiavamo ricevevamo dormivamo
mangiavate ricevevate dormivate
mangiavano ricevevano dormivano


The verb essere is irregular. A few verbs, including fare, dire and bere, use regular endings on irregular roots:

essere fare > fac- dire > dic- bere > bev-
ero facevo dicevo bevevo
eri facevi dicevi bevevi
era faceva diceva beveva
eravamo facevamo dicevamo bevevamo
eravate facevate dicevate bevevate
erano facevano dicevano bevevano


Uses of the imperfect tense. In general, we use the imperfect tense to describe actions that continue for an extended period of time or are repeated regularly in the past. In particular, we use the imperfect tense:

  • For routines or events that used to happen regularly: Es. Da piccolo, Mirko andava a scuola tutti i giorni. (When he was a child, Mirko used to go to school every day)
  • To emphasize the duration of an action: Es. Mentre mangiavo, leggevo un libro. (While I was eating, I read a book)
  • To talk about feelings: Es. Ieri ero triste. (Yesterday, I was sad)
  • To talk about the weather: Es. Ieri pioveva. (Yesterday, it was raining)
  • Some temporal expressions are usually associated with the imperfect tense:
  • Mentre (While)
  • Da piccolo/a  (As a child)
  • Normalmente, usualmente (Normally, usually)
  • Ogni giorno, mattina, anno, etc. (Every day, morning, year, etc.)

Passato prossimo or imperfetto?

In general, we use the passato prossimo to talk about something that happened once, all of a sudden, or to describe a completed action. We use the imperfetto to emphasize the duration of an action or state and to describe recurring or routine events of the past. We can represent the passato prossimo visually as a single dot, and the imperfetto as a line.

For example, compare:

Imperfetto Passato Prossimo
Da piccolo, andavo al mare ogni estate. (As a child, I used to go to the beach every summer)
This happened repeatedly
Tre anni fa, sono andato al mare una volta. (Three years ago, I once went to the beach)
This only happened once
Mentre Luca cucinava, Ida leggeva. (While Luca was cooking, Ida was reading)
Continued actions, with emphasis their duration
Luca ha cucinato, poi ha letto un libro. (Luca cooked, and then he read a book)
Isolated actions happening in sequence, with emphasis on the fact that they are completed

Sometimes, imperfetto and passato prossimo coexist in a sentence. This happens most frequently when the imperfetto is used to give background information in a story described in the passato prossimo. For example:

  • Mentre Luca cucinava, è arrivata la sua amica Ida. (While Luca was cooking, his friend Ida arrived)
  • Dormivo, quando all’improvviso il cane ha abbaiato e mi sono svegliata. (I was sleeping when suddenly the dog barked and I woke up)

In this case, the passato prossimo is often introduced by temporal expressions such as improvvisamente  or all’improvviso (suddenly).


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Voci: Corso elementare di lingua e culture italiane - Volume I by Daria Bozzato, Chiara Benetollo, and Metello Mugnai is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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