Auxiliary Verbs in Italian

"Essere" (to be) and "Avere" (to have) are called auxiliary verbs; they are called so because they help in the formation of compound tenses ("essere" + the past participle of a verb, "avere" + the past participle of a verb) and the passive construction ("essere" + a verb)

Generally speaking, "avere" is used with Transitive verbs (verbs which take an object) while "essere" is used with Reflexive and Intransitive verbs (verbs of motion, position, physical or mental condition, etc.). Examples:

  • Abbiamo venduto la casa    We have sold the house
  • Si frenata    She restrained herself
  • Voi siete arrivati a tempo    You arrived on time

"Stare" (to stay, to be) is used as an auxiliary verb with adverbial participles (so-called gerunds) to form Progresive Tenses:

The present progressive uses the present tense of "stare":
Sto parlando   I am speaking

The past progressiveuses the imperfect tense of "stare":
Stava leggendo    He was reading

"Andare" is used in a similar fashion as an auxiliary verb: Example:

  • Andava cantando    He went around singing