Italian Compound Tenses

The compound tenses (i tempi composti) are verb tenses that consist of two words, such as the passato prossimo (present perfect). Both the verbs essere and avere act as helping verbs in compound tense formations. For example: io sono stato (I was) and ho avuto (I had).

In Italian there are four compound tenses:

Present Perfect: The passato prossimo—grammatically referred to as the present perfect—is a compound tense (tempo composto) that expresses a fact or action that happened in the recent past or that occurred long ago but still has ties to the present. Examples:

  • Ho appena chiamato  »  I just called
  • Mi sono iscritto all'università quattro anni fa  »  I entered the university four years ago
  • Questa mattina sono uscito presto  »  This morning I left early
  • Il Petrarca ha scritto sonetti immortali  »  Petrarca wrote enduring sonnets

Future perfect: The futuro anteriore or future perfect tense is a compound tense. How to express the idea of  "I will have" or "they will have"? Use future perfect tense. Examples:

  • Alle sette avremo già mangiato  »  By seven we'll already have eaten
  • Noi avremo parlato al padre di Anna  »  We will already have spoken to Anna's father

Pluperfect (past perfect tense): In English the past perfect tense (trapassato prossimo) is formed with the auxiliary "had" + the past participle of the main verb. In Italian, the trapassato prossimo, a compound tense, is formed with the imperfetto of the auxiliary verb avere or essere and the past participle of the acting verb.

  • Già erano partiti quando sono arrivato  »  They had already left when I arrived
  • Avevo chiuso le finestre quando è cominciato a piovere  »  I had shut the windows when it started to rain
  • La macchina sbandava perché aveva piovuto  »  The car was sliding because it had rained

Past anterior (trapassato remoto): Known in English as the preterite perfect, is used primarily in literary contexts. It's a compound tense formed with the passato remoto of the auxiliary verb avere or essere and the past participle of the acting verb.

To see how avere and essere conjugate in the remote past tense, see the tables below.

CONJUGATING AVERE IN THE REMOTE PAST

PERSON SINGULAR PLURAL
I (io) ebbi (noi) avemmo
II (tu) avesti (voi) aveste
III (lui, lei, Lei) ebbe (loro, Loro) ebbero
     
CONJUGATING ESSERE IN THE REMOTE PAST

PERSON SINGULAR PLURAL
I (io) fui (noi) fummo
II (tu) fosti (voi) foste
III (lui, lei, Lei) fu (loro, Loro) furono

Examples:

  • Partirono, quando ebbero ricevuto la notizia
    »  They were leaving when they received the notice
  • Renata entrò, appena Giorgio fu uscito
    »  Renata entered just after Giorgio had left
  • Andò a casa, quando ebbe finito di lavorare
    »  He went home when he had finished working

As you can see, in each sentence set in the trapassato remoto, you will encounter an expression of time, such as the following: appena (scarcely), dopo che (as soon as), or finché non (up until).




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