How Italian works.

Ha ha!  I can’t help you here.  I have no idea how Italian works.  I’ve been studying it for a long time and I am still almost completely clueless!

But, I persevere.

I thought I’d share with you on this sunny Sunday afternoon, something about how Italian is explained to me on a daily basis by my Italian teachers and textbook.  It’s extremely confusing.  Maybe its just me.

OK, so Intermediate Level, book 1.  We shall discuss how to decide to use which of 2 auxiliary verbs when forming the past tense.  That sounds simple enough.  Ready?


My book explains that

  1. some verbs use (or “take” in Italian) only AVERE (to have)

2. Some verbs use only ESSERE (to be)

3. Some verbs use both interchangeably

4. Reflexive verbs always use ESSERE

But then the fun stuff starts:

5. The passive form in the past tense is created using ESSERE even when the verb normally takes AVERE

6. Some verbs use AVERE when transitive and ESSERE when intransitive

Here my textbook veers off the complicated path to remind us what a TRANSITIVE Verb is, and what INTRANSITIVI VERBI are like.  I won’t bore you with the details since I barely grasp the concept anyhow.


Then my textbook goes back to the complicated path and reminds:

  1. The first group of verbs only uses AVERE**

**But remember, all transitive verb use ESSERE when

a. passive or

b. reflexive


2. The 2nd group uses ESSERE

3. The 3rd group uses either ESSERE or AVERE

4. The 4th group uses AVERE when transitive and ESSERE when intransitive

5. The 5th group involves the “verbi modali” which is 3 verbs: POTERE (to be able to); VOLERE (to want to); and DOVERE (to have to).

You’ll be relieved to know that the 3 modal verbs always use AVERE

except: when making the past tense, then you use whatever auxiliary verb the infinitive of the verb you are using normally takes.

So, for example, you might normally say Loro non sono rimasti. But if you want to use a model verb to give nuance to your phrase, then you might say Loro non sono voluti (see that! the normal past participle is voluto, but you needed to change it to plural male or voluti) rimanere.

So, to recap, you could happily say Loro non sono rimasti (they didn’t stay), but if you want to say They didn’t want to stay, then you have to make some adjustments.  In that case you would say, Loro non sono voluti rimanere (they didn’t want to stay).

My advice is just to skip the subject and accept that they didn’t stay but you have no idea what their motive was.




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