Friday, October 25, 2013

How Italian verbs work






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Grammar books throw around terms like infinitive, person, conjugation, tense, regular and irregular all the time... but what do they really mean?  

All those terms are related to verbs and can be useful to understanding how Italian verbs work, so let's break them down:

INFINITIVE

Infinitive refers to the most basic form of the verb, the general verb that tells us nothing of tense (when it occurs)  or person (who did it.)

In English, infinitives have the word "to" in front of them.

to speak
to eat
to read
to write
to sleep
to finish

As you can see in the above examples, these have a very general meaning.  They refer to the action itself, and have no subject or time.

In Italian, infinitive verbs always end with one of three endings:  -ARE  -ERE  or -IRE.

parlare
mangiare
leggere
scrivere
dormire
finire

These are the same verbs from the English infinitives, and have the same meaning- they refer to the action itself and have no person or time.

PERSON

Person refers to the subject or the one doing the action. In Italian and English, they are:

Subject/Person pronouns in Italian by ab for didattichiamo.blogspot.com

If you hear somebody say "1st person singular" just know that's a fancy way of saying "I" or "io." If you hear third person plural, that's just "they" or "loro."  Easy right?


CONJUGATION

Verb endings are very important in Italian because they contain a lot of information about the tense (when the action occurred) and the subject (who did it.)  As we saw before, infinitives always have one of three endings: -ARE, -ERE or -IRE and the rest of the verb is what we call the stem or root:


Infinitive PARLARE stem and ending by ab for didattichiamo.blogspot.com

To express another time or tense, you change the infinitive ending (again -ARE, -ERE, or -IRE) with the ending for that tense and subject.  

In the following example, I want to conjugate parlare in the 1st person (io) present tense, so the ending I use is 'o':
Parlare ->  Parlo PARLARE conjugated in 1st person singular present tense by ab for didattichiamo.blogspot.com

Here, I've CONJUGATED the verb parlare 'to speak' into the first person present tense: parlo 'I speak'.  As you can see, all the information is in the verb ending.

TENSE

Learning a new tense in Italian means learning new sets of verb endings.  In general, there are different endings for each verb group (-ARE, -ERE or -IRE) and for each person (io, tu, lui/lei, noi, voi, loro)
(This may seem like a lot, but the variations from one group to the next become quite intuitive once you've learned one of them!)

Let's look at the simple present tense endings for -ARE verbs:


-ARE present tense endings by person by ab for didattichiamo.blogspot.com

TIP: When learning a new tense, write out all the conjugations in a two column, three line chart like the one above.  That way, the subjects will be clear without having to write them out every time.

Given the above endings and the fact that the root of 'parlare' is 'parl-' we can write out the present tense conjugations of 'parlare':

Present tense of PARLARE by ab for didattichiamo.blogspot.com


REGULAR/IRREGULAR

If a verb is Regular, that means it follows the predictable conjugation pattern.  'Parlare' in the example above, is regular: drop -ARE and add the present tense endings, and those are the present tense forms.

There are many regular verbs, so once you've learned how to conjugate one, you can figure out the conjugations of many others.

For example, 'fermare' 'to stop'  is also a regular verb.  Use the -ARE ending chart above if needed, write out the present tense conjugations of 'fermare': 

(Highlight the space below to reveal the answers)
io fermo               noi fermiamo
tu fermi               voi fermate 
lui/lei ferma         loro fermano

IRREGULAR verbs are ones that don't follow the predictable patterns above.  A very common irregular verb is 'essere' 'to be'  You cannot drop the -ERE and add endings, instead you must memorize each conjugation: (This verb is used so frequently, you'll have it memorized in no time, don't worry!)



Essere "to be" present tense conjugations by ab for didattichiamo.blogspot.com



We'll cover the -ERE and -IRE present tense conjugations in a later post (stay tuned!) but in the meantime...

How are we feeling?  Are all these grammar terms starting to make sense? Anything you're still not sure about?  Feel free to comment to this post or email me using the email form on the righthand side of the page... I'm happy to help!


Happy Studying!
-Alex

Ready to move on to the next lesson in this series?

See also: