Past tense in Italian – “L’imperfetto”

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Let’s start with some regular verbs: abitare (to live), avere (to have) and aprire (to open).

abit-are av-ere apr-ire
abitavo avevo aprivo
abitavi avevi aprivi
abitava aveva apriva
abitavamo avevamo aprivamo
abitavate avevate aprivate
abitavano avevano aprivano

 

And some irregular’s: essere (to be), fare (to do), dire (to say), bere (to drink), porre (to put) and tradurre (to translate).

essere fare dire bere porre tradurre
ero facevo dicevo bevevo ponevo traducevo
eri faceva dicevi bevevi ponevi traducevi
era facevi diceva beveva poneva traduceva
eravamo facevamo dicevamo bevevamo ponevamo traducevamo
eravate facevate dicevate bevevate ponevate traducevate
erano facevano dicevano bevevano ponevano traducevano

 

We conjugate as:

tradurre: condurre (to bring), produrre (to produce), dedurre (to deduce), ridurre (to reduce), sedurre (to seduce).

porre: proporre (to propose), disporre (to organize), deporre (to put down), anteporre (to put something before), opporre (to oppose), supporre (to suppose).

dire: benedire (to bless), contraddire (to contradict), disdire [to cancel (an appointment)], maledire (to curse), predire (to predict).

When do we use “l’imperfetto”?

1) We use it to describe people, objects, places, situations, age, weather phenomenons;

 

Examples:

Il posto era troppo turistico > The place was too touristy

Quando abitavamo a Genova, avevamo una bellissima casa che dava sul porto. Era piccola ma molto carina e accogliente > When we lived in Genoa, we had a beautiful house by the harbor. It was small but very pretty and welcoming

Domenica il tempo non era per niente buono: c’era un gran vento e faceva molto freddo > The weather was not good at all Sunday: it was very windy and very cold.

Da bambina avevo i capelli biondi > As a child I had blond hair

2) We use it to describe an action that takes place over time and during which another momentary action occurs;

 

Examples:

Mentre guardavo la TV mi sono addormentato > While I was watching the television, I fell asleep

Mentre lei andava in bici un gatto nero ha attraversato la strada > While she was riding her bicycle, a black cat crossed the road

Intanto, mentre camminava, vide sul tronco di un albero un piccolo animaletto, che riluceva di una luce pallida e opaca, come un lumino da notte dentro una lampada di porcellana trasparente > Meanwhile, as he was walking, he saw on the trunk of a tree a small animal, which shone with a pale and opaque light, like a night-light inside a transparent porcelain lamp

3) We use it to describe the actions that take place at the same time and have the same duration;

 

 Examples:

I grandi banchetti duravano molte ore: mentre mangiavano e bevevano, i Romani chiacchieravano e si divertivano > The great banquets lasted many hours: while they were eating and drinking, the Romans chatted and enjoyed themselves

Mentre Francesca faceva le fotocopie, Silvia scriveva gli indirizzi sulle buste > While Francesca was making photocopies, Silvia wrote the addresses on the envelopes

4) We use it to describe actions that were repeated in the past;

 

Examples:

In primavera e in estate, dopo il lavoro, leggevamo il giornale sul terrazzo di casa e guardavamo il tramonto > During the spring and the summer, after work, we used to read the newspaper on the terrace of the house and watch the sunset

D’estate andavamo al mare tutti i giorni > In the summer we used to go to the beach every day

5) We use it to to describe physical, psychological, sensations and feelings;

 

Examples:

Piero piangeva di commozione, mentre Silvia rideva perché era la prima volta che vedeva suo marito confuso > Piero was crying with emotion, while Silvia laughed because it was the first time she saw her husband confused

Non mi sentivo bene ieri > I wasn’t feeling good yesterday

Anna non è venuta perché era depressa > Anna did not come because she was depressed

6) We use it at the beginning of a fairy tale;

 

Examples:

C’era una volta… > Once upon a time…

No, ragazzi, avete sbagliato. C’era una volta un pezzo di legno… > No guys, you are wrong. Once upon a time there was a piece of wood… (Cit. Pinocchio)

7) We use it to describe a continuous action that’s not finished or has not been limited in time;

 

Examples:

Anna era a casa e leggeva il giornale > Anna was home and was reading a newspaper.

Oh bella bambina dai capelli turchini, — gridava Pinocchio, — aprimi per carità! > Oh beautiful girl with blue hair, – shouted Pinocchio, – open please!

8) We use it in the construction “stare + gerundio”, “stare per”;

Examples:

Stavate mangiando? > Were you eating?

Stavamo per uscire quando ha suonato telefono > We were about to go out when the phone rang.

 

 

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