Whether to choose a nobler spiritual choice
Use one tense or another randomly,
Or take up arms against the ocean of grammar
Conquer fluency by mastering it.
Let’s face it, Italian verb tenses can be completely confusing to English speakers, especially when deciding between the two imperfect and present perfect tense. I ate or I ateoh? I was sleeping or I slept? Sometimes it feels like a coin toss! If you love the thrill of adventure, you might even be hesitant to end this exciting roller coaster ride, but mastering these verb tenses and the sense of power that comes with them is just a few steps away: Let’s grab it !
A line, a circle and a point
imperfect and present perfect tense The past tense is the most commonly used in spoken Italian, but how do we choose between the two?
The first step is visualization imperfect as a line and present perfect tense as a circle.
This line is the visual representation of the concept of duration and is central to the design. imperfectwhile the circle illustrates present perfect tense: Completed action, back to the start. So whenever you want to translate this expression ‘Habit (do something)’ Translate into Italian, select imperfectline; on the other hand, if you have only done something once or a few times, then use present perfect tense: circle.
What’s the point?this present perfect tense It can also describe an action that occurred at a specific moment in the past: a point.
On vacation I always read on the beach.
I read this book on the beach.
I read this book last year at the beach.
The second step is to resist the temptation to always equate passato prosimo with the present perfect and past tense. imperfect With simple past tense: sometimes there is a clear correspondence with the English tense, sometimes not.What’s more important is the contrast between the past tense and the long (imperfect) and complete the action (present perfect tense). The verb systems of the two languages have some similarities, but they don’t completely overlap.
Before continuing, try these tenses and fill in the gaps with the verbs in brackets. You will find the answer at the end of the article:
- Yesterday I was ____ so happy because _____ my friend from Madrid. (become, arrive)
- When _______ is in front of the computer, the light ____________ goes out. (Work, go)
- Last year ____________ stayed in Rome for two weeks. (stare)
The two souls of Passato Prosimo
According to the provisions of grammar textbooks, present perfect tense Refers to any past action, no matter how remote in time, whose impact continues or which we feel has some connection to the present: Next It means proximity after all.To talk about an action that has nothing to do with the present, we should use distant pastAs the name suggests, it is the distant past.
The fact is that existing languages do not always care about textbooks and rules, and in spoken Italian distant past almost completely replaced present perfect tense, Especially in northern and central Italy (except Tuscany). The opposite is true in southern Italy, especially Sicily, where the distant past is heavily used.
that’s why this present perfect tense can be translated as present perfect tense and Simple Past tense:
- Have you tried polenta and mushrooms from Cortina? —Have you ever had polenta and mushrooms in Cortina?
- Last year I had polenta and mushrooms in Cortina. — Last year I had polenta and mushrooms in Cortina.
- Christopher Columbus ate corn in the late 1400s. — Christopher Columbus ate corn in the late 1400s. (In Italian, this sentence would appear in distant past.)
So a simplified rule is: use present perfect tense For any action done in the past, whether near or far.
Photos of Passato
The third step is to take photos from the past using… imperfect! Imagine you want to freeze a moment in the past and you want to describe it to a friend; Good job:
Here’s a photo from many years ago: We were on vacation in Sardinia, in a beautiful apartment! The house is large and bright, with a porch and a large garden. Almost right by the sea. The child was a neighbor’s son, his name was George, and he was very friendly: we often spent our evenings in the garden, looking at the stars.We were happy and had a great time.
Here’s a photo from many years ago: We were on vacation in Sardinia, in a beautiful apartment! The house is large and bright, with a porch and a large garden. Almost right by the sea. The kid was a neighbor’s son, his name was George, and he was very friendly. Usually at night we would sit in the garden and watch the stars. We are very happy and always have a great time.
Here the English was/were translated as imperfectbecause it is a description of a state or situation in the past: we are on vacation. Then continuing with the description, our photos, we describe the appearance of the house and the neighbor’s son: (Apartment) Spacious and bright, with porch and large garden; almost right by the sea. The kid was a neighbor’s son, his name was George, and he was very friendly. story continues with description what we used to do On that holiday: At night we often sit in the garden and watch the stars. No good story can ignore emotion, use again imperfect: We were happy and had a great time.
Let’s continue reading:
Once we went out to sea with a fisherman: it was a new experience, an adventure, although we kids were a little scared when the fisherman brought the fish on board. Finally we cooked the fish of the day and ate it. We were there for three weeks and when we got home I was so sad.
Once we went out on a boat with a fisherman: it was a new experience, an adventure, although we kids were a little scared when the fisherman pulled the fish into the boat. Finally we cooked the fish of the day and ate it. We were there for three weeks and when we got home I was so sad.
While English uses past simple tense throughout the story, notice how Italian uses it interchangeably present perfect tense and imperfect: Once we took a boat out, once we took a boat out.When an action in the past has been completed, occurred once, or occurred only a few times and is not a habit, then present perfect tense Enter the scene and stand out from the character-drawn background imperfect.
Description returns to imperfect When we want to describe how we feel at that moment: Our kids are a little scared, we children are a little scared. This is the interaction between the two tenses: I was sad when we got home, when we go home (one-time action) i’m sad (feelings from the past).
at last, present perfect tense Represents the exact duration of an action completed in the past: We stayed there for three weeks. this imperfect Can also be used with expressions that determine duration, but only when the action is seen not in its complete, completed aspect but in its development.This is our circle (present perfect tense) and our line (imperfect) can help us:
As a child, I spent three weeks at the beach with my grandparents. — As a child, I spent three weeks at the beach with my grandparents.
This year I went to the beach with my grandparents for three weeks. — This year I spent three weeks at the beach with my grandparents.
when we consider imperfect It can also be translated using the English past continuous tense, where the duration aspect of this tense becomes more obvious:
- I was reading a book when you called me. — I was reading a book when you called me.
The past continuous tense can also be translated with the following structure stare + Gerund, emphasizing that the action is in progress.Here again emphasize the verb stare inside imperfect:
- I was reading a book when you called me. — I was reading a book when you called me.
all in all, present perfect tense used to talk about completed actions, whereas imperfect describe past habitual behavior; this present perfect tense describe actions that occur one after another, whereas imperfect Describe past states, situations, feelings, appearances.
Most of the time, we use present perfect tense describes a past action whose duration is certain, and imperfect Describes an action that occurred in the past of uncertain duration.
Finally, in English present perfect tense It can correspond to the present perfect tense and the simple past tense, because it is also used for actions completed at a certain time in the past, whether near or far; this imperfect Can correspond to the form “used to” (or would with the same meaning) and the past continuous tense.
Remember: a line, a circle, a point.
Now, the little exercise at the beginning of this article should be no longer a secret to you:
- yesterday Gaara happy because and arrived My friend from Madrid.
- although i used to work On the computer, lights and Disappeared pass.
- last year I am Stata Spent two weeks in Rome.
My Italian Circle videos about these tenses:
- Imperfect or now perfect?
- Imperfection: How to Form and Use It
- Present perfect tense: how to form it
- Present perfect tense: to exist or to have?
- Present perfect tense: how to use it
My Italian circle Here you can find fun new ways to learn Italian, test and improve your listening skills, and even get familiar with Italian grammar.We create clear, accurate, and authentic content every week Youtube and Patron.