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Lesson Transcript

Intro

Hi everybody! Marika here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Italian questions.
The Question
The question for this lesson is: Essere or Avere? How can I choose the right auxiliary verb in compound verbs?
Explanation
In Italian, when forming compound tenses (such as the present perfect, or passato prossimo), you’ll need an auxiliary verb. This will either be essere, “to be,” or avere, “to have.” In English you don’t have to make this choice, as you only need “to have.” That’s why deciding which auxiliary to use in Italian can be a bit difficult at first.
Let’s have a look at some rules that’ll help you choose the right auxiliary.
The first thing you need to remember is that transitive verbs always need avere. Let’s see some examples.
Io ho mangiato una mela.
“I have eaten an apple.” – mangiare (“to eat”) is a transitive verb, meaning that it can have a direct object.
Giorgio ha guardato un film.
“Giorgio has watched a movie.” – guardare (“to watch”) is also transitive.
Abbiamo conosciuto Laura.
“We have met Laura.” – conoscere (“to meet”) is also transitive.
Reflexive verbs, on the other hand, always use essere. Let’s see an example:
Mi sono innamorato.
“I have fallen in love.” – innamorarsi (“to fall in love”) is reflexive.
Verbs in the passive form also use essere.
La mela è stata mangiata.
“The apple has been eaten.” – è stata mangiata meaning “has been eaten” is a passive form of mangiare (“to eat”).
What about intransitive verbs? Some use essere and others avere. Although there are no set rules, here are some things you can look out for.
For example, intransitive verbs of movement always use essere, such as andare (“to go”) and arrivare (“to arrive”). Here are two sample sentences:
Ieri sono andata a Venezia. (“Yesterday I went to Venice.”)
Siete arrivati tardi. (“You have arrived late.”)
On the other hand, intransitive verbs of movement, where the destination doesn’t need to be mentioned, always use avere. Some examples are camminare (“to walk”) or viaggiare (“to travel”).
A few sample sentences:
Abbiamo camminato tanto. (“We’ve walked a lot.”)
Ho viaggiato in treno. (“I’ve traveled by train.”)

Outro

One last thing. There are some cases where both essere and avere are acceptable.
This mainly happens with verbs about the weather: piovere (“to rain”), nevicare (“to snow”), grandinare (“to hail”), tuonare (“to thunder”).
So you can say è piovuto, but also ha piovuto. Both mean “it has rained.”
Pretty interesting, right?
If you have any more questions, please leave a comment below!
A presto! “See you soon!”

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