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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: How are verbs conjugated?
English verbs are not heavily inflected. In fact, there are just three endings you can add to the infinitive of regular verbs:
“-s” for the third person singular present tense (for example, “plays”), “-ing” for the gerund (“playing”), and “-ed” for the past tense (“played”). Most combinations of tense, aspect, mood, and voice can be expressed using auxiliary and modal verbs.
Italian, on the other hand, is a heavily inflected language. Italian verbs have lots of different endings depending on their subject, tense, and mood.
The infinitive is the unconjugated form of the verb, the one you’ll find in a dictionary. Italian verbs are divided into three main conjugation groups, according to their infinitive endings.
Verbs of the first conjugation end in –are: for example, parlare, meaning “to speak.”
Verbs of the second conjugation end in –ere: for example, leggere, meaning “to read.”
Verbs of the third conjugation end in –ire: for example, dormire, meaning “to sleep.”
Each group has a different and regular conjugation pattern.
Even if there are a lot of irregular verbs, most Italian verbs follow one of these three systems of conjugation.
Each conjugation pattern has different endings you’ll need to add to the verb stem. To get the stem of a verb, all you have to do is take away -are, -ere, or -ire.
So the stem of parlare is parl-; the stem of leggere is legg-; and the stem of dormire is dorm-.
Verb endings are affected by mood, tense, person, number, and sometimes even gender. Let’s take a look!
Italian verbs have 4 finite moods. They are...
The indicative, to express facts: for example, io dormo (“I sleep”).
The imperative, to give orders: for example, dormi! (“sleep!”)
The subjunctive to express doubt, hope, fear, and possibility: for example, che io beva (“I drink”).
The conditional to express an action that depends on another fact that may or may not happen: for example, io leggerei (“I would read”).
There are also 3 non-finite moods, which usually have just one form.
The infinitive, which is also the dictionary form: for example, parlare (“to speak”).
The gerund, for progressive tenses: for example, leggendo (“reading”).
The participle, generally used as adjective or with other verbs: for example, parlato (“spoken”).
While mood shows the manner in which an action is expressed, the tense is what specifies when the action happens.
The only Italian mood that has all 8 tenses is the indicative, which is also the most used mood.
The only present tense is:
-The Present (io parlo, “I speak”)
Past tenses include:
-Present perfect (io ho parlato, “I have spoken”)
-Imperfect (io parlavo, “I spoke”)
-Past perfect (io avevo parlato, “I had spoken”)
-Absolute past (io parlai, “I spoke)
-Preterit Perfect (io ebbi parlato, “I had spoken”)
Future tenses are:
-The Future (io parlerò, “I will speak”)
-The Future Perfect (io avrò parlato, “I will have spoken”)
The other moods only have a couple of tenses (usually present and past), except for the subjunctive, which has a few more.


This looks like a lot! And it actually is one of the most challenging things, even for native speakers. But don’t panic! If you get started with the regular verbs in the indicative present tense, you’ll soon familiarize yourself with the conjugation patterns!
Pretty interesting, right?
If you have any more questions, please leave a comment below!
A presto! “See you soon!”