Italian Subjunctive Mode (Part 1): Speak Italian!
Can you speak Italian? By now, many of you have passed the beginning stages of learning how to speak Italian and can read and comprehend quite a bit of the language. Meraviglioso!
But have you tried to take the next step to speak Italian fluently? Can you use the Italian subjunctive mode in the correct situations? To express complex feelings in Italian correctly, it is important to use the Italian subjunctive mode. Using the subjunctive mode is difficult for English speakers, as we only rarely use this tense in English, and it’s something that I am always working on! The next three blogs in the “Speak Italian” blog series will focus on how to conjugate and use the Italian subjunctive mode, or “il congiuntivo.”
To take that giant step from simple beginning sentences to more complex and fluid sentences in Italian using the subjunctive, in this segment, we will discuss the phrases that take the subjunctive mode and the how to conjugate the subjunctive mode for avere, essere and stare. Example sentences to follow!
In each blog in the “Speak Italian” series about the Italian subjunctive mode (“il congiuntivo”), phrases that take the Italian subjunctive mode will be presented. Then we will review the Italian conjugation for the subjunctive mode. Finally, examples of common phrases used in daily life with the subjunctive mode will be presented. Remember these examples as “anchors” in your knowledge for when you must speak Italian and try out the subjunctive mode in your next Italian conversation!
Enjoy the first blog in this series, “Speak Italian: How to Use the Italian Subjunctive Mode!”
Some of this material is adapted from our textbook, Conversational Italian for Travelers © 2012 by Stella Lucente, LLC, found on www.learntravelitalian.com. Special thanks to Italian instructors Simona Giuggioli and Maria Vanessa Colapinto.
Introducing… Phrases That Take the Italian Subjunctive Mode
Verbs in Italian can have a subjunctive mode that is used to express doubt, uncertainty, desire, or a feeling.
The subjunctive mode is said to “open up” a conversation to discussion about a particular topic.
Certain phrases are commonly used to start a sentence in order to introduce the subjunctive mode, and these initial phrases will be in the indicative tense (the “usual” present or past tense). These initial phrases imply uncertainty and trigger the subjunctive mode in the phrase to follow.
These groups are listed below:
- Phrases that use the verbs credere (to believe), pensare (to think), and sperare (to hope). These verbs use the pattern: [verb + di + infinitive verb] to describe the beliefs, thoughts, or hopes that one has. When the subject in the introductory phrase is not the same as the subject in the clause that follows, the pattern changes to: [verb + che + subjunctive verb].*
- Impersonal constructions that begin with, “It is…” such as, “È possibile che…”
- Phrases that express a doubt, such as, “I don’t know…” or “Non so che…”
- Phrases that express uncertainty, such as, “It seems to me…” or “Mi sembra che…”
- Impersonal verbs followed by the conjunction che, such as, “Basta che…” “It is enough that,” or “Si dice che…” “They say that…”
In Italian, the introductory phrases usually end with a linking word, also known as a conjunction, which will be che. In this situation, che means that. The clause that follows our introductory phrase will then describe what the uncertainty is about.
Note that the simple present or past tenses can also be used after the introductory phrases listed below, rather than the subjunctive mode, if you are speaking about a fact or something you believe to be true. This use will make perfect sense to the Italian listener, even when the subjective mode is otherwise commonly used.
To follow is a (long) list of phrases that can be used to introduce the subjunctive mode, with the present tense in the first two columns and the past tense in the last two columns. Notice that the imperfetto form of the past tense is given in our table.
|Phrases That Take the Subjunctive Mode|
Groups 1 and 2
Groups 1 and 2
|Credo che||I believe that||Credevo che||I believed that|
|Penso che||I think that||Pensavo che||I thought that|
|Spero che||I hope that||Speravo che||I hoped that|
|È possibile che||It is possible that||Era possibile che||It was possible that|
|È probablile che||It is probable that||Era probabile che||It was probable that|
|È bene che||It is fine/good that||Era bene che||It was fine/good that|
|Sarebbe bene che||It would be good that||Sarebbe stato bene che||It would have been good that|
|È giusto che||It is right that||Era giusto che||It was right that|
|È meglio che||It is better that||Era meglio che||It was better that|
|È incredible che||It is incredible that||Era incredibile che||It was incredible that|
|È un peccato che||It is a shame that||Era un peccato che||It was a shame that|
|È una vergogna che||It is a disgrace that||Era una vergogna che||It was a disgrace that|
|È normale che||It is normal that||Era normale che||It was normal that|
Groups 3, 4, and 5
Groups 3, 4, and 5
|Non so che||I don’t know that||Non sapevo che||I didn’t know that|
|Non so dove||I don’t know where||Non sapevo dove||I didn’t know where|
|Non sono sicuro che||I am not sure that||Non ero sicuro che||I wasn’t sure that|
|Non ho idea che||I have no idea that||Non avevo idea che||I had no idea that|
|Non mi aspetto che||I couldn’t wait that||Non mi aspettavo che||I couldn’t wait that|
|Non c’è nulla che||There is nothing that||Non c’era nulla che||There was nothing that|
|Mi pare che||It seems to me||Mi pareva che||It seemed to me|
|Mi sembra che||It seems to me||Mi sembrava che||It seemed to me|
|Può darsi che||Perhaps|
|Ho l’impressione che||I have the impression that||Avevo l’impresione che||I had the impression that|
|Suppongo che||I suppose that||Supponevo che||I supposed that|
|Immagino che||I imagine that||Immaginavo che||I imagined that|
|Dubito che||I doubt that||Dubitavo che||I doubted that|
|Sono convinto che||I am convinced that||Ero convinto che||I was convinced that|
|A meno che||Unless|
|Conviene che||It is best that||Conveniva che||It was best that|
|Basta che||It is enough that||Bastava che||It was enough that|
|Malgrado che||In spite of that|
|Si dice che||It is said that||Si diceva che||It was said that|
|Dicono che||They say that||Dicevano che||They said that|
|Bisogno che||It’s necessary that||Bisognavo che||It was necessary that|
*When the speaker in the introductory phrase will carry out the action in the phrase to follow, Italian will use the following construction to link the phrases for credere, pensare, and sperare, and : di + infinitive verb. Example: Penso di andare a Roma domani. = I think I will go to Rome tomorrow.
Finally, a word of caution:
DO NOT USE THE SUBJUNCTIVE WITH THE FOLLOWING THREE PHRASES!
Forse = Perhaps
Secondo me = According to me
Per me = For me
The above may seem like exceptions to the rule, but perhaps… because these phrases already express doubt or your personal opinion… in the Italian way of thinking, it would be redundant to use these phrases along with the subjunctive!
How to Conjugate Italian Verbs “Essere,” “Avere,” and “Stare” in the Present Tense Subjunctive Mode
Here are the subjunctive forms for the Italian auxiliary verbs avere, stare, and essere, which are often used in the subjunctive mode in written and spoken Italian. Che is included in parentheses in the subject pronoun column as a reminder that these verb forms are typically used with the conjunction che. Also, use the subject pronoun in your sentence after che for clarity, since the singular forms are identical.
Practice the subjunctive verbs out loud by saying che , the subject pronoun and then the correct verb form that follows!
Avere – to have – Subjunctive Mode
|(che) io||abbia||I have|
|(che) tu||abbia||you (familiar) have|
|abbia||you (polite) have
|(che) noi||abbiamo||we have|
|(che) voi||abbiate||you all have|
|(che) loro||abbiano||they have|
Essere – to be – Subjunctive Mode
|(che) io||sia||I am|
|(che) tu||sia||you (familiar) are|
|sia||you (polite) are
|(che) noi||siamo||we are|
|(che) voi||siate||you all are|
|(che) loro||siano||they are|
Stare – to stay (to be) – Subjunctive Mode
|(che) io||stia||I stay (am)|
|(che) tu||stia||you (familiar) stay (are)|
|stia||you (polite) stay (are)
she/he stays (is)
|(che) noi||stiamo||we stay (are)|
|(che) voi||stiate||you all stay (are)|
|(che) loro||stiano||they stay (are)|
Example Phrases Using “Stare” in the Present Tense Subjunctive Mode
To follow are some examples of when the Italian subjunctive mode in the present tense might be used in conversation during daily life. Remember, even in Italian, the subjunctive is not an absolute requirement. But, in the phrases below, the subjunctive mode is often used. Notice that the English translation is the same for the present tense and the Italian subjunctive forms used in the sentences below.
We will start with sentences using stare (to stay/to be) in the subjunctive mode because this verb comes up very commonly in this modern life, when not a day seems to go by without an email being sent and received! The old formalities of opening and closing a letter have returned! After the greeting in an email, if there has not been recent communication, it is customary to mention a hope that all is well with the family. Here is a case for the subjunctive!
|Tu stai bene.||You (familiar) are well.||Spero che tu stia bene.||I hope that you (familiar) are well.|
|Lei sta bene.||You (polite) are well.
She is well.
|Spero che lei stia bene.||I hope that you (polite) are well.
I hope that she is well.
|Lui sta bene.||He is well.||Spero che lui stia bene.||I hope that he is well.|
|La famiglia sta bene.||The family is well.||Spero che la tua famiglia* stia bene.||I hope that the family* is well.|
|Tutti stanno bene.||Everyone/body
|Spero che tutti stiano bene.||I hope that everyone/everybody is well.|
*Famiglia = family and is a collective noun and takes the third person singular.
Example Phrases Using “Avere” in the Present Tense Subjunctive Mode
We often close an email with a hope as well—for a nice weekend, for instance, or that we will see the person we have contacted sometime soon. In this case, the phrases we most commonly use will need to use avere (to have) in the subjunctive mode.
|Buona settimana!||Have a good week!||Spero che tu abbia una buona settimana.
|I hope that you have a good week!|
|Buon fine settimana!||Have a good weekend!||Spero che tu abbia un buon fine settimana.
|I hope that you have a good weekend!|
|Have a good day.
Have a good evening.
|Spero che tu abbia una buona giornata/buona serata.||I hope that you have a good day/evening.|
Example Phrases Using “Essere” in the Present Tense Subjunctive Mode
The verb essere (to be) is commonly used when describing someone’s characteristics to someone else. But what if we are not sure that someone possesses a certain characteristic, or we would like someone to possess a characteristic we fear they may not have? Then we must use the subjunctive in our sentence! Here are a few examples. How many more can you think of?
|Lei è bella.||She is beautiful.||Mi sembra che lei sia bella.||She seems beautiful to me.
(It seems to me that she is beautiful.)
|L’insegnante è simpatico.||The teacher is nice.||Spero che l’insegnante sia simpatico.
|I hope that the teacher is nice.|
|Dio è in cielo.||God is in heaven.||Credo che Dio sia in cielo.
|I believe that God is in heaven.|
|L’attrice è brava in quel film.||The actress is great in that film.||Penso che l’attrice sia brava in quel film.
|I think that the actress is great in that film.|
|Lui è fortunato.||He is fortunate.||Spero che lui sia fortunato.
|I hope that he is fortunate.|
|Lei è contenta.||She is happy.||Mi pare che lei sia contenta.
|She seems happy to me.
(It seems to me that she is happy.)
|Loro sono bravi cantanti.||They are wonderful singers.||Può darsi che loro siano bravi cantanti.||Perhaps they are wonderful singers.|
|Lui è un bravo studente.||He is a good student.||Dubito che lui sia un bravo studente.
|I doubt that he is a good student.|
|Lei è sposata.||She is marrried.||È probabile che lei sia sposata.||She is probably married.
(It is probable that she is married.)
|Loro sono ricchi.||They are rich.||È possibile che loro siano ricchi.||It is possible that they are rich.|
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, author of the
Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books, is a teacher of Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
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Italian Subjunctive Mode (Part 1): Speak Italian!