Italian Subjunctive Mode (Part 2): 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 Italian 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! This is the second blog post in the “Speak Italian” series that focuses 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 situations in which phrases that use the verbs volere, desiderare, piacere, and dispiacere take the subjunctive mode. We will also learn the conjugation of the subjunctive mode for the -are, -ere, and -ire verbs and the commonly used irregular verbs andare, fare, sapere, and venire. Example sentences will follow!
In each blog post in the “Speak Italian” series about the 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 second blog post in this series, “Speak Italian: How to Use the Italian Subjunctive Mode (Part 2)!”
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.
Once Again… 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.
In our first blog about the Italian subjunctive mode, we learned that these initial phrases fall into several groups. We discussed Group 1 through Group 5, which are given below for review.
- 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…”
- Phrases that use the verbs volere and desiderare when the subject in the introductory phrase is not the same as the subject in the clause that follows. In this situation, these verbs will be followed by che.
- Phrases that use the verbs piacere and dispiacere when the subject in the introductory phrase is not the same as the subject in the clause that follows. In this situation, these verbs will be followed by che.
To follow in the next sections is an explanation of several more phrases that can be used to introduce the subjunctive mode, which we have added into our original list as Group 6 and Group 7.
As usual, there is a summary table at the end of the next section that shows how to use these phrases. The present tense phrases are in the first two columns and the past tense phrases in the last two columns. Notice that the imperfetto form of the past tense is given in our table.
Points to remember about the subjunctive mode:
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.
*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.
How to Use the Italian Subjunctive Mode with
Volere and Desiderare
When expressing one’s desire in Italian in the first person (io conjugation), voglio/vorrei and desidero are used in similar situations to mean I want and I would like. In this case, these helping verbs are followed directly by another verb that is in the infinitive tense (if you remember, infinitive verbs end in -are, -ere, -ire and translate as “to…”). Of course, these verbs can also be followed by a noun, the “object of our desire”!
Volere and desiderare are covered in detail in Chapter 4 of our textbook, Conversational Italian for Travelers, if you would like a review. Below are some simple examples:
Voglio imparare l’italiano. I want to learn Italian.
Vorrei viaggiare in Italia. I would like to travel in Italy.
Desidero andare al cinema. I want to go to the movies.
But when these same verbs—voglio/vorrei and desidero—are used to express a desire for something that the speaker in the first person (io) wants another person to do, then these helping verbs must be followed by che, and then the subjunctive mode should be used for the verb in the next phrase.
How to Use the Italian Subjunctive Mode with
Piacere and Dispiacere
The verb forms mi piace, mi piacerrebbe and mi dispiace, mi dispiaccerebbe follow the same rule given for the verbs in Group 6 we just discussed: when the verb that follows these introductory phrases refers to the speaker (io form), then a verb in the infinitive form follows directly. When the verb that follows refers to someone else, che is used as a link to a verb in the subjunctive mode in the second clause.
In our example table that follows, we will illustrate the use of che followed by a different speaker from the introductory phrase with ...che tu. This conjunction means …that you. Of course, we can replace tu with any of the other subject pronouns, and then the phrases would be: ….che Lei, che lei, che lui, che noi, che voi, or che loro.
|Phrases Used to Introduce the Subjunctive Mode with Volere, Desiderare, Piacere, Dispiacere|
|Present Tense &
Groups 6 and 7
|Past Tense &
Past Conditional Tense
Groups 6 and 7
|Voglio… che tu||I want… that you||Volevo… che tu||I wanted… that you|
|Vorrei… che tu||I would like…
|Volevo… che tu||I wanted… that you|
|Desidero… che tu||I want… that you||Desideravo… che tu||I wanted… that you|
|Mi piace… che tu||I like… that you||Mi piaceva… che tu||I liked… that you|
|Mi dispiace… che tu||I am sorry… that you||Mi dispiaceva… che tu||I was sorry… that you|
|I would like…
|Mi sarebbe piaciuto… che tu||I would have liked…
|I don’t mind…
|Mi sarebbe piaciuto… che tu||I didn’t mind… that you|
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 the Italian Subjunctive Mode Present Tense for -are, -ere, and -ire Verbs
To change any regular infinitive verb into the present subjunctive mode, first drop the final -are, -ere, or -ire to create the stem. Then add the endings given in the first table below to the stem that has been created. Examples for each verb type are given in the second table below.*
The word che is included in parentheses in the subject pronoun column as a reminder that these verb forms typically are used with the conjunction che. Also, use the subject pronoun in your sentence after che for clarity, since the endings for the singular forms are all the same!
Practice the subjunctive verbs out loud by saying che, the subject pronoun and then the correct verb form that follows!
|Subjunctive Mode – Present Tense|
|Subject Pronoun||-are ending||-ere ending||-ire ending|
*(The stressed syllable for the example verbs has been underlined in the table above.)
- When pronouncing the subjunctive verbs, the stress will fall in the same place as in the conjugated verb forms for the present tense. This will be in the beginning of the verb (first or second syllable) for the io, tu, Lei/lei, lui, and loro forms, and one syllable to the right (second or third syllable) for the noi and voi forms.
- Notice that all of the singular subjunctive endings (io, tu, Lei/lei lui) are the same for each infinitive form of the verb.
- Also, all the endings for the -ere and -ire verbs are identical in the first person!
- The noi and voi forms are the same for all infinitive verb forms as well.
- The noi form is identical to the present tense!
The Subjunctive Mode – Irregular Present Tense
Commonly Used Verbs
Here are the irregular subjunctive forms for six commonly used verbs in Italian. It may be useful to commit these forms to memory, as these verbs are often used in the subjunctive mode in written and spoken Italian. Notice that the translation is the simple present tense in English.
Andare – to go – subjunctive mode
|(che) io||vada||I go|
|(che) tu||vada||you (familiar) go|
|vada||you (polite) go
|(che) noi||andiamo||we go|
|(che) voi||andiate||you all go|
|(che) loro||vadano||they go|
Dare – to give – subjunctive mode
|(che) io||dia||I give|
|(che) tu||dia||you give|
|(che) noi||diamo||we give|
|(che) voi||diate||you all give|
|(che) loro||diano||they give|
Dire – to say/ to tell – subjunctive mode
|(che) io||dica||I say/tell|
|(che) tu||dica||you (familiar) say/tell
|dica||you (polite) say/tell
|(che) noi||diciamo||we say/tell|
|(che) voi||diciate||you all say/tell|
|(che) loro||dicano||they say/tell|
Fare – to do/ to make– subjunctive mode
|(che) io||faccia||I do/ make|
|(che) tu||faccia||you (familiar) do/make
|faccia||you (polite) do/make
|(che) noi||facciamo||we do/make|
|(che) voi||facciate||you all do/make|
|(che) loro||facciano||they do/make|
Sapere – to know (facts) – subjunctive mode
|(che) io||sappia||I know|
|(che) tu||sappia||you (familiar) know|
|sappia||you (polite) know
|(che) noi||sappiamo||we know|
|(che) voi||sappiate||you all know|
|(che) loro||sappiano||they know|
Venire – to come – Subjunctive Mode
|(che) io||venga||I come|
|(che) tu||venga||you (familiar) come|
|venga||you (polite) come
|(che) noi||veniamo||we come|
|(che) voi||veniate||you all come|
|(che) loro||vengano||they come|
Example Phrases Using the Present Tense Subjunctive Mode
To follow are some examples of how the Italian subjunctive mode in the present tense might be used in conversation during daily life. (In later blog posts in this series, we will cover examples of how to use the subjunctive when the introductory phrase is in the conditional or past tense.) Remember, even in Italian, the subjunctive is not an absolute requirement, but in the phrases below, the subjunctive mode is often used.
Notice that in English we do not use the subjunctive mode in the present tense. Also, in general, we often leave out the word “that” from our sentences that contain two phrases. But, as mentioned previously, the Italian word for “that,” “che,” is not an option when linking two phrases! For the translations, the Italian sentence structure is given first in italics to help us to think in Italian. The correct English is in bold.
We will use the example introductory phrases and verbs from earlier in this section. How many more combinations can you think of?
|Voglio che tu torni presto.||I want that you return soon. =
I want you to return soon.
|Voglio che lui venda la macchina vecchia.||I want that he sells the old car. =
I want him to sell the old car.
|Desidero che lei parta questa sera.||I want that she leaves tonight. =
I want her to leave tonight.
|Desidero che Lei faccia una bella festa per il presidente.||I want that you make a nice party for the president.
I want you to make a nice party for the president.
|Mi piace che tu vada a Roma ogni giorno.||I like that you go to Rome every day. =
I like you to go to Rome every day.
|Mi dispiace che lui non sappia questa informazione.||I am sorry that he doesn’t know this information. =
I am sorry he doesn’t know this information.
|Voglio che noi torniamo presto.||I want that we return soon. =
I want us to return soon.
|Voglio che noi vendiamo la macchina vecchia.||I want that we sell the old car. =
I want us to sell the old car.
|Desidero che voi partiate questa sera.||I want that you all leave tonight. =
I want you all to leave tonight.
|Desidero che voi facciate una bella festa per il presidente.||I want that you all make a nice party for the president. = I want you all to make a nice party for the president.|
|Mi piace che voi andiate a Roma ogni giorno.||I like that you all go to Rome every day. =
I like you to go to Rome every day.
|Mi dispiace che voi non sappiate questa informazione.||I am sorry that you all don’t know this information. =
I am sorry you all don’t know this information.
|Voglio che loro tornino presto.||I want that they return soon. =
I want them to return soon.
|Voglio che loro vendano la macchina vecchia.||I want that they sell the old car. =
I want them to sell the old car.
|Desidero che loro partano questa sera.||I want that they leave tonight. =
I want them to leave tonight.
|Desidero che loro facciano una bella festa per il presidente.||I want that they make a nice party for the president. = I want them to make a nice party for the president.|
|Mi piace che loro vadano a Roma ogni giorno.||I like that they go to Rome every day. =
I like them to go to Rome every day.
|Mi dispiace che loro non sappiano questa informazione.||I am sorry that they don’t know this information. =
I am sorry they don’t know this information.
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. “Everything you need to know to enjoy your visit to Italy!”
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Italian Subjunctive Mode (Part 2): Speak Italian!