Tag Archives: Italian Hypothetical Impossible

Italian Hypothetical Phrases from Conversational Italian

Italian Subjunctive (Part 5) – Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Family Reunion

Italian Subjunctive (Part 5): Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Italian Family Reunion

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog               The Italian subjunctive mood can be used to make Italian hypothetical phrases and talk about your own Italian family history!

 

Speak Italian: Italian Subjunctive Mood with Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Past

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? Have you ever wondered about if something had happened in the past what the consequences might have been? How would you express this idea in Italian? Well, we can express hypothetical, or “if” ideas, called hypothetical phrases, in several ways in Italian and often with the Italian subjunctive mood that we have been focusing on in this series! 

This is the fifth blog post in the “Speak Italian” series that focuses on how to use the Italian subjunctive mood, or “il congiuntivo,” and will include Italian hypothetical phrases.  

To take that giant step from simple beginning sentences to more complex and fluid sentences in Italian, in this segment, we will discuss how to form Italian hypothetical phrases for probable and impossible “if” situations in the past in Italian. 

We will learn how to conjugate the Italian trapassato subjunctive mood and how to form the Italian past conditional tense.  With these two tenses, we will be able to construct sentences that refer to the past using Italian hypothetical phrases.

We will also introduce the passato remoto past tense that is used to describe actions that began and were completed in the past when narrating a story. See the next blog in this series for more on the passato remoto.

An example story will start our discussion.  This story is about an Italian mother and daughter, Francesca and Maria, who are preparing a welcoming party for an Italian-American relative who is visiting the family for the first time. You may remember the characters from our recent Italian Subjunctive Mood Practice blog posts.

Speak Italian: Italian Subjunctive Mood with Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Past

In the first three blog posts in the “Speak Italian” series about the subjunctive mood (“il congiuntivo”), we have presented Italian phrases that take the Italian subjunctive mood in the present and past tenses.

In this blog post, we will focus on how to construct Italian hypothetical phrases for events that have occurred in the past, as well as the different Italian verb forms needed for probable past and impossible past situations.

Read our “real-life”story for examples that can be used as “anchors” in your knowledge for when you must speak Italian. Then next time you are wondering about something that might have happened in the past, start a conversation and use Italian hypothetical phrases!

Enjoy the fith blog post in this series, “Italian Subjunctive Mood (Part 5): Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Italian Family Reunion!
—Kathryn Occhipinti

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 instructor Maria Vanessa Colapinto.


Speak Italian: Italian Subjunctive Mood with Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Past

When reading the story below, notice the use of the imperfetto past tense (for making general statements about the past) and the passato remoto past tense (for describing actions that began and were completed in the past).  The passato remoto past tense will be in italic, and more details will follow about this tense in the next blog.

For this blog, focus on the construction of Italian hypothetical phrases that refer to events that have occurred in the past, which have been underlined for easy identification.

Italian Hypothetical Phrases in the Past:
A Family Reunion

It was a lovely spring day in April in the mountains of Abruzzo.  Frances and her daughter Mary met at Frances’ house in order to plan a party.

Era un bel giorno di aprile nelle montagne abruzzesi.  Francesca e sua figlia, che si chiama Maria, si sono incontrate a casa di Francesca per organizzare una festa.  

They wanted this party to be very special because Francesca’s cousin Rudy, who lives in America, was coming to Italy for the first time.
Loro volevano che questa festa fosse bellissima,  perché il cugino di Francesca, Rudy, che abita in America, veniva a visitare l’Italia per la prima volta.

 

“Tell me again how Great Uncle Mark, cousin Rudy’s grandfather, saved our family in Italy,” Mary asked her mother.

“Raccontami ancora come il prozio Marco, il nonno del cugino Rudolfo, ha salvato la nostra famiglia in Italia,” Maria ha chiesto a sua madre.

 

Frances replied (to her) with the following story:

Francesca le ha risposto con la storia qui di seguito:

 

Great grandmother Mary had a brother, whose name was Mark.

La bisnonna Maria aveva un fratello, che si chiamava Marco.

 

Great Uncle Mark left Italy and went to live in America with his family in 1920.

Il prozio Marco lasciò l’Italia e andò a vivere in America con la sua famiglia nel 1920.

 

He had to leave Italy to find work, because after World War I there was no work in Italy.

Dovette lasciare l’Italia per trovare lavoro, perchè dopo la Prima Guerra Mondiale, non c’era lavoro in Italia.

 

Right after Uncle Mark had left Italy, great grandmother’s husband died, and she was left all alone to raise their three children.

Subito dopo che lo zio Marco lasciò l’Italia, il marito della bisnonna morì, e lei era da sola a crescere i suoi tre figli.

 

In Italy in the early 1900’s, if a woman didn’t have a husband, usually she was not able to support her family.

In Italia negli anni del primo novecento, se una donna non aveva un marito, normalmente non poteva mantenere la famiglia.

 

At that time, if a woman wanted to work, she could be a teacher or a seamstress.

A quel tempo, se una donna voleva lavorare, poteva fare l’insegnante o la sarta.

 

Grandmother Mary was a teacher before she was married.

La bisnonna Maria era un’insegnante prima di sposarsi.

 

But with three children it was not possible for her to leave the house to work.

Ma con tre figli, non era possibile per lei uscire di casa per lavorare.

 

So, Uncle Mark worked in America and sent money to Italy.

E così, lo zio Marco lavorava in America e mandava i soldi in Italia.

 

If Uncle Mark had not sent money to Grandmother Mary, she and the children could have starved to death.

Se lo zio Marco non avesse mandato i soldi alla bisnonna Maria, lei e i figli sarebbero potuti morire di fame.

 

At the end of this story, Mary said,   “And if Uncle Mark had not helped Grandmother Mary, you and I would not be here today!”

Alla fine della storia, Maria ha detto, “E se lo zio Marco non avesse aiutato la bisnonna Maria, tu e io non saremmo qui oggi!”

 

Probably not,” replied Frances.  “But fortunately, Uncle Mark was a good person.  And so is our cousin Rudy.  Let’s organize a wonderful party!”

“Probabilmente no,” ha risposto Francesca.  “Ma fortunatamente, lo zio Marco era una persona perbene.  E anche nostro cugino Rudy è così.  Organizziamo una festa meravigliosa!”

 


Speak Italian: Grammar You Will Need to Know to Narrate a Story

A Note about the “Passato Remoto”

The passato remoto form of the Italian past tense is used in textbooks to describe historical events that took place centuries ago, and also in textbooks that describe art history.

Outside of scholarly works written in Italian, the passato remoto is still commonly found as a narrative tool in novels and other forms of fiction written today.

In fiction today, the author of a novel will often use the passato remoto form for the voice of the narrator.  The passato remoto is useful for the “detached” feeling it gives to the narration in descriptive passages that relate completed  events in the “remote past” of a character’s life. The passato prossimo  is the past tense form usually  used by the characters during their conversations, which gives a “realistic” feeling to the dialogue.

In the next blog, we will focus on the passato remoto past tense and delve more deeply into its uses and conjugations.  So, stay tuned for more on the passato remoto past tense!



Speak Italian: Grammar You Will Need to Know to for Hypothetical Phrases in the Past

 How to Make a Hypothetical “If” Phrase in Italian—and Refer to the Past
“Periodo Ipotetico con ‘Se’ in Passato”

To express complex thoughts and feelings, human beings have developed “hypothetical phrases”—phrases that enable us to think or wonder about situations that could occur. For instance, how many times have we said, “If I had…” or  “If I were…”?

Hypothetical phrases are composed using several different verb forms in English and Italian. For our first blog post on this topic, we talked about which Italian verb forms to use for the probable and improbable situations that are useful for every day conversation in the present.

To read our discussion on Italian hypothetical phrases that refer to the present, read our last blog, Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love.  We will now continue our discussion of Italian hypothetical phrases in this blog by describing how these phrases can be used to refer to the past.

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When we want to express the idea that something may have happened in the past in English, we most often start with a phrase that begins with the conjunction “if.” The conjunction “if” starts a dependent clause in which we will describe a condition that could have caused something else to happen. This dependent clause is then linked to a main clause that will describe the impending result or consequence that could have happened in the past.

This sentence structure is the same in Italian, and the hypothetical clause in Italian starts with the word “se.” A hypothetical phrase is called a “periodo ipotetico.”

We will now continue our discussion of the different types of hypothetical phrases by focusing on conditions in the past and their consequences in the past or present. This will give depth to our Italian conversations. In the cases that we will present, knowledge of English will be very helpful. Read the technical information, but then focus on the actual phrases and you will soon see how thinking in English and Italian for this subject is really very similar!

 


Speak Italian: Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Past
You Will Need to Know…

How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
Probable Situations – Past

Probable hypothetical phrases that refer to the past describe situations that were likely to have happened in the past.

We can talk about these past situations as if  we really knew they had happened by using the knowledge we have learned directly – from a particular individual or source in the present, or indirectly- by making assumptions gained from history.

In probable situations that took place in the past, the stated condition given in the “if” clause is a condition that the subject likely experienced in the past and the consequence that will follow is a situation that is thought to have almost certainly happened.

Examples usually given for a probable hypothetical phrase in the past often relate to historical situations that we know in general to be true,  such as, “If you were one of  the first settlers in America, your life was hard.” We all know that given the condition just described, the resulting situation must have happened to some extent!

The “if” phrase does not need to start the sentence, although it remains the dependent clause. Here is our example sentence again: “Your life was hard if you were one of the first settlers in America.”

 

To Summarize: Hypothetical Phrases for Probable Situations – Past

 

Italian Hypothetical  Phrases—Probable Situations – Past
The condition described in the “if” clause and the consequence that followed in the past were  probable; both almost certainly did happen.

 

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How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
Probable Situations – Past

If + Past Tense Verb > Past Tense Verb

Now read the following table, which describes the sentence structure and the verb forms to use when creating a hypothetical sentence for a probable situation that occurred in the past. This table compares how English and Italian approach this type of speech.

 

Italian Hypothetical Phrases:
Probable Situations – Past
  English   Italian
Condition (If) If  Simple Past Tense  Se +  Passato Prossimo -or-

Imperfetto Past Tense

Consequence (Probable Result)   Simple Past Tense   Passato Prossimo -or-

Imperfetto Past Tense

 

From the table above, it is easy to see that English and Italian both express hypothetical, probable situations that could have occurred in the past in a very similar way!

In English and Italian, for our condition in the dependent clause, we start with the conjunction “if” (“se” in Italian) and then most often use the simple past tense.  For Italian,  then the passato prossimo or imperfetto past tense may be used.

For the consequence in the main clause, the past tense will be again used for both English and Italian.

You may remember from our first blog on hypothetical phrases that no special tense is necessary for probable situations that occur in the present.  We used only our usual indicative present and future tenses, given the certainty we have that these probable situations will occur.  And it is the same with probable situations that have likely occurred in the past! No special tense is needed!

To follow are some examples of the probable hypothetical situation in the past from our dialogue, with our “if” condition and the consequence phrases underlined:

In Italy in the early 1900’s, if a woman didn’t have a husband, usually she was not able to support her family.
In Italia negli anni del primo novecento, se una donna non aveva un marito, normalmente non poteva mantenere la famiglia.

At that time, if a woman wanted to work, she could be a teacher or a seamstress.
A quel tempo, se una donna voleva lavorare, poteva fare l’insegnante o la sarta.

 

 


Speak Italian: Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Past
You Will Need to Know…

How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
 Impossible Situations -Past

Impossible hypothetical phrases in the past describe situations that did not actually take place in the past.

These situations are called “impossible” because the condition given refers to a past event that could not have been acted upon in the past and is also not something one can act on in the present.  Instead, these types of phrases are used in order to “wonder” out loud or “suppose” what  could have happened in a particular situation if things had been different in the past from what we know to be true.

Stated another way: in impossible hypothetical situations of the past, since the stated condition given in the “if” clause in the past and did not happen, it could not have been used to change the situation.  But, we can still speculate on what the outcome might have been. The consequence that might have followed can refer either to the past or to the present.

The often used phrase, “If I had known…” is a good example of an impossible hypothetical condition.  Here, the condition as stated did not happen – the person did not know something at the time, which was in the past and is now over. This in turn makes the outcome, either in the past or the present, pure speculation.

With an impossible hypothetical situation, there may be a note of regret in the statement, as the individual describes how he/she would like things to have been different now that the past event has ended. Perhaps this individual might say, “If I had known she needed me, I would have been at home.”  Or, “If I had known he was sick, I would have brought him some medicine.”

Or, another example that describes how he/she sees that things could have been different now: If Ann and her ex-boyfriend Paul had gotten back togethershe would not be happy now. *

The “if” phrase does not need to start the sentence, although it remains the dependent clause. Here is our first example sentence again: “I would have been at home if I had known she needed me.”

In fact, I always remember this type of Italian sentence with the following rule: If you start an Italian sentence with the present or past conditional tense, the subjunctive mood must follow in the next phrase!

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*(Do you recognize this sentence from our last blog on hypothetical phrases? Here the speaker is making a supposition about the past – that in fact it was possible for Anna and her ex-boyfriend to get together, and then speculating about how Anna would feel about this today.  Neither the condition nor the consequence have taken place, however.  In the dialogue, we learn that Anna does not regret that she is no longer seeing her ex-boyfriend.  She has a new boyfriend and  is actually very happy.)

 

To Summarize: Impossible Situations – Past

 

Italian Hypothetical Phrases— Impossible Situations – Past
The condition described in the “if” clause is impossible as it did not happen and is a supposition about the past; therefore the condition cannot lead to the result in the consequence speculated about, either in the past or the present.

 

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How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
Impossible Situations – Past

 If + Trapassato Subjunctive >
Past Conditional or Present Conditional Verb

Now read the following table, which describes the sentence structure and the verb forms to use when creating a hypothetical sentence for an impossible situation when we want to speculate about something that might have happened in the past. This table compares how English and Italian approach this type of speech.

The examples given use the first person “I” or “io” subject pronoun, as this is the most common form to use in conversation, but of course all subject pronouns and their respective verb conjugations are possible.

 

Italian Hypothetical Phrases:
 Impossible Situations – Past
Consequence – Past
  English   Italian
Condition
(If:Supposition)
If + Past Pluperfect
(I had
+ past participle)
Se + Trapassato Subjunctive
(io avessi/fossi
+ past participle)
Consequence
(Speculation)
  Conditional +
Present Perfect
(I could, would, should +have
+ past participle)
   Past Conditional
(io avrei/sarei
+ past participle)

 

Italian Hypothetical Phrases:
Impossible Situations – Past
Consequence – Present
  English   Italian
Condition
(If: Supposition)
If + Past Pluperfect
(I had
+ past participle)
Se + Trapasatto Subjunctive
(io avessi/fossi
+ past participle)
Consequence
(Speculation)
  Present Conditional   Present Conditional

 

The table above shows that English and Italian speakers think alike, although this may not be so evident to the English speaker at first.

1.In English and Italian, for the condition that we are wondering about in the dependent clause, we start with the conjunction “if” (“se” in Italian), and then use the past tense form that indicates an event that was both started and competed in the past.  These are thought of as “remote” events.

  • In English, a remote event that was started and completed in the past uses the helping verb “had, (rather than have) prior to adding on the past participle.  Who remembers this from English class?  Chances are we English speakers do this naturally, but now that we are learning Italian, our English grammar surfaces again!
  • When we see the “had”+ verb in English, this should alert us that in Italian we must use the traspassato subjunctive! (io avessi/io fossi + past participle)!

2. For both English and Italian, the main clause that describes the speculative consequence with reference to the past will use the past conditional; to refer to the present simply use the present conditional.

  • To form the past conditional In English, we use one of our  helping verbs  – could, should, would, and add the present perfect tense (actually a past tense): “have + past participle”).
  • To form the past conditional in Italian, we use the imperfetto subjunctive forms of “to have” and “to be” (examples: io avrei or io sarei) + past participle.

 

Below are some examples of phrases that used impossible hypothetical situations from our dialogue, with our condition and consequence phrases underlined.

 

Se Anna e il suo ex-fidanzato Paolo si fossero riconciliatilei non sarebbe felice ora.
If Ann and her ex-boyfriend Paul had gotten back togethershe would not be happy now.

 

If Uncle Mark had not sent money to Grandmother Mary, she and the children could have starved to death.
Se lo zio Marco non avesse mandato i soldi alla bisnonna Maria, lei e i figli sarebbero potuti morire di fame.

 

At the end of this story, Mary said,   “And if Uncle Mark had not helped Grandmother Mary, you and I would not be here today!”
Alla fine della storia, Maria ha detto, “E se lo zio Marco non avesse aiutato la bisnonna Maria, tu e io non saremmo qui oggi!”

 

 


Speak Italian: Italian Verb Tenses You Will Need to Know for

Improbable Italian Hypothetical Phrases- Past

The “Trapassato” Subjunctive Mood

 “Essere” or  “Avere” + Past Participle

We have already learned in our last blog on this topic that the most commonly used improbable hypothetical phrases begin with the words, “If I were…” or “If I had…”

So in Italian, the two most important phrases of this type to remember are, “Se io fossi…” and “Se io avessi…” using the imperfetto subjunctive conjugations for essere and avere.

To form the trapassato subjunctive mood for impossible hypothetical phrases in the past tense, we need only to add the past participle to the initial phrases above!

Remember that action verbs of direction, reflexive verbs, and piacere all take essere as a helping verb when making these compound verbs.  All other verbs take avere.  If you need a review of the use of helping verbs for the Italian past tense, please refer to our blog Speak Italian: A Story About… Love!

In English, however, any event that started and was completed in the past simply needs “had” inserted in front of the past participle! This is a bit easier than Italian, but with a little practice, you will get used to the Italian in no time!

Below are the trapassato subjunctive mood conjugations for the auxiliary verbs avere and essere,  using the past participles for two Italian verbs that are commonly used in this tense – fare and andare.

You will notice that avere has a regular conjugation in the imperfetto subjunctive mood, whereas essere  has an irregular conjugation. The past participle for fare (fatto) is irregular, but that of andare (andato) is regular. If you need a refresher on how to form past participles, please refer to our blog Speak Italian: A Story About… Love!

In hypothetical clauses, because the trapassato subjunctive mood is introduced by se, (se) is included in the subject pronoun column as a reminder. When conjugating these verbs, say “se” before the subject pronoun and each verb form to reinforce this way of thinking!

 

Avere  (to have) + Fare (to do/make) — Trapassato Subjunctive Mood

(se) io avessi   +      fatto I had  +                                   made/done
(se) tu avessi  +       fatto you (familiar) had  +       made/done
(se) Lei

(se) lei/lui

avesse  +       fatto you (polite) had  +           made/done

she/he had  +                     made/done

     
(se) noi avessimo  +  fatto we had  +                          made/done
(se) voi aveste  +        fatto you all had  +                  made/done
(se) loro avessero  +   fatto they had  +                       made/done

 

Essere (to be) + Andare (to go) — Trapassato Subjunctive Mood

(se) io fossi  +     andato(a) I had  +                               gone
(se) tu fossi  +     andato(a) you (familiar) had  +    gone
(se) Lei

(se) lei/lui

fosse  +    andato(a) you (polite) had  +        gone

she/he had  +                  gone

     
(se) noi fossimo  +  andati(e) we had  +                         gone
(se) voi foste  +        andati(e) you all had  +                 gone
(se) loro fossero  +   andati(e) they had  +                      gone

 


Grammar Note: The Italian Conditional Tense

The conditional tense is used to make a polite request, as we learned way back in Chapter 4 of our Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook, when we discussed how to use the word vorrei, which means “I would like” or  “I wish.” In the “Important Phrases” section of Chapter 16, we also learned how to use the word vorremmo, which means, “we would like,” to place an order for the group at a table in a restaurant.

Notice that the meaning of a conditional verb is rendered in English with the combination of “would + infinitive verb.” The conditional tense, in summary, expresses a want or wish, an intention, a duty, or a preference.

The method used to form the stems for the Italian conditional tense is exactly the same as the method to form the Italian future tense. Also, the irregular stems for the conditional tense are identical to those for the future tense. The Italian conditional endings are always regular and will be the same for all three conjugations!

Please see Chapters 17 and 18 of the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook for a review of how to conjugate the conditional tense in Italian.


Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blogKathryn 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!”Join my Conversational Italian! Facebook group and follow me on Twitter at StellaLucente@travelitalian1 and start to learn Italian today for FREE!
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Italian Subjunctive (Part 5) : Italian Hypothetical Phrases – Italian Family Reunion