Tag Archives: Italian Hypothetical Phrases

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. It has been used in our dialogue for this blog in order to tell our story.  So, we will say a few words about the passato remoto here.

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 verb form for the voice of the narrator.  The passato remoto is said to be useful for the “detached” feeling it gives to  Italian narration of descriptive passages that take place in the “remote past” of a character’s life. There is no equivalent form in English to express this “detached” feeling of the “remote” past.

The passato prossimo and imperfetto verb forms are the past tense forms usually  used by the author of an Italian novel for his characters, which is said to give a “realistic” feeling to the dialogue.

In another 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 Hypothetical Phrases – Past
You Will Need to Know…

How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases in the Past Tense with
 “Come se” and “Magari” 

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In our previous blog on Italian hypothetical phrases, Italian Subjunctive (Part 4): Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love, we discussed the expressions, “Come se…” (as if) and  “Magari (If only, I wish).  We mentioned that the phrases “come se”  and “magari” fall into the realm of improbable hypothetical phrases in the present tense, and therefore always take the imperfetto subjunctive verb form.

We also mentioned that, In the past tense, the phrases “come se” and“magari”will be followed by the  trapassato subjunctive verb form.  If we think a little about what these phrases mean in the past tense – a wishful thinking about something in the past that therefore cannot be changed – we can see now that we are in the category of impossible hypothetical phrases.

In English, as in Italian, the above phrase and words will also take the subjunctive form in the past tense. Either the more recent or remote past tense form can be used in English, depending on the situation.

Let’s take the examples from our previous blog on Italian hypothetical phrases, Italian Subjunctive (Part 4): Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love,  and now use them in the past tense with the trapassato subjunctive to show how this works.

Il mio amico inglese non aveva practicamente accento quando lui parlava in italiano, come se fosse stato un vero italiano!
My British friend had virtually no accent when he spoke Italian,  as if he (were/had been) a real Italian!

Mi ha mostrato le scarpe più costose che aveva, come se io fossi stata ricca!
She showed me the most expensive shoes she had, as if I were rich!”

Magari, questo fosse stato possibile!
I wish/If only this had been possible!


Speak Italian: Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love
You Will Need to Know…

How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases in the Past Tense with
 “Chiedersi” 

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In our previous blog on Italian hypothetical phrases, Italian Subjunctive (Part 4): Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love, we discussed the verb chiedersi, which is the verb Italians use to describe the idea of “wondering if…” something might happen.

Let’s see how this works in the past tense, in a situation when one might have “wondered if…” something might have happened.

“Mi chiedevo…” literally means, “I asked myself,” which translates into “I wondered.”  At first glance, it may seem like chiedersi should fall into the category of improbable hypothetical phrases – especially when this verb is followed by se,  such as in the phrase “I wondered if…”  But, as we’ve learned in our last blog, instead, chiedersi follows the same rules as our verbs of hoping, thinking, and believing, sperarepensare, and credere. 

We will learn in the next blog that these verbs, in the past tense, take the imperfetto subjunctive and the passato subjunctive forms. 

For now, here are some examples for when one is wondering in the past tense about something in the present and the past.  And “stay tuned” to this blog to learn how to use these tenses for all phrases that take the subjunctive mood in the past tense!

Mi chiedevo se lui fosse un attore bravo in quel film.
I wondered if he is a great actor in that film.

Mi chiedevo se lui fosse stato un attore bravo in quel film.
I wondered  if he was a great actor in that film.

 

 


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!

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

 

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!

For examples using these verbs in Italian, please see the previous and following sections.

 

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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.

Remember that action verbs of direction, reflexive verbs, other verbs of growing and changing, 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!

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.


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

Textbook Conversational Italian for Travelers

Italian Subjunctive (Part 4): Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love

Italian Subjunctive (Part 4): Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love

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

 

Speak Italian: Italian Subjunctive Mood with Italian Hypothetical Phrases

Can you speak Italian? By now, many of you have passed the beginning stages of learning 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 were to happen and just how you would express this idea in Italian? 

Well, we can express hypothetical, or “if” ideas, called Italian 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 fourth blog post in the “Speak Italian” series that focuses on how to use the Italian subjunctive mood, or “il congiuntivo.” This blog and the one to follow (in November 2017) will complete our list of uses for the Italian subjunctive mood. For a complete list, see our last blog, Italian Subjunctive (Part 3): Speak Italian!

Let’s 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 improbable “if” situations in Italian in the present. 

We will learn how to conjugate the Italian imperfetto subjunctive and how to use the Italian conditional tense to construct our improbable Italian hypothetical phrases.  

An example email between two friends talking about hypothetical situations of love will start our discussion! You may remember the characters and the story in the email from our recent Italian Subjunctive Mood Practice blog posts.

Speak Italian: Italian Subjunctive Mood with Italian Hypothetical Phrases

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.  For a review, see our last blog, Italian Subjunctive (Part 3): Speak Italian!

In this blog post, we will focus on how to construct Italian hypothetical phrases, as well as the different Italian verb forms needed for probable and improbable situations.

Read our “real-life” dialogue 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, start a conversation and use Italian hypothetical phrases!

Enjoy the fourth blog post in this series, “Italian Subjunctive (Part 4): Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love”! —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

All phrases that take the Italian subjunctive mood have been underlined in this sample email. Try to pick out the Italian hypothetical phrases and then read about how to make your own Italian hypothetical phrases in the next section.

The characters Caterina and Susanna  in our dialogue are cousins who grew up together in Abruzzo and now stay in touch with each other and discuss family happenings through email. Notice the many Italian idiomatic expressions that relate to dating and love, some of which are explained after each section.

Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love

Una breve email tra due cugine
A brief email between two cousins

Cara Susanna,
Dear Susan,

 

È stato bellissimo vedere te e i tuoi figli quest’estate in Abruzzo. E poi, lo shopping a Roma è stato fantastico!
It was wonderful to see you and your children this summer in Abruzzo. And afterward, the shopping in Rome was fantastic!

 

Se io non fossi occupata all’università, verrei a trovarvi di nuovo a Roma!
If I weren’t so busy at college, I would come to visit you all again in Rome!

 

Forse quando la sessione di gennaio è finita, posso fare un viaggio.
Maybe when the exam session in January is over, I can take a trip.

 

Fammi sapere se tu sei libera per un weekend presto!
Let me know if you are free for a weekend soon!

 

Ma oggi sto scrivendo perché ho una buona notizia.
But today I am writing because I have good news.

 

La nostra cugina Anna ha incontrato  un ragazzo molto simpatico quando è stata in Sicilia l’estate scorsa.
Our cousin Ann met a very nice boy when she was in Sicily last summer.

 

Lui si chiama Giovanni.
His name is John.

 

Anna mi ha mandato una foto. Mamma mia, è un figo da paura!*
Ann texted a photo to me. Wow, he is amazing!

 

Stanno insieme da un mese e frequentano la stessa università.
They have been (Italian: are [still]) together for a month and go to the same college.**

 

Secondo Anna, vanno molto d’accordo e sono gia una coppia.
According to Ann, they get along very well and are already a couple.

 

Se il tempo è bello, andranno al mare per il weekend a casa del papà di Giovanni.
If the weather is nice, they will go to the sea for the weekend to Giovanni’s father’s house.

 

A tutti e due piace molto la spiaggia e fare windsurf.
They both really like the beach and to go windsurfing.

 

Se Anna vuole andare al ristorante o al cinema, lui la porta.
If Ann wants to go to a restaurant or to the movies, he takes her.

 

Se lei vuole restare a casa, loro restano a casa insieme.
If she wants to stay at home, they stay at home together.

 

Mi sembra che siano innamorati.
It seems (to me) like they are in love.

 

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.

 

Tu ricordi bene, sono sicura, come lui l’ha tradita, come le ha spazzato il cuore, e comunque erano gia agli sgoccioli da mesi prima.***
You remember well, I am sure, how he betrayed her, how he broke her heart, and anyway, they were already at the end of their relationship for months before.

 

Finalmente Anna si è resa conto che lui non era quello giusto per lei.
Finally, Anna realized that he was not right for her.

 

L’ha lasciato e ora quella storia (d’amore)**** è finita e un nuovo amore è cominciato per lei.
She left him and now that (love) story is over, and a new one (Italian: a new love) has begun for her.

 

Sono molto contenta per Anna!
I am very happy for Ann!

 

Forse tra un anno si sposano!
Maybe in a year, they (will) get married!

 

Scrivimi quando hai tempo!
Write me when you have time!

 

Tanti baci.
Lots of kisses.

Caterina.

*“Un figo da paura” refers to a young man who is handsome and sexy.  Used alone, “Figo!” means “cool.”

And yes, “Mamma mia!” is still in use in Italy today. Variations include “Madre santa!” or simply “Maria!”

**In this case, Italian uses the present tense for an ongoing action, whereas English uses the past tense.

***The phrase “essere agli sgoccioli” literally means “to be at the last drops” and refers to when the last of the wine in the bottle is left and drips out. This phrase is used to suggest that the relationship is dying out and the couple is only seeing each other infrequently.

**** A romantic relationship between two people is usually described as “una storia,” the shortened form of una storia d’amore,” or “a love story.”

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Cara Caterina,
Dear Kathy,

 

Anch’io sono molto contenta per nostra cugina Anna!
I am also very happy for our cousin Ann!

 

Lei è molto bella e penso che anche Giovanni sia un bel ragazzo come dicevi.
She is very pretty, and I think he is also good looking from what (Italian: as) you have told me.

 

Lui sembra molto simpatico e mi sembra che lui la tratti molto bene.
He seems very nice, and it seems to me that he treats her very well.

 

Mi sembra che a loro piaccia molto frequentarsi.*
It seems (to me) that they like seeing each other very much.

 

Mi pare che non sia solo una cotta ma si piacciano da vero.
It seems to me that it is not only a crush but they really like each other.

 

Ma si stanno frequentando solamente da un mese!
But they have been seeing each other (English: dating) (for) only one month!**

 

Loro sono molto giovani, come te.
They are very young, like you.

 

Non si sa mai che cosa può succedere!  
(Italian: One never knows) You never know what could happen!

 

Nè uno nè l’altro lavorano. Non hanno vissuto con un’altra persona. Non hanno soldi…
Neither one of them works. They have never lived with another person. They don’t have money…

Spero che loro aspettino almeno un anno prima di cominciare a parlare di matrimonio.
I hope that they wait at least a year before starting to talk about marriage!

 

Sarei molto contenta se tu venissi a trovarmi a febbraio.
I would be very happy if you were to come to see me in February.

 

A presto!
See you soon!

Susanna

*See the next section for comments about frequentarsi
**In this case, Italian uses the present tense for an ongoing action, whereas English uses the past tense.

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Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love

Talking about Relationships in Italian

Today in America, we “date,” “go out on a date,” or refer to two people who are “dating,” from the first romantic encounter until they become married. After they are married, they can still have “date nights.” But be careful when translating American romantic experiences into Italian! The English verb “to date” as used in America today to refer to a romantic relationship does not have a literal translation in Italian.

Of course, to “court” a woman was common in past centuries, and Italian language still reflects this. When a man tries to show he is interested in a woman, the phrase “fare la corte a…” is used from the verb corteggiare or “to court.”

If a woman wants to refer to dating a man, the following phrases can be used:

“Mi vedo un ragazzo.” “I’m seeing a boy.”
 “Esco con un ragazzo.” “I’m going out with a boy.”
“Il ragazzo con cui ho/avevo appuntamento.” “The boy with whom I have/had an appointment.”

There is another verb still in use in Italy today that refers to a man seducing, or “winning over,” a woman: “conquistare a… ” If a woman lets herself be “won over” or “captivated” by a man, she can use the phrase  “Mi lascio conquestare a…”

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If one friend wants to ask the other about his/her new love, they may say,
“Che tipo è lei?” or “Che tipo è lui?” meaning, “What is he/she like?” or, more simply, “Che tipo è?”

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There are two Italian phrases commonly used to refer to two people who have become romantically involved and are getting together regularly before marriage: “to go out with someone”—“uscire con qualcuno”—or “seeing each other”—“frequentarsi.”

To express a  relationship between two people in Italian, and especially a  close or romantic relationship, we can use the word “rapporto.”

Any relationship in general is considered a “relazione.” But be careful, as an “affair” outside of marriage is also a “relazione,” whereas “affari” refers to more general personal and business “affairs.”

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Finally, we know that many times romantic love comes to an end.  How do we describe a “break up” in Italian?  The verbs lasciare (to leave) and  lasciarsi (to leave each other) come into play.  From our dialogue:

L’ha lasciato e ora quella storia (d’amore) è finita e un nuovo amore è cominciato per lei.
She left him and now that (love) story is over, and a new one (Italian: a new love) has begun for her.

Below is an example sentence two people might use talk about a couple that has “broken up” or two people who have”left each other”

Loro si sono lasciati.    They have broken up.

If you are one of the two people in the relationship and want to talk about “breaking up”:
Ci lasciamo stasera.                          We (will) break up/are breaking up tonight.
Non ci lasciamo, ma…                     We are not breaking up but…
Ci sono lasciati il mese scorso.    We broke up last month.                     

 


 

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

 

How to Make  Italian Hypothetical Phrases
“If” Phrases Refer to the Present:

Periodo Ipotetico con “Se” in Presente

 

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 you said, “If I had…” or  “If I were…”?

When we want to express the idea that something may happen 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 cause something else to happen. This dependent clause is then linked to a main clause that will describe the impending result or consequence that we are concerned about.

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

Hypothetical phrases are composed using several different verb forms in English and Italian. For this blog post, we will talk about which Italian verb forms to use for the probable and improbable situations that may arise in the present and that are useful for every day conversation.

“Hold onto your hat!” as we say in English, because we will now start a “whirlwind tour” of the different types of hypothetical phrases that we can use to 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 of Love
You Will Need to Know…

How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
Probable Situations

Hypothetical phrases in the present tense describe situations that are likely to happen, or probable situations.

In probable situations, the stated condition given in the “if” clause is a condition that a person may experience in the present and the consequence that will follow is a situation that will almost certainly happen.

A common example usually given for a probable hypothetical phrase relates to the weather, such as “If it rains, I will get wet when I go out.” We all know that given the condition just described, the resulting situation will happen 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: “I will get wet when I go out if it rains.

 

To Summarize: Italian Hypothetical Phrases for Probable Situations

 

Italian Hypothetical  Phrases—Probable Situations
The condition described in the “if” clause and the consequence that will follow are  probable;
both will 
almost certainly happen.

 

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How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
Probable Situations

If + Present Verb > Present or Future 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. This table compares how English and Italian approach this type of speech.

 

Italian Hypothetical Phrases:
Probable Situations
  English   Italian
Condition (If) If + Present Se + Present (or Future*)
Consequence
(Probable Result)
  Present or Future   Present or Future

 

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

  1. In both English and Italian, for the condition in the dependent clause, we start with the conjunction “if” (“se” in Italian) and then use the simple present tense.
  2. In both English and Italian, when the dependent if/se clause starts with the present tense, the main clause that follows can use either the present or the future tense.
  3. Italian may use the future tense for the condition, or se clause for situations that are in the more distant future but are really likely to happen (really probable).  (This does not occur in English.)
  4. *If the Italian dependent se clause is in the future tense, then the main clause that follows in Italian must also be in the future tense.

A review of the  Italian future tense and the conjugations of the most commonly used Italian verbs in the future  can be found in Chapters 15 and 16 of our  textbook, Conversational Italian for Travelers.

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

You will notice that we introduced these lines in the dialogue with the idea, or condition, that the characters Anna and Giovanni have become a couple; therefore, the consequence is that in the future, they will do everything together.  And, for this couple, the consequence is almost certain to happen.

 

Se il tempo è bello, andranno al mare per il weekend a casa del papà di Giovanni.
If the weather is nice, they go (will go) to the sea for the weekend to Giovanni’s father’s house.

Se Anna vuole andare al ristorante o al cinema, lui la porta.
If Ann wants to go to a restaurant or to the movies, he takes (will take) her.

Se lei vuole restare a casa, loro restano a casa insieme.
If she wants to stay at home, they stay (will stay) at home together.

 


 

Speak Italian: Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love
You Will Need to Know…

How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
Probable Situations with a Command

Hypothetical phrases in the present tense can be used to refer to a situation and then give “advice” in the form of a direct command.

Phrases like “If you feel… (this way)” or “If you make/do… (something)” are very common in conversation. The speaker may describe a certain situation two people know to be likely, and then, without waiting for a reply, the speaker may give a command about what should be done in that situation. In the speaker’s mind, perhaps, that command will virtually always solve a perceived problem.

Think about how often parents give advice to their children in this way—without first waiting to hear how the children really feel! Here is a common exchange in my house, parent to child, of course. “Dinner will be ready in a half hour. Don’t eat cookies. If you are hungry, eat some fruit!”

The “if” phrase need not start the sentence in these cases, although it remains the dependent clause. Here is our example sentence again: “Eat some fruit if you are hungry!

 

To Summarize: Italian Hypothetical Phrases for Probable Situations with a Command

 

Italian Hypothetical Phrases—Probable Situations with a Command
The condition described in the “if” clause is  probable, and the “advice” given in command form will almost certainly solve a problem, and/or result in the consequence that describes the future event.

 

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How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
Probable Situations with a Command

If + Present Verb > Imperative 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 when giving a command. This table compares how English and Italian approach this type of speech.

 

Italian Hypothetical Phrases:

Probable Situations
with a Command

  English   Italian
Condition (If) If + Present Se + Present (or Future)
Consequence
(Advice/Probable Result)
  Imperative   Imperative

 

From the table above, it is easy to see that English and Italian express hypothetical probable situations with a command in a very similar way!

  1. 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 present tense.
  2. For situations that are in the more distant future but are likely to happen (probable), Italian may use the future tense for the condition clause.
  3. For the consequence in the main clause, use the command verb form in English and Italian. The English command form is easy, and for the most part, we don’t even realize we are using it! Just remove the “to” from the infinitive form of the English verb. “To eat” is an infinitive in English. “Eat!” is a command.
  4. A review of the Italian command form will not be provided here, but can be found in Chapter 9 of our textbook, Conversational Italian for Travelers. (Note: In writing, Italian emphasizes that the command form is in use with an exclamation mark at the end of the sentence.)

Below is an example of a probable situation with a command from our dialogue, with our condition and consequence phrases underlined.

 

Fammi sapere se tu sei libera per un weekend presto!
Let me know if you are free for a weekend soon!

 


Speak Italian: Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love
You Will Need to Know…

How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
 Improbable Situations

Hypothetical phrases in the subjunctive mood with the conditional tense describe situations in the present that are not likely to happen and therefore are  improbable.

These types of phrases are used in order to “wonder” out loud or “suppose” what  could happen in a particular situation if things were “different” from what we know to be true.

In improbable hypothetical situations, the stated condition given in the “if” clause and the consequence that will follow are  situations that could happen (possible), but they are very unlikely to happen and are therefore improbable.

A common example often given for an improbable hypothetical phrase relates to money, such as, “If I were rich, I would travel to Italy.” Here, the condition as stated is unlikely; in general, one is usually either rich or not.  This in turn makes the outcome unlikely to happen. With an improbable hypothetical phrase such as this, there may be a note of wishful thinking or irony in the statement. We are dealing with supposition, rather than a fact.

The “if” phrase does not need to start the sentence, although it remains the dependent clause. Here is our example sentence again: “I would travel to Italy if I were rich.”

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

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Nearly Impossible Situations

Sometimes, a situation proposed for the present is so improbable that it is actually impossible, although it may be interesting to bring up in conversation. Think about how we sometimes pretend to be someone or something we know we cannot be.  By wondering about these impossible situations, we are able to reveal a little something about ourselves and the world we actually live in.

For instance, I am someone who loves cats. What comes to my mind when I think of the  cats I have here in America is an “easy” life.  I may convey the complicated idea of how I might enjoy an “easy” life myself by relating my own life to the lives of my cats.

If I were a cat, I would live in a nice house and not have to work.
I would live in a nice house and not have to work if I were a cat.

Or, maybe I am someone who would like to change something about my appearance, which is easier today than in the past, but the condition and consequence are still impossible for me.

If my eyes were green,  I could find work as a model.
I could find work as a model if my eyes were green.

 

To Summarize: Italian Hypothetical Phrases for  Improbable Situations

 

Italian Hypothetical Phrases—Improbable and Impossible Situations
The condition described in the “if” clause is improbable to varying degrees, and therefore is unlikely to result in the consequence that describes the future event one is wondering about.

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How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
Improbable Situations

 If + Imperfetto Subjunctive Verb >
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 improbable situation when we want to wonder about something. This table compares how English and Italian approach this type of speech.

 

Italian Hypothetical Phrases:

Improbable Situations

  English   Italian
Condition
(If: Wonder)
If + Subjunctive Se + Imperfetto Subjunctive
Consequence
(Supposition)
  Conditional   Present Conditional

 

From the table above, it is easy to see that English and Italian speakers think alike, although this may not be so evident to the English speaker at first.

Use of the subjunctive mood is becoming less common in English conversation,  and even in some widely respected American newspapers and magazines.

Let’s digress for a moment, and give some English examples of the subjunctive mood:

  • For instance, instead of “If I was…,” correct English would be “If I were…” to signal that the phrase to follow is hypothetical and the consequence unlikely.
  • Or, instead of “If I saw…,” correct use of the subjunctive would be “If I had seen…” (It is never grammatically correct to say “I seen…,” despite what one may actually hear in some towns in America today!)
  • To make matters more complicated, the English subjunctive form of many verbs is similar to the regular past tense form.

 

At any rate, let’s summarize how to make probable hypothetical phrases in English and Italian:

  1. In English and Italian, for the condition we are wondering about in the dependent clause, we start with the conjunction “if” (“se” in Italian), and then use the imperfetto subjunctive mood. ( A review of the imperfetto subjunctive mood for avere, essere, and stare, and -are, -ere, -ire infinitive verbs will follow this section.)
  2. For the consequence/supposition in the main clause, use the present conditional tense in English and Italian.

 

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

Se io non fossi occupata all’università, verrei a trovarvi di nuovo a Roma!
If I weren’t so busy at college, I would come to visit you all again in Rome!

Sarei molto contenta se tu fossi venire a trovarmi a febbraio.
I would be very happy if you were to come to see me in February.


 

Speak Italian: Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love
You Will Need to Know…

How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
 “Come se”and “Magari” 

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“Come se…”

Hypothetical phrases can start with the phrase “Come se,”  which translates into the phrase “as if.” This phrase falls into the realm of hypothetical phrases since the comparison is with a characteristic or action that is improbable. It should be noted that, in Italian, the word “se” in this type of comparison phrase is sometimes omitted (see our last example).

Therefore, come se,  is an improbable hypothetical phrase, so it must always take the imperfetto subjunctive verb form in the present tense.  (In the past tense, the phrase come se  takes the trapssato subjunctive form, which will be the subject of the next blog.)

In English, as in Italian, the “as if” improbable hypothetical phrase will also use the subjunctive verb form.

Common phrases that use this come se compare actions and characteristics of individuals in an attempt to make a point in a dramatic way.  These “as if” phrases may be flattering:

Il mio amico inglese non ha practicamente accento quando lui parla in italiano, come se fosse un vero italiano!
My British friend has virtually no accent when he speaks Italian,  as if he were a real Italian!

We often use this type of phrase to talk ironically about a situation, or to show our displeasure about something that has happened.  For instance,  I may be be shopping and a salesperson may try to sell me  a pair of shoes that are way too expensive for my budget. (Isn’t this always a problem, for both women and men?) I might say something like:

Mi mostra le scarpe più costose che ha, come se io fossi ricca!
She shows me the most expensive shoes they have, as if I were rich!”

A line from a novel by Gianrico Carofiglio, Testimone inconsapevole  illustrates how this “as if”  phrase can be used to emphasize an important point.  The line is spoken by the main character, who is the narrator of the book.  He relays the conversation he and his wife had when his wife tells him that she is filing for divorce. One of the reasons his wife gives for the divorce is that she feels humiliated because her husband thinks she has not noticed his many affairs – in effect treating her as if she were stupid. Clearly, she believes she is a smart woman, and notes with irony that he would chose to treat as if she were not. From page 16:

“Quello che l’aveva più umiliata non era la mia infedelità… ma il fatto che le avessi veramente mancato di rispetto trattandola come fosse una stupida.”

“That which had humiliated her the most was not my infidelity… but the fact that I had truly lost respect for her, treating her as if she were an idiot.”

 

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“Magari…”

“Magari” is a colorful and commonly used Italian word.  Make an Italian friend and you will no doubt hear this word!  Magari can be used as an adverb and in this case means, “even if.”  Magari is most often used as an interjection, with the rough meaning of “if only…” or “I wish…”  when the “I wish” is a statement of something that is unlikely to happen.

Magari is always followed by an imperfetto subjunctive verb in the present tense (and the trapassato subjunctive in the past tense) and takes the subjunctive in English as well.

For instance , let’s say I am talking to someone about my love of Italy.  They may mention that I should spend my summer there.  My response:

Magari, questo fosse possibile!
I wish/If only this were possible!

 


Speak Italian: Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love
You Will Need to Know…

How to Make Italian Hypothetical Phrases
 “Chiedersi” 

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Finally, no discussion on Italian hypothetical phrases  would be complete without mention of the verb chiedersi, which is the verb Italians use to describe the idea of “wondering if…” something might happen.

“Mi chiedo…” literally means, “I ask myself,” which translates into “I wonder.”  At first glance, it may seem like this verb should fall into the category of improbable hypothetical phrases – especially when this verb is followed by se,  such as in the phrase “I wonder if…”  But, cheidersi takes the present and past tense subjunctive forms (not the imperfetto form), just as our verbs of hoping, thinking, and believing, sperarepensare, and credere.

So, you already know how to use this verb if you have read the first blog in this series!

Here are some examples for when one is wondering in the present tense about something in the present and the past.

Mi chiedo se lui sia un attore bravo in quel film.
I wonder if he is a great actor in that film.

Mi chiedo se lui sia stato un attore bravo in quel film.
I wonder if he was a great actor in that film.

 



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

Improbable Italian Hypothetical Phrases

The Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood

Auxiliary Verbs – “Essere, Avere, Stare”

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 using the imperfetto subjunctive to remember are, “Se io fossi…” and “Se io avessi…” using the imperfetto subjunctive conjugations for essere and avere.

Below are the imperfetto subjunctive conjugations for the auxiliary verbs in Italian. You will notice that avere has a regular conjugation, whereas essere and stare have irregular conjugations. The stressed syllables are underlined.

In hypothetical clauses, because the imperfetto 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—Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood

(se) io avessi I had
(se) tu avessi you (familiar) had
(se) Lei

(se) lei/lui

avesse you (polite) had

she/he had

     
(se) noi avessimo we had
(se) voi aveste you all had
(se) loro avessero they had

 

Essere—to be—Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood

(se) io fossi I were
(se) tu fossi you (familiar) were
(se) Lei

(se) lei/lui

fosse you (polite) were

she/he were

     
(se) noi fossimo we were
(se) voi foste you all were
(se) loro fossero they were

 

Stare—to stay/be—Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood

(se) io stessi I stayed/were
(se) tu stessi you (familiar) stayed/were
(se) Lei

(se) lei/lui

stesse you (polite) stayed/were

she/he stayed/were

     
(se) noi stessimo we stayed/were
(se) voi steste you all stayed/were
(se) loro stessero they stayed/were

 


The Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood

Regular “-are, -ere, -ire” Conjugations

Improbable hypothetical phrases always take the imperfetto subjunctive mood in Italian, and as we have seen in the last sections.

But, the imperfetto subjunctive mood has other uses.  Specifically, it is necessary with all of our many clauses that trigger the  Italian subjunctive mood when we are speaking in the past tense.  We will go over these rules in detail in later blogs.

For now, we will simply discuss the complete conjugation of the imperfetto subjunctive mood, which is actually quite easy.  So, keep the knowledge of how to conjugate the imperfetto subjunctive mood handy for when we discuss its many uses!

Luckily, there are only a few irregular stem forms to learn for the imperfetto subjunctive mood, making it an easier tense to learn than the present, future, and conditional tenses.

Finally, the imperfetto subjunctive mood endings are always regular and will be the same for all three conjugations!

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To conjugate the imperfetto subjunctive mood…

As usual, we must first make our stem from the infinitive –are, -ere, and –ire verbs.  The method used to form the stems for the imperfetto subjunctive mood is easy – just drop the –re from the infinitive verb!

 

This will create stems that end in the letters –a for the –are verbs, -e for the –ere verbs, and –i for the –ire verbs. Then, add the following endings below to the stems for all three conjugations:

Subjunctive Mood – Imperfetto Endings

io ssi
tu ssi
Lei/lei/lui sse
   
noi ssimo
voi ste
loro ssero

 

The following table will put together our stems with our imperfetto subjunctive mood endings.  A few notes about this:

When pronouncing the imperfetto subjunctive mood verbs, the stress will always be on the syllable that begins with the last two letters of the stem and will incorporate one –s letter from the ending. (Remember the rule for Italian double consonants: one consonant will go with the syllable before and the second with the syllable after, in effect also stressing the double consonant itself.) The stressed syllables are underlined in our example table below.

Notice that English uses the simple past tense to express the same idea in improbable hypothetical phrases. Or, alternatively,“were + infinitive form or gerund.” Examples in English: “If I were to live…” or “If I were living…” Also, “had + past participle,” such as, “If I had seen…”

 

Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood – Example Verb Conjugations

  Abitare

(to live)

(lived/were living)

Vedere

(to see)

(saw/had seen)

Finire

(to finish)

(finished/were finishing)

io abitassi vedessi finissi
tu abitassi vedessi finissi
Lei/lei/lui abitasse vedesse finisse
       
noi abitassimo vedessimo finissimo
voi abitaste vedeste finiste
loro abitassero vedessero finissero

 


The Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood

Commonly Used Regular Verbs

Luckily, most verbs are regular in the imperfetto subjunctive mood.  So, there are many, many more regular than irregular verbs! Below are some commonly used regular verbs. Practice saying them out loud and listen to how each conjugated verb sounds.

Notice that English uses the simple past tense to express the same idea in improbable hypothetical phrases. Or, alternatively, were + infinitive form or gerund. ” English examples:  “If I were to go…” or “If I were going…” Also, “had + past participle,” such as, “If I had seen…”

 

Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood Conjugations – Commonly Used Regular Verbs

Andare

(to go)

(went/were going)

Sapere
(to know)(knew/had known)
Venire

(to come)

(came/had come)

Vivere

(to live)

(lived/were living)

io andassi sapessi venissi vivessi
tu andassi sapessi venissi vivessi
Lei/lei/lui andasse sapesse venisse vivesse
         
noi andassimo sapessimo venissimo vivessimo
voi andaste sapeste veniste viveste
loro andassero sapessero venissero vivessero

The Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood

Commonly Used Irregular Verbs

There are a few important irregular verbs to know in the imperfetto subjunctive mood.  You will find them in the tables below. Practice saying them out loud and listen to how each conjugated verb sounds.

Notice that English uses the simple past tense to express the same idea in improbable hypothetical phrases. Or, alternatively, “were + infinitive form or gerund, ” such as, “If I were to make…” or “If I were making…” Also, “had + past participle,” such as, “If I had seen…”

 

Fare – to do/make Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood

io facessi I did/ made
tu facessi you (familiar) did/made
Lei

lei/lui

facesse you (polite) did/made

she/he did/made

     
noi facessimo we did/made
voi faceste you all did/made
loro facessero they did/made

 

 

Dare – to give – Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood

io dessi I gave
tu dessi you (familiar) gave
Lei

lei/lui

desse you (polite) gave

she/he gave

     
noi dessimo we gave
voi deste you all gave
loro dessero they gave

 

 

Dire – to say/tell – Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood

io dicessi I said/told
tu dicessi you (familiar) said/told
Lei

lei/lui

dicesse you (polite) said/told

she/he said/told

     
noi dicessimo we said/told
voi diceste you all said/told
loro dicessero they said/told


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,” which comes in handy at a restaurant when ordering for the table.

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.

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Grammar Note: Present versus Conditional Tense

The Meaning of  the Modal Verbs
“Dovere, Potere, Volere”

Throughout our Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook, we have emphasized the polite forms of volere (vorrei, vorremmo) in the conditional tense and recommended using this form to make requests for oneself or for a group. The English translation for the conditional verbs in general is that of “would + infinitive verb,” which describes a request or a wish, rather than a demand or an order.

Here are two examples below of the same request that might be made in a restaurant to a waiter, first in the present tense, and then in the conditional tense. The first, in the present tense, sounds more demanding and insistent. The second, in the conditional tense, sounds less forceful, as it describes a preference or wish rather than a definite need.

Voglio un tavolo vicino alla finestra.       I want a table by the window.

Vorrei un tavolo vicino alla finestra.        I would like/wish to have a table by the window.

Let’s take a look at the other modal, or helping, verbs and see what connotation the conditional tense lends to them. For dovere, the idea relayed in the present tense is a forceful must. With devo (I must), we are led to understand that the action that follows has to be completed, no matter what else may come to pass. The conditional dovrei translates into “I should” or “I ought to,” which gives a feeling of necessity but also implies a bit of indecisiveness and an uncertainty as to whether the speaker believes the action described will be completed. Here are two examples using each tense:

Devo visitare mia nonna domenica.        I must visit my grandmother Sunday.

Dovrei visitare mia nonna domenica.      I should visit my grandmother Sunday.

For the verb potere, the present tense “posso” translates as “I can” and can be used to ask “May I?” “Può,” the present tense “polite you” form, is also used to make a polite request and in these situations means, “Could you?” The conditional form we have just learned also translates as “could” and may be heard while traveling in Italy. Here are some commonly used phrases:

 Mi può auitare?                 Could you(polite) help me?

Potrebbe aiutarmi?         Could you (polite) help me?

Ti posso aiutare?               May I help you (familiar)?      

Potrei aiutarla?                   May I help you (polite)?


The Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood
Modal Verbs – “Dovere, Potere, Volere”

The imperfetto subjunctive forms of the modal, or helping verbs, are used frequently in conversation.  All have regular stems, and of course, regular endings – as all imperfetto subjunctive mood verbs have regular endings! Here is a summary of the imperfetto subjunctive mood conjugations for all three modal verbs together, for easy reference.

Notice that the English translation for these verbs is in the conditional tense.

 

Dovere – to have to – Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood

io      dovessi I should
tu dovessi you (familiar) should
Lei/lei/lui dovesse you (polite) she/he should
     
noi dovessimo we should
voi doveste you all should
loro dovessero they should

 

Potere – to can – Imperfetto Subjunctive  Mood

io potessi I could
tu potessi you (familiar) could
Lei/lei/lui potesse you (polite) she/he could
     
noi potessimo we could
voi poteste you all could
loro potessero they could

 

Volere – to want – Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood

io volessi I would like
tu volessi you (familiar) would like
Lei/lei/lui volesse you (polite) she/he would like
     
noi volessimo we would like
voi voleste you all would like
loro volessero they would like

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blogKathryn Occhipinti, MD, author of the
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Italian Subjunctive (Part 4) : Italian Hypothetical Phrases of Love