Italian Subjunctive (Part 3): Speak Italian!
Can you speak Italian? By now, many of you have passed the beginning stages of learning how to speak Italian and can read and comprehend quite a bit of the language. Meraviglioso!
But have you tried to take the next step to speak Italian fluently? Can you use the Italian subjunctive mood in the correct situations? To express complex feelings in Italian correctly, it is important to use the Italian subjunctive mood. Using the subjunctive mood is difficult for English speakers, as we only rarely use this tense in English, and it’s something that I am always working on! This is the third blog post in the “Speak Italian” series that focuses on how to conjugate and use the Italian subjunctive mood, or “il congiuntivo.”
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 express one’s needs in Italian and learn about other important introductory phrases and individual words that take the subjunctive mood. We will repeat the conjugation of the subjunctive mood for the regular -are, -ere, and -ire verbs and then present the conjugation of the modal, or helping, verbs dovere, potere, and volere. A review of the subjunctive mood conjugations for the auxiliary verbs and for commonly used irregular verbs will complete this blog. Example sentences will follow!
In each blog post in the “Speak Italian” series about the subjunctive mood (“il congiuntivo”), phrases that take the Italian subjunctive mood will be presented. Then we will review the Italian conjugation for the subjunctive mood in the present and past tenses. Finally, examples of common phrases used in daily life with the subjunctive mood will be presented. Remember these examples as “anchors” in your knowledge for when you must speak Italian and try out the subjunctive mood in your next Italian conversation!
Enjoy the third blog post in this series, “Italian Subjunctive (Part 3): Speak Italian!”
Some of this material is adapted from our textbook, Conversational Italian for Travelers © 2012 by Stella Lucente, LLC, found on www.learntravelitalian.com. Special thanks to Italian instructors Simona Giuggioli and Maria Vanessa Colapinto.
Once Again… Phrases That Take the Italian Subjunctive Mood
Verbs in Italian can have a subjunctive mood that is used to express doubt, uncertainty, desire, or a feeling.
The subjunctive mood is said to “open up” a conversation to discussion about a particular topic.
Certain phrases are commonly used to start a sentence in order to introduce the subjunctive mood, and these initial phrases will be in the indicative tense (the “usual” present or past tense). These initial phrases imply uncertainty and trigger the subjunctive mood in the phrase to follow.
In our first blog about the Italian subjunctive mood, we learned that these initial phrases fall into several groups. We discussed Group 1 through Group 5.
In our second blog about the Italian subjunctive mood, we discussed Groups 6 and 7.
These groups are again listed for review.
- Phrases that use the verbs credere (to believe), pensare (to think), and sperare (to hope). These verbs use the pattern: [verb + di + infinitive verb] to describe the beliefs, thoughts, or hopes that one has. When the subject in the introductory phrase is not the same as the subject in the clause that follows, the pattern changes to: [verb + che + subjunctive verb].*
- Impersonal constructions that begin with, “It is…” such as, “È possibile che…”
- Phrases that express a doubt, such as, “I don’t know…” or “Non so che…”
- Phrases that express uncertainty, such as, “It seems to me…” or “Mi sembra che…”
- Impersonal verbs followed by the conjunction che, such as, “Basta che…” “It is enough that,” or “Si dice che…” “They say that…”
- Phrases that use the verbs volere and desiderare when the subject in the introductory phrase is not the same as the subject in the clause that follows. In this situation, these verbs will be followed by che.
- Phrases that use the verbs piacere and dispiacere when the subject in the introductory phrase is not the same as the subject in the clause that follows. In this situation, these verbs will be followed by che.
- Phrases that express feelings and use the pattern: [avere, essere, or augurarsi verb + di + infinitive verb] When the subject in the introductory phrase is not the same as the subject in the clause that follows, the pattern changes to: [avere, essere, or augurarsi verb + che + subjunctive verb].
- Sentences that begin with words that end in –ché, or complex conjunctions that end with che: affinché, perché (so as, so that, in order that), purché (as long as, provided that, only if)**, a meno che (unless), può darsi che (it may be possible that, possibly, maybe), prima che (before that). Also the many words that mean although/even though, one of which ends in -che: benché (also sebenne, malgrado, nonostante).***
- Sentences that begin with adjectives or pronouns that include the idea of any in a description of a person, place or thing: qualsiasi, qualunque (any), chiunque (whoever), dovunque (anywhere).
- Sentences that begin with adjectives or pronouns that include the idea of nothing or only in a description of a person, place, or thing: niente che, nulla che (nothing that), nessuno che (nobody that), l’unico, il solo, a che (the only one that).
- Phrases that begin with se (if) or come se (as if) in certain situations.
To follow in the next sections is an explanation of several more phrases and also individual words that can be used to introduce the subjunctive mood, which we have added into our original list as Group 8 through Group 11. Group 12 will be the topic of a later series of blogs on hypothetical phrases, but is included here for completeness.
As usual, there is a summary table at the end of each descriptive section that shows how to use these additional groups that take the subjunctive mood in Italian. The present tense phrases are in the first two columns and the past tense phrases in the last two columns. Notice that the imperfetto form of the past tense is given in our table.
Points to remember about the subjunctive mood:
In Italian, the introductory phrases usually end with a linking word, also known as a conjunction, which will be che. In this situation, che means that. We now see from Group 9 that some words or phrases already have -ché or che as an integral part of them. In these cases, che is not repeated. The clause that follows our introductory phrase will then describe what the uncertainty is about.
Note that the simple present or past tenses can also be used after the introductory phrases listed below, rather than the subjunctive mood, if you are speaking about a fact or something you believe to be true. This use will make perfect sense to the Italian listener, even when the subjective mood is otherwise commonly used.
*When the speaker in the introductory phrase will carry out the action in the phrase to follow, Italian will use the following construction to link the phrases for credere, pensare, and sperare : di + infinitive verb. Example: Penso di andare a Roma domani. = I think I will go to Rome tomorrow. (Use pensare a when thinking ABOUT something or someone.)
**solo se also means only if but does NOT take the subjunctive mode.
*** anche se also means even though/if but does NOT take the subjunctive mode.
Expressing One’s Feelings with “Di” and “Che” and the Italian Subjunctive Mood
Phrases Used to Express Feelings with “Di” in Italian
When expressing one’s feelings in Italian in the first person (io conjugation), many common Italian expressions are followed by di (of). In this case, when di is followed by another verb, the verb in the second phrase will be in the infinitive tense (if you remember, infinitive verbs end in -are, -ere, -ire, and translate as “to…”). Below are some examples of these phrases, along with example sentences, adapted from Chapter 7 of the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook.
|avere bisogno di||to have need of||Ho bisogno di… riposare.|
|avere paura di||to be afraid/have fear of||Ho paura di… guidare.|
|avere voglia di||to feel like||Ho voglia di… mangiare una pizza.|
|essere certo di||to be certain of||Sono certo(a) di… ricordare il tuo nome.|
|essere sicuro di||to be certain of||Sono sicuro(a) di… ricordare questo posto.|
|essere felice di||to be happy to||Sono felice di… incontrare mio cugino oggi.|
|essere fortunato di||to be lucky to||Sono fortunato(a) di… mangiare questa cena.|
|essere libero di||to be free to||Sono libero(a) di… viaggiare.|
|essere stanco di||to be tired of||Sono stanco(a) di… volare.|
|temere di…||to be afraid of||Temo di… essere in ritardo.|
|augurarsi di…||to wish/to hope (of)||Mi auguro di… fare una buona vacanza.|
How to Use the Phrase “Avere bisogno di…” in Italian
Before we go on to discuss more complex uses of the phrases in the table above, here are a few words about the very popular phrase, “ho bisogno di…” which means, “I need….” Any student of Italian no doubt has come across this phrase many times in general conversation and has needed to use this phrase themselves to express what they want.
While I was learning how to use the subjunctive mode properly, I took the opportunity to learn how to properly use “ho bisogno di” properly as well. After many question and answer sessions with native Italian speakers, here is what I’ve found out about the different uses of this phrase in English and Italian.
First, use of the phrase “ho bisogno di” is limited to describing a need one has for a person, a thing, something or a physical need. Remember to conjugate the verb avere used in this phrase (“ho” is the io form of avere) if someone else besides you needs something, of course! Leave out the word “di,” which means “of” in this phrase if it is used at the end of the sentence.
The phrases “Mi serve…” and “Mi servono…” can also mean, “I need…” often in the negative sense. The conjugation is like that of piacere. (See below)
If a person needs to do something, but it is also necessary he does it – she/he has to do it – then the verb dovere is used. See some examples in the table below:
|avere bisogno di||to have need of…|
|…a person||Ho bisogno di… te.|
|…a thing/ something||Ho bisogno di… una macchina nuova.|
|Ho bisogno di… prendere una vacanza.|
|…a physical need||Ho bisogno di… riposare.|
|Mi serve…||I need… (one thing)||Mi serve 1 millione di euro.|
|Mi servono…||I need… (many things)||Mi servono tante cose.|
|dovere||for what you have to do
(and need to do)
|Devo cucinare il pranzo ogni sera.|
When we come to more complex sentences, and now must express what the subject would like another person to do, the phrase “ho bisogno di” is not used. In other words, if I want someone to do something, I must use the verb voglio, with the subjunctive, as in, “Voglio che tu…” This was an important point for me to learn, as in English I am constantly asking my children or family to do things by saying, “I need you to…”
For instance, take the sentence, “I need you to take care of the cats when I am on vacation.” I am not sure if this phrase “I need you to…” is used commonly in other parts of the America, but it has become a habitual use in the Northeast and Midwest. The Italian translation would be, “Voglio che tu ti prenda cura dei gatti quando io sono in vacanza.” So, to use the phrase “ho bisogno di” we must really learn how to think in Italian!
Enjoy some more examples for how to use our phrases to express a need or want in Italian, and then create your own!
|Ho bisogno di un grande abbraccio!||I need a big hug!|
|Abbracci e baci sono due cose che ho bisogno!||Hugs and kisses are two things that I need!|
|Non mi serve niente.||I don’t need anything.|
|Non mi serve nient’altro.||I don’t need anything else.|
|Mi serve di più caffè.||I need more coffee.|
|Devo andare al mercato.||I need to/have to go to the (outdoor) market.|
Non abbiamo bisogno di giorni migliori,
ma di persone che rendono migliori i nostri giorni!
We don’t need to have better days,
instead, we need people who make our days better!
Phrases Used to Express Feelings with “Che” and the Italian Subjunctive Mood
Some of the expressions listed in the following table are most commonly used with the same subject for the second phrase. As noted in our previous discussions, these phrases will be followed with “di” and an infinitive verb. They are reprinted here to correspond with the previous table, followed by an asterisk and an explanation in parentheses.
For most of the expressions of feeling we have been talking about, though, it is possible to express a feeling that the speaker (io) has regarding another person or people. In this case, then, these expressions must be followed by che, and the subjunctive mood should be used for the verb in the second phrase.
In our example table, we will illustrate this by following the Italian phrases in which the subjects can be different with ...che tu, which we know means …that you, although of course, this rule follows no matter which subject pronoun we use.
Phrases Used to Express Feelings with “Che” and the Italian Subjunctive Mode
|Present Tense Subjunctive Phrase
|Past Tense Subjunctive Phrase
|Ho bisogno… che tu||I need… that you*
*(This expression is not commonly used in Italian to tell another person what needs to be done; voglio che is used instead.)
|Avevo bisogno… che tu||I needed… that you*
*(This expression is
|Ho paura… che tu||I am afraid… that you||Avevo paura… che tu||I was afraid… that you|
|Ho voglia di… *||I feel like… *
*(always used with the same subject +di in both phrases)
|Avevo voglia… *||I felt like…*
*(always used with
|I am certain…
|Ero certo… che tu||I was certain… that you|
|I am certain…
|Ero sicuro… che tu||I was certain… that you|
|Sono felice… che tu||I am happy… that you||Ero felice… che tu||I was happy… that you|
|Sono fortunato(a)… che tu||I am happy… that you||Ero fortunato(a)… che tu||I was fortunate… that you|
|Sono libero(a) di… *
|I am free… *
*(always used with the same subject +di in both phrases)
|Ero libero(a)… *||I was free… *
*(always used with
the same subject +di
in both phrases)
|Sono stanco(a) di…
|I am tired…*
*(always used with the same subject +di in both phrases)
|Ero stanco(a)… che tu||I was tired…*
*(always used with
|Temo… che tu||I am afraid…
|Temevo… che tu||I was afraid… that you|
|Mi auguro… che tu||I hope… that you||Mi auguravo… che tu||I hoped… that you|
Idiomatic Use of the Italian Subjunctive Mood
The final group of words in the table below take the subjunctive mood when used to start a sentence . These conjunctions, adjectives, and pronouns imply that a second phrase is necessary to complete the sentence.
Only the most commonly used have been given in the table. For a more complete list, see first section of this blog.
|Phrases Used to Introduce the Subjunctive Mood—Idiomatic|
|Present Tense Subjunctive Phrase
Groups 9, 10, 11
|Prima che||Before that|
|Benché, Sebbene||Although, even though, if|
|Può darsi che||It may be possible that, Possibly, Maybe|
|Affinché||So as, so that, in order that|
|Perché||So that (Perché is only used in the subjunctive mood when it means “so that.” Other meanings of perché include “why” and “because,” and in these cases, the subjunctive mood is not used.)|
|Purché||As long as, provided that, only if|
Finally, our usual reminder:
DO NOT USE THE SUBJUNCTIVE WITH THE FOLLOWING THREE PHRASES!
Forse = Perhaps
Secondo me = According to me
Per me = For me
The above may seem like exceptions to the rule, but perhaps… because these phrases already express doubt or your personal opinion… in the Italian way of thinking, it would be redundant to use these phrases along with the subjunctive!
And, two more phrases we can now add that do NOT take the subjunctive mood:
Solo se = Only if
Anche se = Even though/if
How to Conjugate the Italian Subjunctive Mood Present Tense for -are, -ere, and -ire Verbs
A review from the second blog in this series:
To change any regular infinitive verb into the present subjunctive mood, first drop the final -are, -ere, or -ire to create the stem. Then add the endings given in the first table below to the stem that has been created. Examples for each verb type are given in the second table below.*
The word che is included in parentheses in the subject pronoun column as a reminder that these verb forms typically are used with the conjunction che. Also, use the subject pronoun in your sentence after che for clarity, since the endings for the singular forms are all the same!
Practice the subjunctive verbs out loud by saying che, the subject pronoun and then the correct verb form that follows!
|Subjunctive Mood – Present Tense|
|Subject Pronoun||-are ending||-ere ending||-ire ending|
*(The stressed syllable for the example verbs has been underlined in the table above.)
- When pronouncing the subjunctive verbs, the stress will fall in the same place as in the conjugated verb forms for the present tense. This will be in the beginning of the verb (first or second syllable) for the io, tu, Lei/lei, lui, and loro forms, and one syllable to the right (second or third syllable) for the noi and voi forms.
- Notice that all of the singular subjunctive endings (io, tu, Lei/lei lui) are the same for each infinitive form of the verb.
- Also, all the endings for the -ere and -ire verbs are identical in the first person!
- The noi and voi forms are the same for all infinitive verb forms as well.
- The noi form is identical to the present tense!
How to Conjugate the Italian Subjunctive Mood Present Tense for the Modal Verbs
Here are the Italian subjunctive forms for the modal verbs; modal verbs are auxiliary verbs that are also called “helping verbs.” These verbs are often used in the subjunctive mood in written and spoken Italian. As you no doubt recall, these three helping verbs give additional information about the main verb in the phrase. In the subjunctive mood, volere can also be translated as “to need.”
Dovere – to have to/must – Subjunctive Mood
|(che) io||debba||I have to/must|
|(che) tu||debba||you (familiar) have to/must|
|debba||you (polite) have to/must
she/he has to/must
|(che) noi||dobbiamo||we have to/must|
|(che) voi||dobbiate||you all have to/must|
|(che) loro||debbano||they have to/must|
Potere – to be able (to)/can – Subjunctive Mood
|che) io||possa||I am able to/can|
|(che) tu||possa||you (familiar) are able to/can|
|possa||you (polite) are able to/can
she/he is able to/can
|(che) noi||possiamo||we are able to/can|
|(che) voi||possiate||you all are able to/can|
|(che) loro||possano||they are able to/can|
Volere – to want/ to need – Subjunctive mode
|(che) io||voglia||I want/need|
|(che) tu||voglia||you (familiar) want/need|
|voglia||you (polite) want/need
|(che) noi||vogliamo||we want/need|
|(che) voi||vogliate||you all want/need|
|(che) loro||vogliano||they want/need|
The Subjunctive Mood – Irregular Present Tense
Commonly Used Verbs
A review from the second blog in this series:
Here are the irregular subjunctive forms for six commonly used verbs in Italian. It may be useful to commit these forms to memory, as these verbs are often used in the subjunctive mood in written and spoken Italian. Notice that the translation is the simple present tense in English.
Andare – to go – Subjunctive Mood
|(che) io||vada||I go|
|(che) tu||vada||you (familiar) go|
|vada||you (polite) go
|(che) noi||andiamo||we go|
|(che) voi||andiate||you all go|
|(che) loro||vadano||they go|
Dare – to give –Subjunctive Mood
|(che) io||dia||I give|
|(che) tu||dia||you give|
|(che) noi||diamo||we give|
|(che) voi||diate||you all give|
|(che) loro||diano||they give|
Dire – to say/ to tell – Subjunctive Mood
|(che) io||dica||I say/tell|
|(che) tu||dica||you (familiar) say/tell
|dica||you (polite) say/tell
|(che) noi||diciamo||we say/tell|
|(che) voi||diciate||you all say/tell|
|(che) loro||dicano||they say/tell|
Fare – to do/ to make– Subjunctive Mood
|(che) io||faccia||I do/ make|
|(che) tu||faccia||you (familiar) do/make
|faccia||you (polite) do/make
|(che) noi||facciamo||we do/make|
|(che) voi||facciate||you all do/make|
|(che) loro||facciano||they do/make|
Sapere – to know (facts) – Subjunctive Mood
|(che) io||sappia||I know|
|(che) tu||sappia||you (familiar) know|
|sappia||you (polite) know
|(che) noi||sappiamo||we know|
|(che) voi||sappiate||you all know|
|(che) loro||sappiano||they know|
Venire – to come – Subjunctive Mood
|(che) io||venga||I come|
|(che) tu||venga||you (familiar) come|
|venga||you (polite) come
|(che) noi||veniamo||we come|
|(che) voi||veniate||you all come|
|(che) loro||vengano||they come|
How to Conjugate Italian Verbs “Essere,” “Avere,” and “Stare” in the Present Tense Subjunctive Mood
A review from the first blog in this series:
Here are the subjunctive forms for the Italian auxiliary verbs avere, stare, and essere, which are often used in the subjunctive mood in written and spoken Italian. Che is included in parentheses in the subject pronoun column as a reminder that these verb forms are typically used with the conjunction che. Also, use the subject pronoun in your sentence after che for clarity, since the singular forms are identical.
Practice the subjunctive verbs out loud by saying che , the subject pronoun and then the correct verb form that follows!
Avere – to have – Subjunctive Mood
|(che) io||abbia||I have|
|(che) tu||abbia||you (familiar) have|
|abbia||you (polite) have
|(che) noi||abbiamo||we have|
|(che) voi||abbiate||you all have|
|(che) loro||abbiano||they have|
Essere – to be – Subjunctive Mood
|(che) io||sia||I am|
|(che) tu||sia||you (familiar) are|
|sia||you (polite) are
|(che) noi||siamo||we are|
|(che) voi||siate||you all are|
|(che) loro||siano||they are|
Stare – to stay (to be) – Subjunctive Mood
|(che) io||stia||I stay (am)|
|(che) tu||stia||you (familiar) stay (are)|
|stia||you (polite) stay (are)
she/he stays (is)
|(che) noi||stiamo||we stay (are)|
|(che) voi||stiate||you all stay (are)|
|(che) loro||stiano||they stay (are)|
Example Phrases Using the Present Tense
Italian Subjunctive Mood
To follow are some examples of how the Italian subjunctive mood in the present tense might be used in conversation during daily life. (In later blog posts in this series, we will cover examples of how to use the subjunctive when the introductory phrase is in the conditional or past tense.) Remember, even in Italian, the subjunctive is not an absolute requirement, but in the phrases below, the subjunctive mood is often used.
Notice that in English we do not use the subjunctive mood in the present tense. Also, in general, we often leave out the word “that” from our sentences that contain two phrases. But, as mentioned previously, the Italian word for “that,” “che,” is not an option when linking two phrases! For the translations, the Italian sentence structure is given first in italics to help us to think in Italian. The correct English is in bold.
We will use the example introductory phrases from earlier in this section. How many more combinations can you think of?
|Voglio che tu cucini una cena speciale per la festa stasera.||I want that you cook a special dinner for the party tonight. =
I want you to cook a special dinner for the party tonight.
|Ho paura che lui guidi troppo veloce.||I am afraid that he drives too fast. =
I am afraid he (just) drives too fast.
|Sono certo che Lei ricordi questo giorno.||I am certain that you remember this day. =
I am certain that you (will) remember this day.
|Sono sicuro che noi ricordiamo questo posto.||I am sure that we remember this place. =
I am sure that we (will) remember this place.
|Sono felice che voi incontriate mio cugino oggi.||I am happy that you all meet my cousin today. =
I am happy (that) you all (are going) to meet my cousin today.
|Sono fortunato che voi mangiate con me questa sera.||I am lucky that you all are eating with me tonight.
I am lucky that you all are eating with me tonight.
|Temo che loro non siano persone perbene.||I am afraid that they are not good people. =
I am afraid that they are not good people.
|Mi auguro che loro facciano una buona vacanza.||I hope that they have a good vacation. =
I hope they have a good vacation.
The Italian Subjunctive Mood: Examples for Modal Verbs
Here are some examples for the introductory phrases “before that” and “after that,” which, as we have discussed in the earlier section, should take the subjunctive mood. These phrases seem to be most useful in situations in which we talk about plans people are making for themselves or others.
|Prima che tu debba andare al lavoro, devi prepare molto bene i tuoi documenti.||Before (that) you have to go to work, you must prepare your papers very well.|
|Prima che mio figlio possa andare dove vuole, lui deve portarmi a casa.||Before (that) my son can go where he wants, he has to bring me home.|
|Prima che noi dobbiamo partire per Roma, dobbiamo riposare un po’ in campagna.||Before (that) we must leave for Rome, we must rest a little bit in the country.|
|Prima che voi possiate andare a trovare* i vostri parenti in America, dovete guardagnare un sacco di soldi.**||Before (that) you all can visit your relatives in America, you all must make a lot of money.|
|Prima che loro possano mangiare la cena, devono prepararsi molto bene oggi per la riunione domani.||Before (that) they can eat dinner, they must prepare very well today for the meeting tomorrow.|
* andare a trovare is an idiomatic expression that means “to go to visit (someone).” Visitare is used when going to visit a place.
** un sacco di soldi is an idiomatic expression that means “a lot of money.”
The Italian Subjunctive Mood: Examples for Idiomatic Phrases
The final group of words that take the subjunctive mood on an idiomatic basis imply that a second phrase is necessary to complete the sentence. These are essential phrases to remember if we want to express complex thoughts in Italian. Here are some examples. How many more can you think of?
|Benché io voglia andare in Italia, non è possibile ora.||Although I want to go to Italy, it is not possible now.|
|Sebbene lui voglia andare all’università, non ha ricevuto voti abastanza buoni al liceo.||Although he wants to go to college, he did not get good enough grades in high school.|
|Sebbene noi vogliamo vivere bene, dobbiamo lavorare per molti anni o essere molto fortunati.||Though we want to live well, we must work for many years or be very lucky.|
|Perché la crostata sia fatta bene, si deve avere le fragle fresche.||So that the pie is made well, one must have fresh strawberries.
(English = One/you must have fresh strawberries to make the pie properly.)
|Vengo alla festa, purche’ lui non ci sia.||I will come to the party, provided that he will not be there.|
-Some of this material is adapted from Conversational Italian for Travelers, Chapter 7, “Idiomatic Expressions – Avere and Essere + di + Infinitive” © 2012 by Stella Lucente, LLC.
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, author of the
Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books, is a teacher of Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area. “Everything you need to know to enjoy your visit to Italy!”
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Italian Subjunctive (Part 3) : Speak Italian!