Imperfetto Subjunctive for Past Tense (Part 2): Speak Italian!
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 Italian language. Meraviglioso!
But have you tried to take the next step to speak Italian fluently? Can you use the imperfetto subjunctive mood when you are speaking in the past tense? 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 this is something that I am always working on! This is the second blog in the “Speak Italian” series that will focus on how to conjugate and use the imperfetto subjunctive mood, or “il congiuntivo” for speaking in the past tense.
Let’s take that giant step from simple beginning sentences to more complex and fluid sentences in Italian by using the imperfetto subjunctive mood while speaking in the past tense. In this segment, we will discuss when volere, desiderare, piacere, and dispiacere take the subjunctive mood.
We will also learn the conjugation of the imperfetto subjunctive mood for the -are, -ere, and -ire verbs and the commonly used irregular verbs andare, dare, dire, fare, sapere, and venire. Example sentences will follow!
In each blog in the “Speak Italian” series about the imperfetto subjunctive mood (“il congiuntivo”), we will first present phrases in the past tense that take the impefetto subjunctive mood.
Then, we will review how to conjugate the imperfetto subjunctive mood.
Finally, we will present common phrases from daily life that take the imperfetto subjunctive mood.
Remember these examples as “anchors” in your knowledge for when you must speak Italian and try out the imperfetto subjunctive mood in your next Italian conversation!
Enjoy the 2nd blog in this series, “Imperfetto Subjunctive for Past Tense (Part 2): 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 instructor Maria Vanessa Colapinto.
Once Again… Italian Phrases That Take the Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood
Italian has a subjunctive mood that is used to express beliefs, thoughts, or hopes with the verbs credere, pensare, and sperare.
The subjunctive mood is also said to “open up” a conversation to discussion about a particular topic by expressing doubt, uncertainty, desire, or a feeling.
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.
We have already learned to use the imperfetto subjunctive mood with the conditional tense in our blogs about Italian hypothetical phrases! Now, as stated before, we will focus on the use of the imperfetto subjunctive mood after introductory phrases that are in the past tense.
In our first blog about the imperfetto subjunctive mood, we learned that these initial phrases fall into several groups. We discussed Groups 1 through Group 6, which are given below for review.
To follow in this blog is an explanation of several more phrases that can be used to introduce the imperfetto subjunctive mood, which we have added into our original list as Group 7 and Group 8.
Groups 1-8: “Noun Clauses”
- 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 subjunctive 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 suspicion, such as, ” I suspect that…” or “Sospetto che…”
- Phrases that express uncertainty, such as, “It seems to me…” or “Mi sembra che…” and “Chiedersi se… “ or ” To wonder if…”
- 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, desiderare, chiedere, esigere 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.
As usual, there is a summary table in the next section that shows how to use these phrases. The present and present conditional tense is in the left columns, with the passatto prossimo and the imperfetto past tenses in the right columns. We will then present examples for the past tense.
Points to remember about the subjunctive mood:
In Italian, the introductory phrases that take the subjunctive mood (those that trigger doubt, uncertainty, desire, or a feeling) usually end with a linking word, also known as a conjunction, which will be che. In this situation, che means that. The clause that follows our introductory phrase will then describe what the uncertainty is about.
*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.)
How to Use the Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood with
Volere and Desiderare
When expressing one’s desire in Italian in the first person (io conjugation), voglio/vorrei and desidero are used in similar situations to mean I want and I would like. In this case, these helping verbs are followed directly by another verb that is in the infinitive tense (if you remember, infinitive verbs end in -are, -ere, -ire and translate as “to…”). Of course, these verbs can also be followed by a noun, the “object of our desire”!
Volere and desiderare are covered in detail in Chapter 4 of our textbook, Conversational Italian for Travelers, if you would like a review. Below are some simple examples:
Voglio imparare l’italiano. I want to learn Italian.
Vorrei viaggiare in Italia. I would like to travel to Italy.
Desidero andare al cinema. I want to go to the movies.
But when these same verbs—voglio/vorrei and desidero—are used to express a desire for something that the speaker in the first person (io) wants another person to do, then these helping verbs must be followed by che, and then the subjunctive mood should be used for the verb in the next phrase.
In the same way, I can ask that someone do something using the verb chiedere or insist that they do it with the verb esigere. But just asking someone else or even insisting does not mean that it will be done (as those of us who have children know). So, in these cases as well, the verbs chiedere and esigere will be followed by the conjunction che and the next phrase will use a verb in the subjunctive form.
The above rule for using che + subjunctive applies whether the introductory phrase is in the present tense or the past tense.*
However, if the introductory verb is in the past tense, the imperfetto subjunctive form is the form to follow!
*Be careful with chiedere and esigere, though, when using the passato prossimo past tense, since their past participles are irregular. For chiedere, the past participle is chiesto and for esigere, the past participle is esatto.
Esatto is, of course, also used as an adjective, meaning “exact” or “precise” as well as an interjection with the meaning of “Exactly!”
How to Use the Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood with
Piacere and Dispiacere
The verb forms mi piace, mi piacerrebbe and mi dispiace, mi dispiaccerebbe follow the same rule given for the verbs in Group 6 we just discussed: when the verb that follows these introductory phrases refers to the speaker (io form), then a verb in the infinitive form follows directly. When the verb that follows refers to someone else, che is used as a link to a verb in the subjunctive mood in the second clause.
The above rule for using che + subjunctive applies whether the introductory phrase is in the present tense or the past tense.
However, if if the introductory verb is in the past tense, the imperfetto subjunctive form is the form to follow!
In our example table that follows, we will illustrate the use of che followed by a different speaker from the introductory phrase with ...che tu. This conjunction means …that you. Of course, we can replace tu with any of the other subject pronouns, and then the phrases would be: ….che Lei, che lei, che lui, che noi, che voi, or che loro.
|Phrases Used to Introduce the Subjunctive Mood with Volere, Desiderare, Piacere, Dispiacere|
|Present Tense &
Groups 6 and 7
|Past Tense &
Past Conditional Tense
Groups 6 and 7
|Voglio… che tu||I want… that you||Volevo… che tu
Ho voluto… che tu
|I wanted… that you|
|Vorrei… che tu||I would like…
|Volevo… che tu
Ho voluto… che tu
|I wanted… that you|
|Desidero… che tu
Chiedo... che tu
Esigo… che tu
|I want… that you
I ask… that you
I insist... that you
|Desideravo… che tu
Chiedevo… che tu
Esigevo… che tu
Ho desiderato… che tu
Ho chiesto… che tu
Ho esatto… che tu
|I wanted… that you
I asked... that you
I insisted… that you
|Mi piace… che tu||I like… that you||Mi piaceva… che tu
Mi sono piaciuto(a)…
|I liked… that you|
|Mi dispiace… che tu||I am sorry… that you||Mi dispiaceva… che tu
Mi sono dispiaciuto(a)… che tu
|I was sorry… that you|
|I would like…
|Mi sarebbe piaciuto(a)… che tu||I would have liked…
|I don’t mind…
|Mi sarebbe dispiaciuto(a)…
|I didn’t mind…
Finally, a word of caution:
DO NOT USE THE SUBJUNCTIVE WITH THE FOLLOWING THREE PHRASES!
Forse = Perhaps
Per me = For me
Secondo me = According to me
The above may seem like exceptions to the rule, but perhaps… because these phrases already express doubt or your personal opinion… in the Italian way of thinking, it would be redundant to use these phrases along with the subjunctive!
How to Conjugate the Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood for -are, -ere, and -ire Verbs
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.
Also, the imperfetto subjunctive mood endings are always regular and will be the same for all three conjugations!
To change any regular infinitive verb into the imperfetto subjunctive mood, first drop the final -re, from our infinitive -are, -ere, and -ire verbs to create the stem.
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 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 – Imperfetto Endings
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.
Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood – Example Verb Conjugations
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, some of which are irregular in the present tense and most other tenses! Practice saying them out loud and listen to how each conjugated verb sounds.
|Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood Conjugations – Commonly Used Regular Verbs|
(to know)(knew/had known)
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.
Fare – to do/make – Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood
|io||facessi||I did/ made|
|tu||facessi||you (familiar) did/made|
|Leilei/lui||facesse||you (polite) did/madeshe/he did/made|
|voi||faceste||you all did/made|
Dare – to give – Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood
|tu||dessi||you (familiar) gave|
|Leilei/lui||desse||you (polite) gaveshe/he gave|
|voi||deste||you all gave|
Dire – to say/tell – Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood
|tu||dicessi||you (familiar) said/told|
|Leilei/lui||dicesse||you (polite) said/toldshe/he said/told|
|voi||diceste||you all said/told|
Example Phrases Using the Imperfetto Subjunctive Mood with the Past Tense
To follow are some examples of how the Italian subjunctive mood in the past tense might be used in conversation during daily life.
Notice that English sentence structure differs from Italian in most of these sentences. We can make a similar sentence in English as in Italian, but it would be considered an “awkward” sentence.
The biggest difference is that we English speakers do not use the subjunctive form, whether or not the subject in the two phrases is the same or different. Also, 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 Italian phrases!
For the translations, the Italian sentence structure is given first in italics to help us to think in Italian. The correct English is in bold.
We will use the example introductory phrases and verbs from earlier in this section. Some sentences will work with both the imperfetto and passato prossimo introductory phrases if we add a time frame. In these cases, the passatto prossimo is given in blue.
You can see from our first example that use of the past subjunctive in the opening phrase really does allow one to make complex sentences. The first example has been completed to express a complex situation. Have fun expanding the sentences we have given. How many more combinations can you think of?
|Volevo che tu tornassi presto.
Ho voluto che tu tornassi presto ieri sera perché dovevo parlarti di una cosa importante.
|I wanted that you returned early. =
I wanted you to have returned early.
I wanted you to have returned early last night because I had to talk to you about something important.
|Volevo che lui vendessi la macchina vecchia.
Ho voluto che lui vendesse la macchina vecchia l’anno scorso.
|I wanted that he sold the old car (last year). =
I wanted him to have sold the old car (last year).
|Desideravo che lei andasse via.
Ho desiderato che lei andasse via ieri sera.
|I wanted that she went away (last night). =
I wanted her to have gone away (last night).
|Desideravo che Lei facesse una bella torta per la festa.
Ho desiderato che Lei facesse una bella torta per la festa ieri.
|I wanted that you made a nice cake for the party (yesterday). =
I wanted you to have made a nice cake for the party (yesterday).
|Mi piaceva che tu venissi a Roma ogni giorno.||I liked (It was pleasing to me) that you came to Rome every day. =
I liked (that fact that) you came to Rome every day.
|Mi dispiaceva che lui non sapesse questa informazione.||I am sorry (It made me sorry) that he doesn’t know this information. =
I am sorry he doesn’t know this information.
|Volevo che noi tornassimo presto.
Ho voluto che noi tornassimo presto ieri sera.
|I wanted that we returned early (last night). =
I wanted us to have returned early (last night).
|Volevo che noi vendessimo la macchina vecchia.
Ho voluto che noi vendessimo la macchina vecchia l’anno scorso.
|I wanted that we sold the old car (last year). =
I wanted us to have sold the old car (last year).
|Desideravo che voi andaste via.
Ho desiderato che voi andaste via ieri sera.
|I wanted that you all went away (last night). =
I wanted you all to have gone away (last night).
|Desidero che voi faceste una bella torta per la festa.
Ho dovuto che voi faceste una bella torta per la festa ieri.
|I wanted that you all made a nice cake for the party (yesterday). =
I wanted you all to have made a nice cake for the party (yesterday).
|Mi piaceva che voi veniste a Roma ogni giorno.||I liked (It was pleasing to me)that you all came to Rome every day. =
I liked (that fact that) you all came to Rome every day.
|Mi dispiace che voi non sapeste questa informazione.||I am sorry (It made me sorry) that you all don’t know this information. =
I am sorry you all don’t know this information.
|Volevo che loro tornassero presto.
Ho voluto che noi tornassero presto ieri sera.
|I wanted that they returned early (last night). =
I wanted them to have returned early (last night).
|Volevo che loro vendessero la macchina vecchia.
Ho voluto che loro vendessero la macchina vecchia l’anno scorso.
|I wanted that they sold the old car (last year). =
I wanted them to have sold the old car (last year).
|Desideravo che loro andassero via.
Ho desiderato che loro andassero via ieri sera.
|I wanted that they went away (last night). =
I wanted them to have gone away (last night).
|Desidero che loro facessero e una bella torta per la festa.
Ho dovuto che loro facessero una bella torta per la festa ieri.
|I wanted that they made a nice cake for the party (yesterday). =
I wanted them to have made a nice cake for the party (yesterday).
|Mi piaceva che loro venissero a Roma ogni giorno.||I liked (It was pleasing to me) that they came to Rome every day. =
I liked (that fact that) they came to Rome every day.
|Mi dispiace che loro non sapessero questa informazione.||I am sorry (It made me sorry) that they don’t know this information. =
I am sorry they don’t know this information.
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, is the author of the
Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books and a teacher of Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
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Imperfetto Subjunctive for Past Tense (Part 2): Speak Italian!