Irregular, impersonal, defective verbs in Italian


Irregular verbs are verbs that do not follow the patterns of the conjugation to which they belong. Here are the most important cases of irregular verbs:

  • The stem changes. For example, the first three forms of the present indicative of the verb andare (to go) are: io vado, tu vai, lui va (not *ando, *andi, *anda).
  • The ending changes. For example the first person from the simple past of venire (to come) is: io venni (and not *venii).
  • Both the stem and the ending change. For example, the first person singular of present indicative of dovere (have to) is: io devo and the simple past is io dovetti/dovei (and the form *dovo does not exist).

In general, most verbs of the first and third conjugation are regular while most verbs of the second conjugation are irregular; but here we are going to see all irregular verbs for each conjugation.

Irregular verbs of the first conjugation

In the first conjugation there are four strongly irregular verbs that are very commonly used: andare, dare, fare and stare.

For example, the present indicative of the verb dare (to give) is: io do, tu dai, lui (and not *io daro, *tu dari, *lui dara). The simple past is: io diedi (or detti), tu desti, lui diede (or dette). The verb dare presents irregularities as well in other tenses and moods.

Irregular verbs of the second conjugation

Many verbs belonging to the second conjugation are irregular.

The most irregular tenses and moods are the simple past of the indicative and the past participle. For example, chiedere (to ask) conjugates in simple past as following: io chiesi, tu chiedesti, lui chiese, noi chiedemmo, voi chiedeste, loro chiesero (and not *io chiedei or chiedetti, *lui chiedé or chiedette, *loro chiederono or chiedettero according to the regular conjugation pattern). The forms chiedei, chiedetti, chiedé, chiedette, chiederono and chiedettero are archaic. The past participle of chiedere is: chiesto (and not *chieduto, according to the regular conjugation pattern).

However, there are verbs of the second conjugation that have irregular forms even in tenses different from the simple past and the past participle.

For example, bere (to drink) has many irregular forms. Its simple past io bevvi is the most commonly used form, more frequent than bevei or bevetti and the same goes for other persons. The past participle is bevuto (and not *beruto). Bere has irregular forms even in the present indicative (for example: io bevo and not *io bero), in the imperfect indicative (io bevevo and not *io berevo), in the subjunctive present (che io beva and not *che io bera), in the present conditional (io berrei and not *io beverei) and in the present imperative (tu bevi and not *beri).

Some of the verbs with irregularities in the formation of tenses other than the past participle and the simple past are: bere, cogliere, condurre, cuocere, dolere, dovere, giacere, godere, nuocere, piacere, porre, potere, rimanere, sapere, scegliere, sedere, tacere, tenere, togliere, trarre, valere, volere.

For example, some verbs above mentioned lose the “e” of the stem in the future/conditional, e.g. godere in future simple is godrò. Others like sapere have shortened forms in the present io so (and not *io sapo). Verbs derived from these verbs also usually follow the same conjugation. For example intravedere, prevedere, provvedere, rivedere, stravedere follow in principle the conjugation of vedere but there are several exceptions with regard to certain forms. The future indicative of vedere is vedrò, but the most common form of future indicative of prevedere is prevederò with the addition of "e" (not *prevedrò); the future of provvedere is provvederò and the form *provvedrò does not exist.

Irregular verbs of the third conjugation

The most common verbs of the third conjugation having irregularities in the formation of verb tenses are: apparire, aprire, dire, morire, offrire, salire, udire, uscire, venire.

For example the verb apparire (to appear) in present indicative is: appaio (not *apparo, neither *apparisco, although this second form is attested as a literary form). The most common form of the first person of the simple past is io apparvi, although the forms io apparii and io apparsi exist and are literary or rare forms.

The verb dire (to say) in present indicative is io dico (not *io diro). The most common form of the first person of the simple past is io dissi (not *dirii), which can be explained thanks to the archaic infinitive form “dicere”.

The verb morire (to die) in present indicative is io muoio (not *io moro, although this form is a popular form used in some Italian regions).

Some of the verbs with irregular past participle

accendere - acceso accludere - accluso accorgere - accorto
affliggere - afflitto alludere - alluso annettere - annesso
apparire - apparso appendere - appeso aprire - aperto
ardere - arso assolvere - assolto assumere - assunto
attingere - attinto bere - bevuto chiedere - chiesto
chiudere - chiuso cingere - cinto cogliere - colto
comprimere - compresso concedere - concesso condurre - condotto
conoscere - conosciuto correre - corso crescere - cresciuto
cuocere - cotto decidere - deciso difendere - difeso
dipingere - dipinto dire - detto dirigere - diretto
discutere - discusso distinguere - distinto distruggere - distrutto
dividere - diviso dolere - doluto dovere - dovuto
eccellere - eccelso elidere - eliso emergere - emerso
esistere - esistito espandere - espanso espellere - espulso
evolvere - evoluto fare - fatto fingere - finto
flettere - flesso fondere - fuso frangere - franto
fungere - funto giacere - giaciuto giungere - giunto
invadere - invaso ledere - leso leggere - letto
mettere - messo mordere - morso morire - morto
mungere - munto muovere - mosso nascere - nato
nascondere - nascosto nuocere - nuociuto offrire - offerto
parere - parso perdere - perso persuadere - persuaso
piacere - piaciuto piangere - pianto piovere - piovuto
porgere - porto porre - posto potere - potuto
prendere - preso proteggere - protetto pungere - punto
radere - raso redigere - redatto reggere - retto
rendere - reso restringere - ristretto ridere - riso
rimanere - rimasto rispondere - risposto rodere - roso
rompere - rotto salire - salito sapere - saputo
scegliere - scelto scendere - sceso sciogliere - sciolto
scrivere - scritto scuotere - scosso spandere - spanto
spegnere - spento stringere - stretto tacere - taciuto
tendere - teso tenere - tenuto tergere - terso
tingere - tinto togliere - tolto trarre - tratto
udire - udito ungere - unto uscire - uscito
valere - valso vedere - visto venire - venuto
vincere - vinto vivere - vissuto volere - voluto
volgere - volto

Impersonal, defective and redundant verbs

Irregular verbs

Impersonal verbs - Verbi impersonali

Impersonal verbs are the verbs used mostly in the third person singular or in infinitive. They usually express a condition that has neither a thing nor a person as its subject.

  • Nevica. = It snows; it's snowing.
  • Domani pioverà. = Tomorrow it will rain.
  • Bisogna fare qualcosa. = We have to do something.
  • Cosa sta succedendo? = What's going on?

Usually the compound tenses of these verbs are used with the auxiliary essere but with the verbs indicating weather conditions it is also possible to use avere.

  • Ieri è piovuto molto or Ieri ha piovuto molto = Yesterday it rained a lot.

Defective verbs – Verbi difettivi

Defective verbs are verbs that are missing some forms. Many verbs only lack the past participle. For example convergere, esimere, divergere, vertere, incombere do not have the past participle and therefore are not used in compound forms.

Past participles of defective verbs

aggradare - aggradato (obsolete) cernere - cernito (rare) convergere - converso (rare)
delinquere - delinquito (obsolete) demordere - demorso (rare) plaudire - plaudito (rare)
prorompere - prorotto (rare) soccombere - soccombuto (obsolete) transigere - transatto (rare)
calere competere concernere
dirimere distare equidistare
esimere estrovertere fervere
fulgere incombere introvertere
ostare plaudere prudere
rilucere solere splendere
stridire tangere urgere
vergere vertere vigere

Another common defective verb is urgere, used mostly to the third person singular (ex urgono regole precise). Urgere lacks some forms, such as those of the simple past and compound forms.

Other verbs, such as ostare despite having all verbal forms in theory, are normally used are in the form of the present indicative of the third person singular (nulla osta che tu mi scriva).

Redundant verbs - Verbi sovrabbondanti

These are verbs that have a “twin” with practically the same meaning which follows a second conjugation pattern. There are two types of verbi sovrabbondanti:

  1. Verbs that have the same or similar meaning in both the conjugations they belong to:
    • Devo starnutire = I need to sneeze
    • Devo starnutare = I need to sneeze
  2. Verbs that have a different meaning in the two conjugations they belong to:
    • Ho imboscato il cellulare nella borsa = I hid the mobile phone in the bag.
    • Il comune ha deciso di imboschire un terreno = The city hall decided to plant woods on a land.

Other examples of redundant verbs that maintain the same meaning despite the conjugation change:

Adempiere Adempire (to fulfill)
Annerare Annerire (to blacken)
Compiere Compire (to accomplish/complete)
Dimagrare Dimagrire (to slim down/lose weight)
Riempiere Riempire (to fill)

Other examples of redundant verbs that have different meaning based on the conjugation they belong to:

Arrossare (to make/paint something red) Arrossire (to blush/become red)
Atterrare (to knock down/land) Atterrire (to scare/frighten)
Sfiorare (to touch lightly) Sfiorire (to fade/wither)

Don’t worry! The verbi sovrabbondanti are tricky also for Italian speakers, but it is important to know that exist different but very similar forms of verbs and that belong to different conjugations. In this way you will be able to recognize them and conjugate them properly!