Verb groups in Italian conjugation


Conjugation groups

Helping verbs

Italian verbs are divided into three conjugation groups and can be distinguished by the ending of the infinitive form.

  1. The infinitive form of verbs of the first group ends in -are (amare, comprare).
  2. The infinitive form of verbs of the second group ends in -ere or -rre (vedere, perdere, porre).
  3. The infinitive form of verbs of the third group ends in -ire (dormire, partire, finire).
1st group (-are) 2nd group (-ere) 3rd group (-ire)
(io) compr-o “I buy” (io) perd-o “I lose” (io) part-o “I leave”
(tu) compr-i “you (sing.) buy” (tu) perd-i “you (sing.) lose” (tu) part-i “you (sing.) leave”
(lui) compr-a “he buys” (lui) perd-e “he loses” (lui) part-e “he leaves”
(noi) compr-iamo “we buy” (noi) perd-iamo “we lose” (noi) part-iamo “we leave”
(voi) compr-ate “you (pl.) buy” (voi) perd-ete “you (pl.) lose” (voi) part-ite “you (pl.) leave”
(loro) compr-ano “they buy” (loro) perd-ono “they lose” (loro) part-ono “they leave”

First group: -are

Most Italian verbs belong to this conjugation, including most new verbs like twittare, taggare, svapare. These verbs have a regular conjugation, and most of them follow the pattern of the verb amare, except for a few verbs that have a particular conjugation.

Special features of the first conjugation

The verbs in -care (caricare) and -gare (litigare) add an "h" before the endings that begin with "e" and "i": io caric-o, tu caric-h-i, noi litig-h-eremo.

The verbs in -gnare (bagnare) in the indicative and the present subjunctive of the first and second person plural add an "i": noi bagn-i-amo, che voi bagn-i-ate.

The verbs in -ciare (abbracciare) and -giare (mangiare) lose the vowel "i" of the stem when the ending begins with an "e" or "i": abbracc-erò (the stem would be abbacci-).

The verbs in -gliare (sbagliare) lose the "i" of the stem when the ending begins with "i": consigl-i (the stem is consigli-).

The verbs in -iare that have in the first person of the present indicative the accent on the "i" (inviare --> invìo, avviare --> avvìo) keep the "i" in the stem even if the ending begins with an "i": invì-i, avv-ì-ino.

Some verbs with the diphthong –uo- today tend to keep it in cases where the diphthong is found in tonic syllable (tuòna) but not in those where the diphthong is in a non-tonic syllable (tuonerà, tuonò). Some verbs retain the diphthong to avoid ambiguity with other verbs. So we say nuotammo = we swam (nuotare) to distinguish it from notammo = we noticed (notare).

Second group: -ere/-rre

This conjugation includes both the verbs with "e" in the tonic syllable (temère) and the ones with the "e" in non-tonic syllable (vèndere). These verbs derive from two separate Latin conjugations; in order to know how to conjugate them see Models.

Verbs ending in -rre also belong to the second conjugation. These verbs derive from Latin and originally had an additional vowel (ex. the verb porre derives from the Latin verb "pónĕre").

Special features of the second conjugation

Verbs ending in -ère with the tonic "e", as temère, can have two forms for some persons in the simple past: io temei or temetti; lui temé or temette, loro temerono or temettero. However, when the stem of the verb ends in "t", as in the case of potere, the forms in -etti, -ette and -ettero are not normally used. The two forms are sometimes equally frequent, sometimes in use only one is prevalent.

The verbs in -cere, (vincere) -gere (porgere) and -scere (conoscere) have an alternation before the endings that begin in "a" and "o": vinc-erò, porg-erebbe, conosc-erei. Other verbs instead keep the palatal sound (cuocere --> io cuoci-o, tu cuoc-i). The palatal sound is always maintained in front of the u and therefore with the past participles ending in -uto (piaci-uto, conosci-uto).

Some verbs with the diphthong -uo- tend to preserve it in use. This happens both in cases where the diphthong is in tonic syllable (muovo, muovi) and in those where the diphthong is in a non-tonic syllable (muovète, cuocerèi).

The verbs in -gnere always retain the "i" of the ending -iamo, -iate (spegniamo, spegniate).

Third group: -ire

The regular verbs of the third conjugation follow the conjugation of partire or finire (see Models).

Special features of the third conjugation

Some verbs, which constitute most of the verbs of the third conjugation, introduce -isc- between the stem and the ending in some persons of the present indicative, the present subjunctive and the imperative. For example, finire (to finish):

Indicative present Subjunctive present Imperative
io finisco che io finisca (io) -
tu finisci che tu finisca (tu) finisci
lui finisce che lui finisca (lui) finisca
noi finiamo che noi finiamo (noi) finiamo
voi finite che voi finiate (voi) finite
loro finiscono che loro finiscano (loro) finiscano

Almost all verbs in -cire and -gire (marcire, agire --> marcisco, agisco) take the suffix -isc in the conjugation of indicative and present subjunctive and imperative. There are, however, some exceptions: cucire, fuggire are in the present indicative io cucio, io fuggo (and not *cucisco, *fuggisco).

With some verbs it is possible to have both the form with and without -isc (applaudire --> applaudo or applaudisco; tossire --> tosso or tossisco).

Helping verbs

Conjugation groups

Helping verbs are all verbs that can be used together with other verbs. In this case they lose their meaning and become one with the following verb. They are divided into three categories: Auxiliary Verbs, Modal Verbs and Other Helping Verbs.

Helping verbs can also be used alone and in that case they have their own meanings.

Auxiliary verbs

Italian auxiliaries are essere and avere. These verbs are irregular, they are used as auxiliaries in all compound forms but can also be found on their own, so it is helpful to learn their forms along with regular verbs:

Essere Avere
(io) sono “I am” (io) ho “I have”
(tu) sei “you (sing.) are” (tu) hai “you (sing.) have”
(lui) è “he is” (lui) ha “he has”
(noi) siamo “we are” (noi) abbiamo “we have”
(voi) siete “you (pl.) are” (voi) avete “you (pl.) have”
(loro) sono “they are” (loro) hanno “they have”

Examples of auxiliaries use

  • Ho scritto una lettera. = I wrote a letter.
  • Sono partiti ieri. = They left yesterday.
  • can appear on its own and have some particular meanings (for example: sono di Napoli = I come from Naples)
  • can appear on its own and have some particular meanings (for example: hanno due case = possiedono => They have two houses; they own)
  • can be used as a copula verb (sei stanco? = Are you tired?)
  • can be used as an auxiliary (ho giocato = I played)
  • can be used as an auxiliary (sono andato = I went)
  • When essere is the auxiliary, the past participle must agree in gender and number with the grammatical subject, so for example “Lui è partit-o” (masc. sing.) vs. “Lei è partit-a” (fem. sing.) vs. “Loro sono partit-i” (masc. plur.). When avere is the auxiliary, the participle never agrees with the subject.

    The compound tenses of transitive verbs are always formed with the auxiliary avere.

    • Marco ha dato un calcio al pallone = Marco kicked the ball.

    The compound tenses of the intransitive verbs are formed with the auxiliary essere or with the auxiliary avere, depending on the verb and its meaning.

    • I ragazzi sono partiti. (partire can only be conjugated with essere) = The boys have left.
    • Pietro ha annuito. (annuire always have auxiliary avere) = Pietro has nodded.

    Some verbs can be both transitive and intransitive and use both auxiliaries for compound tenses:

    • L'autista ha aumentato la velocità. = The driver has increased his speed.
    • L'inflazione è aumentata. = Inflation has increased.

    For the passive voice, the auxiliary is usually essere(to be) as in English, or sometimes venire:

    • L'edificio sarà abbattuto. = The building’s going to be torn down.
    • L'edificio verrà abbattuto. = The building’s going to be torn down.

    Reflexive verbs and pronominal verbs, i.e. those that end in -si like lavarsi, always use the auxiliary essere:

    • Mi sono lavata. = I washed up; I washed myself.

    And the impersonal verbs always use the auxiliary essere (except for meteorological verbs that demand the auxiliary avere).

    • È accaduto ieri. = It happened yesterday.
    • Ha nevicato = It has snowed.

    Modal verbs can always use avere. However, the auxiliary of the modal verb can also agree with the verb that the modal verb accompanies.

    Table of use of the auxiliaries

    Transitive verb active voice avere
    Intransitive verb active voice avere or essere (depending on the verb and its meaning)
    Passive voice essere
    Reflexive form essere
    Impersonal verb essere or avere (for meteorological verbs)
    Modal verb avere or essere

    Modal verbs

    Modal verbs(dovere, potere, volere) are generally used together with another verb:

    • Posso andare a casa? = Can I go home? or May I go home?
    • Potrei passare da te più tardi = I could stop by your place later.
    • Deve partire. = He must leave.
    • Non voglio cantare con voi. = I don't want to sing with you.

    The auxiliary used is generally that of the verb that follows.

    • Ha potuto ascoltare tutta la lezione. (because ascoltare takes the auxiliary avere) = He could listen to the whole lecture.
    • Sono dovuta partire. (because partire takes the auxiliary essere; however you can also say: Ho dovuto partire.) = I had to leave.

    Modal verbs can also be used alone and in that case they have their own meanings. For example, the verb volere can have the meaning "to demand" when used alone:

    • Voglio che tu mi risponda. = I want you to answer me.

    Other Helping Verbs

    In Italian there are verbs which, besides having their own meaning when used alone, sometimes can be followed by another infinitive and alter their meaning, i.e. they can emphasize the duration, the start or the end of an action.

    • Continuano a ridere. = They keep laughing.
    • Stanno per telefonare. = They are about to call.
    • Ha smesso di fumare. = He quit smoking.

    As can be seen from the examples above, between the first and the second verb there is a preposition, in these cases a, per, di.

    In English these verbs can also be called Linking verbs since verbs are generally linked to the infinitive in one of these ways:

    • directly: Volete aspettare? = Do you want to wait?
    • with the preposition a:Hanno cominciato a ridere. = They started to laugh.
    • with the preposition di: Quando sono entrato hanno smesso di parlare. = When I came in they stopped talking.
    • by other linking constructions,for example stare per far qualcosa (meaning to be about to do something): Stavo per uscire quando ha squillato il telefono. = I was about to go out when the phone rang.