Il Congiuntivo Part 1 – Presente

Posted on 01. Oct, 2009 by in Grammar


Several readers have asked me to explain how and when to use the congiuntivo (subjunctive), a verb form which is not used very much in English but is quite common in Italian. This is quite a big topic, so in order to make it more ‘digestible’ I have decided to divide it into several “chapters”. Let’s begin with the Congiuntivo Presente (present subjunctive). 

The Congiuntivo Presente is normally used…

1. with verbs which express wishes, thoughts, beliefs, worries, and doubts, e.g.: volere (to want), sperare (to hope), pensare (to think), credere (to believe), temere (to be afraid), dubitare (to doubt), when these verbs are followed by the conjunction che (that). Here are some examples: Giovanni vuole che lo aiutiate a ridipingere la camera (Giovanni wants you [plural] to help him repaint the bedroom); speriamo che domani non piova (let’s hope that tomorrow it won’t rain); Lucia pensa che Maria parta oggi per le vacanze (Lucia thinks that Maria is leaving today for her holidays); mi stupisco che tu sia ancora qui (I’m surprised that you are still here); ho paura che Carlo non ce la faccia a superare l’esame (I’m worried that Carlo won’t be able to pass the exam).

2. to give polite orders when using the lei form, e.g. Parli più lentamente, per piacere (speak more slowly, please); Cliente: Mi scusi! Cameriere: Mi dica Cliente: Un cappuccino, per piacere (Customer: Excuse me! Waiter: yes sir [literally: tell me]. Customer: A cappuccino, please).

3. after impersonal verbs followed by the conjunction che, such as bisogna che (it’s necessary that), basta che (it’s enough/sufficient that), si dice che (it is said that), e.g. bisogna che Carlo studi di più (lit. it’s necessary that Carlo studies more, or: it’s necessary for Carlo to study more); basta che tu mi dica con che treno arriverai (it’s sufficient that you tell me which train you’ll arrive with, or more simply: just tell me which train you’re arriving on); si dice che questa sia una leggenda (this is said to be a legend).

4. after impersonal constructions such as è facile / difficile che (it’s likely / unlikely that), è meglio che (it’s better that), è un peccato che (it’s a pity that), non è giusto che (it’s unfair that), e.g. È un peccato che tu non possa venire (it’s a pity that you can’t come); non è giusto che sia sempre io a lavare i piatti (it’s unfair that it’s always me that has to wash the dishes); è meglio che veniate oggi pomeriggio (it’s better that you [plural] come this afternoon).

5. following conjunctions built with che, such as prima che (before), affinché (so that, in order that), a meno che (unless), nel caso che (in case), e.g. dobbiamo partire prima che faccia buio (we must leave before it gets dark); ti aiuto affinché tu possa superare l’esame (I’m helping you so that you can pass the exam).

To make the congiuntivo presente of regular verbs, remove the ending from the infinitive form of the verb, i.e. -are, -ere, or -ire, and add the following:

for verbs ending in –are add –i –i –i –iamo –iate –ino, for example:

Parlare (to speak):

Io parli, tu parli, lui parli, lei parli, noi parliamo, voi parliate, loro parlino

for verbs ending in –ere, and –ire add –a –a –a –iamo –iate –ano, for example:

Credere (to believe):

Io creda, tu creda, lui creda, lei creda, noi crediamo, voi crediate, loro credano


Dormire (to sleep):

Io dorma, tu dorma, lui dorma, lei dorma, noi dormiamo, voi dormiate, loro dormano

Verbs ending in –ire which use the suffix –isco in the normal present tense (presente indicativo), follow the same rule in the present subjunctive, e.g.

Capire (to understand):

Io capisca, tu capisca, lui capisca, lei capisca, noi capiamo, voi capiate, loro capiscano

As you can see from the above examples the singular forms of the congiuntivo presente, io, tu, lui, lei, all use the same ending, therefore in order to avoid confusion we tend to use the appropriate personal pronoun , e.g. Penso che tu sia ammalato (I think that you are ill).

However, beware that many common verbs, such as essere (to be) and avere (to have) are irregular! Therefore in part 2 of this article I’ll give you a list of the most useful irregular verbs conjugated in the present subjunctive.





9 Responses to “Il Congiuntivo Part 1 – Presente”

  1. Nathan 2 October 2009 at 9:12 pm #

    Ciao Serena,

    Great explanation of the always problematic subjunctive tense. I’ve read recently that 3000 words make up 95% of normal speech in Italian. Do you know if this is true? And if true, do you happen to have a list of those words? I’m thinking learning those words would be a great step toward fluency. Grazie.

  2. Iris monica jaswant 4 October 2009 at 1:35 am #

    Where can I learn Italian as a start. No knowlegde

  3. Serena 6 October 2009 at 7:50 am #

    Salve Iris, Hmmm tricky question. Firstly you need to try and find yourself a good teacher, or an Italian class for beginners. Certainly working your way through my blogs will help, there are about 150 so far, so pick and choose those that you find useful, you can always ask me questions.
    I am aware that just lately I have dealt with some of the more complex Italian grammar issues, but after I have published the final article on the subjunctive I intend to focus on more basic grammar and vocabulary because I know that it will be useful both for people such as yourself and as a form of revision for those at a higher level. You might also like to consider the Byki software produced by if you find that a ‘flashcard’ style of learning suits you.

    A presto, Serena

  4. Serena 13 October 2009 at 9:58 am #

    Salve Nathan,
    sorry for the delay. I’m on holiday in England at the moment and I don’t have much access to the Internet. I remember hearing about the 3000 most comon words, but I don’t know anything about them. When I get back to Italy I’ll try to find some more information and let you know.
    A presto!

  5. Serena 27 October 2009 at 3:41 pm #

    Ciao Nathan, I did a bit of research to find out about the 3000 most used words in the Italian language, but I couldn’t find a definitive answer. However, I did find an interesting little site which lists the 1000 most common words. If you are interested you can have a look here:

    There may only be 1000 words, but don’t forget that you must be able to change the adjectives according to the noun gender, conjugate the verbs, change the ‘preposozioni semplici’ into ‘preposizioni articolate’, i.e. ‘in’ becomes ‘nel, nello, nella’ etc.

    Buon divertimento!

  6. Nathan 27 October 2009 at 4:41 pm #

    Grazie mille, Serena. This list will be a big help. Your the best!

  7. mary 8 October 2014 at 3:15 pm #

    Thank you so much, that is great explanation.
    But one question : what kind of diffrences are between congiuntivo presente and condizionale ?

  8. Serena 10 October 2014 at 7:21 pm #

    Salve Mary, grazie per i complimenti!
    Hmmm …. difficult question. I had a look through my old articles, but I couldn’t find anything that would really answer your question. Congiuntivo is a verbal mood used to express a doubt, a wish, an exhortation, an exclamation. It’s also used in the first part of the sentences expressing a possibility, those sentences introduced by “se” = if.
    Condizionale is another verbal mood, and is used to make polite requests (vorrei, mi piacerebbe). It’s used in the second part of those sentences expressing a possibility: se non piovesse andrei a fare una passeggiata (piovesse ia congiuntivo, andrei is condizionale). Il condizionale is also used to express doubt or wishes, but the construction of the sentence is different from the congiuntivo.
    I know it all sounds very confusing, so next week I’m going to write an article about the differences between congiuntivo and condizionale when usedto express doubt or wishes. For now, here are the links to the most relevant articles on the subject:

    A presto!

  9. Emanuela 28 March 2016 at 9:38 pm #

    Very very helpful thank you so much!

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